Inter Press Service » Advancing Deserts Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 30 Jul 2014 08:56:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Change Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:14:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lima link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-thirds remaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 1
Caribbean Grapples with Intense New Cycles of Flooding and Drought Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:39:18 +0000 Desmond Brown Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

As unpredictable weather patterns impact water availability and quality in St. Lucia, the Caribbean island is moving to build resilience to climate-related stresses in its water sector.

Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical."All governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries." -- Dr. Paulette Bynoe

“We have been making progress…making professionals and other important stakeholders aware of the issue. That is the first step,” she told IPS.

“So in other sectors we can also look at coordination whether we talk about agriculture or tourism. It’s important that we think outside of the box and we stop having turfs and really work together,” she added.

Earlier this month, Bynoe facilitated a three-day workshop on Hydro-Climatic Disasters in Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in St. Lucia. The workshop was held as part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States-Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (OECS-RRACC) project.

Participants were exposed to the key principles of IWRM and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); the implications of climate change and variability for water resources management; policy legislation and institutional requirements needed at the community level to facilitate DRR in IWRM; the economics of disasters; and emergency response issues.

Rupert Lay, a water resources specialist with the RRACC Project, said the training is consistent with the overall goals of the climate change demonstration project in GIS technology currently being implemented by the OECS Secretariat.

“What we need to do now in the region and even further afield is to directly correlate the effects, the financial impacts of these adverse weather conditions as it relates to water resources,” he told IPS.

“We need to make that link strongly so that all of us can appreciate the extent to which and the importance of building resilience and adapting to these stresses.”

On Jul. 9, the St. Lucia Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) placed the entire island under a water emergency schedule as the drought worsened. The government has described the current situation as a “water crisis”.

The crisis, initially declared for the north of the island, has expanded to the entire country.

Managing director of WASCO Vincent Hippolyte said that there had not been sufficient rainfall to meet the demands of consumers. At the most recent assessment, the dam’s water level was at 322 feet, while normal overflow levels are 333 feet.

“Despite the rains and the greenery, drought conditions exist because the rivers are not moving. They do not have the volume of water that will enable WASCO to extract sufficient water to meet demand,” he said.

“We are in the early stages in the drought situation. It is not as severe as the later stages, but we are still in drought conditions.”

The government said that experts predicted the drought would persist through the month of August.

Bynoe said what’s happening in St. Lucia and elsewhere in the Caribbean is consistent with the projections of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Climate Modeling Group from the University of the West Indies.

She said both bodies had given possible future scenarios of climate change as it relates to the Small Island Developing States, and how climate change and climate variability could affect water resources.

“I think generally the issue is that in the region there is a high likelihood that we can have a shortage of water so we can experience droughts; and perhaps at the same time when we do have precipitation it can be very intense,” Bynoe, who is also Director of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Guyana, said.

She noted that the models are saying there can either be too little water or too much water, either of which could create serious problems for the Caribbean.

“With too much water now you can have run off, sedimentation, water pollution and water contamination which means in countries where we depend on surface water the treatment of water become critical and this will then bring cost implications because water treatment is very costly,” Bynoe explained.

“But also, if you are going to treat water you have to use a lot of energy and energy is one of the sectors that contribute to greenhouse gasses. So you can see where the impact of climate change is affecting water but with water treatment you can also contribute to climate change.”

For St. Lucia and its neighbours, Bynoe said lack of financial resources tops the list of challenges when it comes to disaster mitigation and adapting new measures in reference to hydro-climatic disasters.

She also pointed to the importance of human capital, citing the need to have persons trained in specific areas as specialists to help with modeling, “because in preparation we first have to know what’s the issue, we have to know what’s the probability of occurrence, we have to know what are the specific paths that we can take which could bring the best benefits to us.”

She used her home country Guyana, which suffers from a high level of migration, as one example of how sustainable development could be negatively affected by capital flight.

“But you also need human capital because first of all governments must work together within the region and lessons learnt in one country can be translated to other countries so that we can replicate the good experiences so that we don’t fall prey to the same sort of issues,” Bynoe said.

“But also social capital within the country in which we try to ensure that all stakeholders are involved, a very democratic process because it’s not only about policymakers; every person, every household must play a role to the whole issue of adaptation, it starts with the man or woman in the mirror,” she added.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas passed very near St. Lucia killing 14 people and leaving millions of dollars in monetary losses. The island was one of three Eastern Caribbean countries on which a slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec 24, 2013 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain, killing 13 people.

]]> 0
Mechanical Pumps Turning Oases into Mirages Sat, 12 Jul 2014 12:28:18 +0000 Cam McGrath The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
BAHARIYA OASIS, Egypt, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Using a hoe, farmer Atef Sayyid removes an earthen plug in an irrigation stream, allowing water to spill onto the parcel of land where he grows dates, olives and almonds.

Until recently, a natural spring exploited since Roman times supplied the iron-rich water that he uses for irrigation. But when the spring began to dry up in the 1990s, the government built a deep well to supplement its waning flow.

Today, a noisy diesel pump syphons water from over a kilometre below the ground. The steaming-hot water is diverted through a maze of earthen canals to irrigate the orchards and palm groves that lie below the dusty town of Bawiti, 300 kilometres southwest of Cairo.

“The deeper source means the water is hotter,” Sayyid explains. “The hot water damages the roots of the fruit trees. It also evaporates quicker, meaning we have to use more water to irrigate.”

Bahariya, the depression in which Bawiti is situated, is one of five major oases in Egypt’s Western Desert. While Egyptians living in the densely populated Nile River Valley and Delta depend on the Nile for their freshwater needs, communities in this remote and arid region rely entirely on underground sources.“This [water drawn from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer] is fossil water, which means it was deposited a very long time ago and is not being replenished. So once you pump the water out of the aquifer, it’s gone for good” – resource management specialist Richard Tutwiler

Since ancient times, freshwater has percolated through fissures in the bedrock, making agriculture possible in the otherwise inhospitable desert. Water was once so plentiful in the five oases that they were collectively known as a breadbasket of the Roman Empire on account of their intensive grain cultivation.

Ominously, where groundwater once flowed naturally or was tapped near the surface, farmers must now bore up to a kilometre underground, raising fears for the region’s sustainability.

“Historically, springs and artesian wells supplied all the water in the oases,” says Richard Tutwiler, a resource management specialist at the American University in Cairo. “But water pressure is dropping and increasingly it has to be pumped out, particularly as you go from south to north.”

The water is drawn from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, an underground reservoir of fossil water accumulated over tens of thousands of years when the Saharan region was less arid than it is today. The vast aquifer extends beneath much of Egypt, Libya, Sudan and Chad, and is estimated to hold 150,000 cubic kilometres of groundwater.

But it is a finite resource, says Tutwiler.

“This is fossil water, which means it was deposited a very long time ago and is not being replenished,” he told IPS. “So once you pump the water out of the aquifer, it’s gone for good.”

Extraction is intensifying in all of the countries that share the aquifer. In Egypt alone, an estimated 700 million cubic metres of water is pumped from deep wells each year.

The increase in water usage is the result of agricultural expansion and population growth. Nearly 2,000 square kilometres of desert land has been reclaimed by groundwater irrigation in the last 60 years. Farmers employ flood irrigation, a traditional technique in which half the water is lost to evaporation and ground seepage before reaching the crops.

Since the 1980s, government programmes aimed at alleviating population pressure on the Nile Valley have encouraged Egyptian families to relocate to the desert. Existing oasis communities have grown while new ones have sprung up around deep wells.

One of these settlements, Abu Minqar, was founded in 1987 and now boasts over 4,000 residents. The isolated community only exists because of its 15 wells, which draw groundwater from depths of up to 1,200 metres.

“Water management in (places like) Abu Minqar must be sustainable,” says Tutwiler. “Because if the wells dry up, it’s game over.”

The number of wells in the Western Desert has increased immensely since the first appearance of percussion drilling machinery 150 years ago. Records show that in 1960 there were less than 30 deep wells in all the oases – today there are nearly 3,000.

In Dakhla Oasis, 550 kilometres southwest of Cairo, natural springs and 900 wells provide water for the 80,000 inhabitants of the oasis, as well as orchards that produce date palms, citrus fruits and mulberries. This was traditionally one of Egypt’s most fertile oases because of the proximity of the aquifer to the surface – less than 100 metres throughout the depression.

But here, as elsewhere, water sources that flowed freely less than a generation ago now only flow with the aid of mechanical pumps. Groundwater extraction has exceeded 500,000 cubic metres a day and the water table is dropping, in some places by nearly two metres a year.

“There are too many straws in the same glass of water,” remarks hydrologist Maghawry Diab

While Diab estimates the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer may hold enough water to last the next 100 years, Egypt’s desert communities could have a lot less time.

Over-pumping has created localised “dry pockets” in the aquifer, which behaves more like a layered damp sponge than a pool of water. Tightly-spaced deep wells are drawing down the water table, while their overlapping well cones intercept upward flowing groundwater before it can recharge the shallower wells.

“All the wells are tapping the same larger cone of depression,” Diab told IPS. “To gain years, we’ll have to find even deeper groundwater sources or (come to terms with) using saline water.”

In an effort to reduce pressure on groundwater resources, Egypt’s government has set restrictions on the drilling of new wells and reduced the discharge rates of certain high-productive ones.

At government wells, a formalised system of water sharing is in place. But farmers thirsty for more water have drilled their own wells, concealing them from authorities or bribing local officials to turn a blind eye.

“We have tried to control the drilling, but there is a lot of resistance from farmers,” says one former irrigation ministry official. “Every time we capped (an unlicensed) well, two more would appear.”

]]> 0
At the Crucial Nexus of Water and Energy Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jewel Fraser Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Global institutions are still in the learning phase when it comes to successfully managing water and energy in an integrated manner as part of the quest for sustainable development.

According to World Bank official Daryl Fields, understanding the water-energy nexus is critical for addressing growth and human development, urbanisation and climate change, but many policy-makers are finding it challenging to transform this concept into a reality."There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it." -- Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi

Fields, who is also a Technical Committee member of the Global Water Partnership, was speaking at a recent meeting of the GWP Consulting Partners, held in Trinidad for the first time.

“We are left with a lot of opportunities and many questions and a fair amount of work to do,” she said.

According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, “Climate change is also likely to aggravate pressure on resources and so add to the vulnerability of people and ecosystems, particularly in water scarce and [water] marginal regions.”

Fields said “network” was a more appropriate term than “nexus” because of the many linkages involved and the mutual dependence of energy and water. Energy affects water quality through discharges and effluence, as well as through its impact on the reliability of water supply and the cost of maintaining that supply, because energy is needed to pump water to consumers.

On the other hand, she said, water quality affects the ability to provide energy. As an example, she cited a hydropower plant in India whose equipment suffered erosion because of sediment in the water used by its turbines. As well, there was the issue of salinisation.

Hence, she said, there is “a virtuous cycle. You reduce the need for water and you reduce the need for energy.”

She said that the challenge of managing water and energy in an integrated fashion was compounded by the extreme differences between the two. Those working in the two industries often spoke different “languages”, had different perspectives and a different way of looking at things.

Stressing the urgent water challenges facing nations, Dr. Mohamed Ait-Kadi, chair of the GWP Technical Committee, pointed out that water-scarce regions now account for about 36 percent of the global population and 22 percent of global GDP. He said demand for water had grown 600 times during the 21st century.

“Good water management is important to [sustainable] growth and for building resilience to climate change,” he said. “There is no escape from the fact that the need and demand for finite and vulnerable water resources will continue to expand and so will competition for it.”

Nevertheless, GWP’s experience in Africa shows that water managers are finding practical, yet simple solutions to the water crisis, while taking into account the energy needs of communities.

Andrew Takawira, senior programme officer, GWP-Africa, Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP) Coordination Unit, was in Trinidad for the conference and shared with IPS the work GWP-Africa is doing to successfully integrate water management with energy needs.

The WACDEP programme in Africa comprises Tunisia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It seeks to ensure that water issues and the capacity to deal with climate change issues that affect water within those countries are strengthened.

Takawira told IPS that in the Lake Cyhoha catchment, a basin shared by Burundi and Rwanda, people were cutting down trees for fuel, leading to deforestation that adversely affected the watershed.

WACDEP created a buffer zone around the watershed by planting trees, and with the help of partners in the two countries provided alternative sources of energy for the people in the area, namely, more fuel-efficient stoves and biogas digesters.

He said his organisation realised that water management requires a broad-based approach to meet the vital needs a community may have.

“They still need the energy. We are learning that you have to go broader. That is why it is important to tackle water, food and energy issues together. What you want to do as water managers is ensure the watersheds are managed properly. [But] if you tell them to stop cutting trees, what are they going to cook with?”

He cited a second example showing the interconnection of water and energy. In Cameroon, people wanted to be close to the river to easily access water, which created problems like siltation and reduction of plant coverage. Those problems could become disastrous in times of flood or drought.

Takawira explained that intensive activity near the riverbank loosens the soil and causes siltation. Siltation in turn reduces the amount of water stored in river dams, which would prove detrimental during times of drought.

Moving people away from the river is important for dealing with floods also, he explained, since occupation of river banks tends to reduce the vegetation that slows down and absorbs flood waters.

To deal with the problem, WACDEP in Africa encouraged the Cameroonians to move farther inland by providing them with pipes so that they could easily get water. However, energy was needed to move the water through the pipes and so the organization also provided solar energy to pump the water to people’s properties.

Takawira said WACDEP in Africa was “delivering on the ground” as far as working with communities and government institutions to ensure water security and reduce vulnerabilities to climate variability and change.

GWP-C’s Dr. Natalie Boodram said GWP in the Caribbean had learnt much from the experiences of their partners in Africa, since there were many similarities in the two regions’ situation. She said GWP-C had particularly benefited from learning about the capacity-building strategy of GWP-Africa.

]]> 1
Adapting to a Dry Season That Never Seems to End Thu, 26 Jun 2014 15:01:46 +0000 Desmond Brown Caribbean scientists are developing drought-tolerant varieties of crops which are then distributed to farmers in countries most severely affected by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Caribbean scientists are developing drought-tolerant varieties of crops which are then distributed to farmers in countries most severely affected by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

The Caribbean region’s bid to become food secure is in peril as farmers struggle to produce staple crops under harsh drought conditions brought about by climate change.

But scientists are fighting back, developing drought-tolerant varieties which are then distributed to farmers in those countries most severely affected.

“We are mainly affected by issues of drought and…CARDI has been looking at methods of sustainable management of production using drought tolerant varieties. We are working with certain commodities and doing applied research aimed at producing them in the dry season,” Dr. Gregory Robin, CARDI representative and technical coordinator for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), told IPS.

“We’re starting first with the crops that are more significantly affected by drought. We take, for example, dasheen, which is a crop that requires a lot of moisture and I’m working with that crop in St. Vincent and St. Lucia,” he said.

“Validation will serve Jamaica, Grenada, Dominican Republic – all the islands that produce dasheen. Sometimes it’s not cost-effective to do activities in all the islands so some of the sweet potato work done here can be used in St. Kitts, Barbados and islands with similar agro-ecological zones and rainfall patterns,” he added.

The Trinidad-based CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute), which has worked to strengthen the agricultural sector of member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for more than 30 years, is at the forefront of the research.

“CARDI has a body of professionals around the region so if we have any issues of climate change and drought, CARDI is a body of scientists that is available to all the islands of the CARICOM region,” Robin said.

Another crop being given special attention is sweet potato. Robin explained that for the Caribbean region, sweet potato is very important as a food security staple and foreign exchange earner.

“We’re working with the crops that we think are going to be affected most. Sweet potato can take a certain amount of moisture stress but dasheen and crops that require a high level of moisture are not going to be standing up so well to moisture stress, so we are starting with those with a high requirement of moisture first,” he said.

Noting that irrigation is key to productivity, the CARDI official explained that, “I have been working here for the past seven years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it so dry and it’s highlighting the point that we need to look at our rainwater harvesting systems.”

Climate change has also forced Guyana, considered the bread-basket of the Caribbean, to develop new varieties.

“We have also been growing different varieties of crops that are resistant to salt water because one of the impacts of climate change is that the salt water will creep more into the inland areas and so we are looking at salt-resistant rice for example; looking at crops that are much more resilient to dry weather and that can withstand periods of flooding,” Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy told IPS.

“We’ve been doing things like shade technology, drip irrigation, using technology and methods and utilising animals and crops that are far more resilient to extreme weather conditions.”

In addition to developing drought-tolerant varieties, CARDI is also actively developing new technologies to assist farmers with irrigation.

“I remember when I started in agriculture probably 20 years ago farmers used to irrigate using a drum and a bucket,” Bradbury Browne told IPS.

But he said over the years CARDI has introduced drip irrigation technology and other types of irrigation technology.

“For example if I want to apply 3,000 gallons of water to an acre of sweet potato I can programme [the irrigation system] so that I don’t have to be there physically to be turning on a hose or a pipe and there would be no issue of flooding if I am called away on an emergency,” said Browne, who now serves as a field technician at CARDI.

Meanwhile, longtime legislator in Antigua and Barbuda Baldwin Spencer noted that more frequent and extreme droughts are expected to become a feature of Caribbean weather.

And he said the impact of such drought conditions will increase heat stress, particularly for the more vulnerable, such as the elderly.

“Despite the decline in the production and export of major agricultural commodities from the OECS, agriculture remains an important sector in the economic and social development of the region from the stand-point of food security, rural stability and the provision of input to other productive sectors,” said Spencer, who served as prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda from March 2004 until Jun. 12 this year.

“These benefits are at risk from climatic events and this risk only increases as the climate continues to change,” he said.

Experts project that decreased production levels of major crops combined with increasing food demand will pose large risks to all aspects of food security globally and regionally including food access, utilisation and price stability.

The World Bank said food security is consistently seen as one of the key challenges for the coming decades and by the year 2050, the world will need to produce enough food to feed more than 2.0 billion additional people, compared to the current 7.2 billion.

It said most of the population growth will be concentrated in developing countries, adding pressure to their development needs.

The World Bank added that to meet future food demand, agricultural production will need to increase by 50-70 percent, according to different estimates. And this will happen as the impacts of climate change are projected to intensify overall, particularly hitting the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

]]> 1
Picture the World as a Desert Tue, 17 Jun 2014 23:30:44 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

Try to imagine an expanse of barren land, stretching for miles, with no trace of greenery, not a single bough to cast a sliver of shade, or a trickle of water to moisten the parched earth. Now imagine that desert expanding by 12 million hectares a year. Why? Because it’s already happening.

Studies show that 24 billion tons of fertile soils are being eroded each year, while two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Dry lands in sub-Saharan Africa alone are set to increase by 15 percent in the next decade.

Globally, some 1.5 billion people stand on the edge of an arid precipice, their lands, lives and livelihoods threatened by an encroaching dust bowl.

It is against this backdrop that the United Nations marks the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), complete with sombre warnings from some of its highest-level officials.

“With the world population rising, it is urgent we work to build the resilience of all productive land resources and the communities that depend on them,” U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon stressed in a message delivered from Bonn, Germany, Tuesday.

“A good example of ecosystem-based adaptation can be seen in Niger, where farmer-managed natural regeneration has brought back five million hectares of land." -- Louise Baker, senior adviser on partnership building and resource mobilisation with the UNCCD
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is predicting a 50-percent increase in demand for food by 2050, even while scientists warn that yields of major crops like wheat, rice and maize could decline by 20 percent in the coming decade due to hotter temperatures.

Scarcities of staple products could lead to the absorption of more land for industrialised agriculture, which has proven itself to be a major driver of global warming, directly accounting for 15 to 30 percent of carbon and methane emissions worldwide, which in turn feed desertification.

Red-flagging these many converging and interconnected crises, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) assigned WDCD 2014 the theme ‘Land Belongs to the Future – Let’s Climate Proof it.’

Ecosystem-based adaptation

Thirty-five percent of the earth’s surface is comprised of drylands, including savannahs, scrublands and dry forests, which collectively sequester 36 percent of the world’s carbon stocks and support 50 percent of all livestock.

These naturally occurring drylands provide excellent examples for regenerating or remediating degraded soil and have inspired a solution to desertification known as ecosystem-based adaptation, which aims to “strengthen natural systems to cushion the worst impacts of climate change.”

“A good example of ecosystem-based adaptation can be seen in Niger, where farmer-managed natural regeneration has brought back five million hectares of land,” Louise Baker, senior adviser on partnership building and resource mobilisation with the UNCCD, told IPS.

“Small changes in land use techniques – such as terracing, or the installation of water harvesting tanks – can make a big difference to the land a person owns and works,” she added.

Investment Versus Innovation

While the Bank’s officials have called repeatedly for increased investment and financing to tackle climate change and build resilience to future shocks, UNCCD’s Baker believes that simple realignment of existing funds and land management techniques could play an even bigger role.

“Soil alone could help sequester up to three billion tons of carbon a year, representing up to a third of potential mitigation capacity that can be achieved by simply changing how we manage the land and soil,” she told IPS.

“There are approximately two billion hectares of degraded land around the world with the capacity to be brought back, and about 480 million hectares of abandoned agricultural land that could be returned to production – not through additional investment but a realignment of priorities.

“For instance, investment in fertiliser use may be important; but if we invested instead in incentives to improve sustainable land management we would be able to get carbon back into the soil and help populations become more resilient to climate change rather than rely on fertilised production.

“It’s a matter of realigning funding flows so that you power adaptation by nature, rather than try and buy it,” she concluded.
“After that it’s up to governments and larger land owners to connect those dots and create a mosaic of land uses that, together, constitute quite a resilient package.”

At a ceremony held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC Tuesday, the UNCCD awarded its prestigious Land for Life Award to two organisations working to combat desertification through ecosystem adaptation in local communities.

Hailing from central Afghanistan’s arid Bamyan province, the Conservation Organisation for Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM) has eased pressure on the region’s vulnerable rangelands by 50 percent through tireless efforts to plant trees, provide green technology solutions to over 300 villages and create gravity-fed irrigation systems.

And in Mongolia – 78 percent of which is affected by desertification – the Green Asia Network (GAN) has mobilised its 25,000-strong volunteer army to plant trees all across the arid landscape. Climate refugees who once left Mongolia’s desertified regions have returned as GAN volunteers to a place they scarcely recognise beneath its newfound greenery.

Scores of people gathered at the World Bank to recognise the achievements of these dedicated individuals and press for similar action at the international level.

Preaching conservation, practicing investment

But some activists say the World Bank itself is partly to blame for the conjoined problems of climate change, food insecurity and desertification, by pushing its agenda of large-scale agriculture and mono-crop plantations on the developing world.

A campaign called ‘Our Land, Our Business’, launched jointly by the Oakland Institute (OI) together with a host of NGOs and farmer organisations from around the world, seeks to “hold the World Bank accountable for its role in the rampant theft of land and resources from some of the world’s poorest people – farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous communities, who are currently feeding 80 percent of the developing world,” according to a Mar. 31 press release.

The advocacy groups blame the Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ rankings – scored according to Washington officials’ opinions on how “easy” it is to work in a certain country – for forcing heads of developing states to relax environmental regulations, violate labour laws and deregulate their economies in the hope of attracting foreign investment.

And investment in the global South, according to OI’s policy director Frederic Mousseau, “is mostly about agriculture and the extraction of natural resources.”

“Thanks to reforms and policies guided by the Bank,” charged OI, “Sierra Leone has taken 20 percent of its arable land from rural populations and leased it to foreign sugar cane and palm oil producers.

“And in Liberia, British, Malaysian, and Indonesian palm-oil giants have secured long-term leases for over 1.5 million acres of land formerly held by local communities,” the organisation added.

“These policies are the exact opposite of what we need to combat desertification,” Mousseau told IPS, “which can only be achieved through diversification of agriculture, afro-forestry, inter-cropping, and other techniques practiced by small farmers.”

“In Mali, for instance, small farmers living around the Niger River are seeking government support to practice traditional agriculture on the riverbank. Instead the government has given 500,000 hectares of the most fertile land to 22 foreign and domestic investors for the production of agro-fuels and mono-crops,” he added.

“This is a country where the World Bank has been very active, implementing policies that benefit foreign investors while eating up Mali’s resources.”

Until these policies are dealt with on a macro-level, local efforts at adaptation and mitigation do not stand much of a chance at success.


]]> 1
Saving West Africa’s Last Intact Tropical Rainforest through Tourism Fri, 09 May 2014 11:54:19 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert Chimpanzees are one of the many endangered species that tourists will have the opportunity to see in Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Chimpanzees are one of the many endangered species that tourists will have the opportunity to see in Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
TAI NATIONAL PARK, Côte d’Ivoire, May 9 2014 (IPS)

Jonas Sanhin Touan has big dreams. As he sits under a canopy, he greets the rare tourist to Gouleako, one of the many villages near the entrance of Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park, with a meal.

He hopes to raise the money to build a hotel on the three hectares of land he has purchased. “Here will be the restaurant,” the man everyone calls Aimée tells IPS, pointing to what is still bush.

The Taï National Park is a rare forest, one of the last intact tropical rain forests in West Africa. Stretching some 3,300 square kilometres, it is the region’s biggest tropical forest and also a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage site.

But there are obstacles to Touan’s dream.  “Cocoa planters have a very difficult life. Ecotourism is an opportunity for a better future.” -- local villager Jonas Sanhin Touan

Situated in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire, the park lies close to Liberia border and is only accessible by a seven-hour drive on pot-holed path from Abidjan, the country’s economic capital.

A lack of reliable public transport, conflict and sporadic violence are other threats to Touan’s dream. So too is encroaching deforestation.

To reach this remote area from Abidjan one has to cross several classified forests, of which 80 percent have already been cut down, according the government. Instead of the lush tropical vegetation that once covered the area, there are now carefully-planted fields, mostly of cocoa, but also of coffee, rubber and palm oil trees.

But ecotourism may just be the solution for a community in search of a better and sustainable future. Since January 2014, about a hundred tourists have been part of a tour organised by the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) and the Ivorian forest protection department, known by its French acronym, OIPR.

However, it is still in its early stages, and the numbers of tourists it attracts are modest.

“Of course, this will take time. But this area is beautiful. I think that ecotourism will bring desperately-needed money,” says Touan. Currently, 80 percent of villagers earn their living through cocoa, making about 1,5 million CFA (about 3,185 dollars) per household annually.

But demographic pressure usually results in people burning down forests in order to increase their cocoa harvesting area.

The forest’s chimpanzee population has declined by about 80 percent in the last two decades, according the World Wide Fund for Nature.

And four other species from this forest are also on the red list of threatened species: pygmy hippopotamus, olive colobus monkeys, leopards and jentink’s duiker, a forest-dwelling duiker.

Poachers are partly responsible for this disappearance, but the destruction of the forest remains the main reason for the decline.

“The pressure around the park is very important,” Christophe Boesch, a primatology professor and WCF’s West Africa director, tells IPS.

He sees the current migration of people from the northern regions of Côte d’Ivoire, and from neighbouring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, as a direct consequence of global warming.

“West Africa faced dramatic climate changes in the last 50 to 60 years. The Sahel region has become a desert. This creates a dramatic demographic explosion in Côte d’Ivoire,” he explains.

This flow of workers made Côte d’Ivoire the world’s biggest cocoa producer, but at the cost of Ivorian forests.

Villagers from Gouleako, one of the many villages outside Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park  perform a traditional ceremony for tourists. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Villagers from Gouleako, one of the many villages outside Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park perform a traditional ceremony for tourists. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

In Gouleako, the villagers perform a traditional ceremony for the half a dozen tourists seated on couches, being served palm wine.

The tourists will soon be transported to the OIPR-run eco hotel in Djouroutou, a nearby town. Later, they will be guided along the muddy trails of the Taï National Park to see the chimpanzees or take a ride on the Cavally River, which divides Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.

OIPR and WCF hope that by boosting ecotourism, locals will see the economic value of preserving the forest, and the several unique species that it shelters.

“We hope by this project to teach people, more the local population than the tourists, about the added-value of a forest,” Emmanuelle Normand, WCF’s country director, tells IPS.

WCF says that several projects have proven to aid the survival of endangered species including in forests in the Great Lake regions.

Valentin Emmanuel, the deputy chief of Gouleako, remembers a time when he was still a kid when elephants crossed rice paddies and chimpanzees came out from the forest to play in cocoa trees.

“Before, we were living with the wildlife close to us. Now, you have to go far away, deep into the forest, to see that,” he tells IPS.

While he may be one of the majority of villagers who earn their livelihood from cocoa, he knows that the only way to return the forest to what it was during his childhood is to introduce more people to it. Touan knows it too.

“Cocoa planters have a very difficult life. Ecotourism is an opportunity for a better future,” says Touan.

]]> 0
Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:41:12 +0000 Adriane Lochner Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

Rusting and stranded, ships that once operated on the Aral Sea now attract adventure tourists. Credit: Adriane Lochner/EurasiaNet

By Adriane Lochner
BISHKEK, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

“I’m going for a swim,” says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals.

But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.Activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health.

In Nukus, the sleepy regional capital of western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region, local tour operators say the number of sightseers is growing each year. Many come to this remote part of the Central Asian country to see the famous Savitsky art collection. There are excursions to ancient fortresses and historic Khiva, once an important stop on the Silk Road.

But the Aral Sea – one of the world’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters – is probably the top attraction.

“Last year almost 300 foreigners went on camping trips to the coastline, and numbers are increasing,” says Tazabay Uteuliev, a local fixer who arranges transport for several Uzbek travel agencies.

Spring and autumn are most popular, but this year he even had a group in January. “More and more people seem to like it extreme,” Uteuliev tells The tourists are usually adventurous, not looking for a trip to the beach, but to see the famous lake before the last of the water is gone, he adds.

Bendz, the Swede, claims a special interest in unusual places. On a previous trip to Ukraine he visited Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. As he runs toward the shore, his feet sink in mud. The other two tourists and their driver follow him with their eyes.

The driver explains that over the course of only one year, the coastline has receded about 50 metres. The former seabed is still damp and covered with clams.

“You don’t even have to swim,” Bendz shouts, giddily floating on the water. In 2007, one estimate put the Aral’s salinity at 10 percent. As the sea continues shrinking, salt content is believed to have risen to about 15 or 16 percent, or half the concentration in the famously salty Dead Sea.

For local activists, the swell of foreign interest offers a chance to educate, as well as entertain.

In a hotel in Nukus, a group of Swiss tourists listens to a seminar about the history of the Aral catastrophe as part of their tour programme. The lecturer asks not to print his name because he is implicitly criticising Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government.

He has a legitimate fear: activists have been jailed for exposing the disappearing sea’s impact on Karakalpakstan residents’ health. In 2012, one activist said she was beaten and threatened with forced psychiatric care.

During his presentation, the speaker shows satellite images and videos of fishing boats from the time when the fish-packed Aral Sea was one of largest lakes in the world. He describes the consequences of the water loss for locals: extremely hot summers, freezing winters, dust storms and lung diseases.

“Only the government can do something about it,” the activist says, describing wasteful irrigation upstream on the Amu-Darya River.

In his opinion, poor government management of water resources is the main cause of the environmental problems. Only about 10 percent of the water diverted from the river makes it to the fields, he says. The rest evaporates or leaks out of aging irrigation canals.

“People should [be required to] pay for the water, then they would save it,” he says.

Uzbekistan’s centralised agricultural plan aims to produce three million tonnes of cotton annually. To meet this target, officials require farmers to grow the water-intensive plant and press-gang residents to help with the harvest each autumn.

Environmentalists are also concerned that powerful international interests have little reason to save the Aral: Energy companies from China, Russia, Uzbekistan and elsewhere are drilling in the former seabed for natural gas. The tour group drives past their rigs the next morning, across a salt desert, to visit Muynak.

A generation ago, this former fishing village was a port at the southern end of the sea. Now it is about 100 kilometres from the water’s edge. Ships once anchored offshore are now popular tourist attractions, rusting, leaning over into the desert sand. Local children play on the graffiti-covered wrecks.

Only a few hundred kilometres to the north, on the Kazakhstani side, there is hope for the Aral Sea. There, a dike built with assistance from the World Bank in 2005 catches water from the Syr-Darya River, helping bring a tiny portion of the lake back and spawning a renewed fishing industry.

But the Kazakh side does not attract as many visitors, says a representative at Tashkent-based OrexCA, a travel agency specialising in Central Asia.

The agent says she receives occasional inquiries but no bookings to visit the lake in Kazakhstan. She thinks visitors are discouraged by the higher prices and also because Kazakhstani officials have removed so-called ghost ships, selling them for scrap. Instead she touts OrexCA’s “shrinking Aral Sea tour” on the Uzbek side.

The package includes visits to historical sites and, according to the agency’s website, is “designed for admirers of extreme tourism, adventurers and fans of exotic photography.”

Editor’s note:  Adriane Lochner is a Bishkek-based writer. This story originally appeared on

]]> 0
Putting Climate Polluters in the Dock Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:30:25 +0000 Desmond Brown Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

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

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences?

A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together."There is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations...It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity." -- Ronald Sanders

He believes the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be amenable to hearing their arguments, although the court’s requirement that all parties to a dispute agree to its jurisdiction would be a major stumbling block.

“It is most unlikely that the countries that are warming the planet, which incidentally now include India and China, not just the United States, Canada and the European Union…[that] they would agree to jurisdiction,” Sanders told IPS.

“The alternative, if countries wanted to press the issue of compensation for the destruction caused by climate change, is that they would have to go to the United Nations General Assembly.”

Sanders said that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries could “as a group put forward a resolution stating the case that they do believe, and there is evidence to support it, that climate change and global warming is having a material effect… on the integrity of their countries.

“We’re seeing coastal areas vanishing and we know that if sea level rise continues large parts of existing islands will disappear and some of them may even be submerged, so the evidence is there.”

Sanders pointed to the damaging effects of flooding and landslides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Dominica as 2013 came to an end.

The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, described the flooding and landslides as “unprecedented” and gave a preliminary estimate of damage in his country alone to be in excess of 60 million dollars.

“People who live in the Caribbean know from their own experience that climate change is real,” Sanders said.

“They know it from days and nights that are hotter than in the past, from more frequent and more intense hurricanes or freak years like the last one when there were none, from long periods of dry weather followed by unseasonal heavy rainfall and flooding, and from the recognisable erosion of coastal areas and reefs.”

For the first time in several years, Antigua's main water source, Portworks Dam, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

For the first time in several years, Antigua’s main water source, Potworks Reservoir, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

At the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw last November, developing countries fought hard for the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. After two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations, they finally won the International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (IMLD), to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

The details of that mechanism will be hammered out at climate talks in Bonn this June, and finally in Paris the following year. As chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Nauru will be present at a meeting in New Delhi next week of the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) to try and build a common platform for the international talks.

“It isn’t just the Caribbean, of course,” Sanders said. “A number of other countries in the world – the Pacific countries – are facing an even more pressing danger than we are at the moment. There are countries in Africa that are facing this problem, and countries in Asia,” he told IPS.

“Now if they all join together, there is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations and maybe that is the place at which we would more effectively press it if we acted together. It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity,” he added.

Pointing to the OECD countries, Sir Ronald said they act together, consult with each other and come up with a programme which they then say is what the international standard must be and the developing countries must accept it.

“Why do the developing countries not understand that we could reverse that process? We can stand up together and say look, this is what we are demanding and the developed countries would then have to listen to what the developing countries are saying,” Sir Ronald said.

Following their recent 25th inter-sessional meeting in St. Vincent, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller praised the increased focus that CARICOM leaders have placed on the issue of climate change, especially in light of the freak storm last year that devastated St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

At that meeting, heads of government agreed on the establishment of a task force on climate change and SIDS to provide guidance to Caribbean climate change negotiators, their ministers and political leaders in order to ensure the strategic positioning of the region in the negotiations.

In Antigua, where drought has persisted for months, water catchments are quickly drying up. The water manager at the state-owned Antigua Public utilities Authority (APUA), Ivan Rodrigues, blames climate change.

“We know that the climate is changing and what we need to do is to cater for it and deal with it,” he told IPS.

But he is not sold on the idea of international legal action against the large industrialised countries.

“I think what will cause [a reversal of their practices] is consumer activism,” he said. “The argument may not be strong enough for a court of law to actually penalise a government.”

But Sanders firmly believes an opinion from the International Court of Justice would make a huge difference.

“We could get an opinion. If the United Nations General Assembly were to accept a resolution that, say, we want an opinion from the International Court of Jurists on this matter, I think we could get an opinion that would be favourable to a case for the Caribbean and other countries that are affected by climate change,” he told IPS.

“If there was a case where countries, governments and large companies knew that if they continue these harmful practices, action would be taken against them, of course they would change their position because at the end of the day they want to be profitable and successful. They don’t want to be having to fight court cases and losing them and then having to pay compensation,” he added.

]]> 0
Costa Rican Farmers Become Climate Change Acrobats Tue, 04 Mar 2014 18:26:49 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
ALVARADO, Costa Rica, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

José Alberto Chacón traverses the winding path across his small farm on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica, which meanders because he has designed it to prevent rain from washing away nutrients from the soil.

His careful husbandry ensures his crops of beans, maize and carrots on his half-hectare parcel of land, which like that of many other farmers in the Pacayas area, is located on steep slopes that are prone to the loss of the land’s fertile layers.

Chacón told IPS that he is constantly applying techniques like designing a winding path, and building terraces or containment walls with harvest leftovers, and he feels like an acrobat leaping from one measure to another to keep his family farm alive.

“It hurts to see soil being washed into the river. I’m getting older and my piece of land will always be the same size, so I have to find ways of making it flat with terraces, so as to keep working it as long as God wills,” said the 51-year-old Chacón, who is married and has three children.

One of his children helps with the sale of excess produce. His 50-year-old wife, Irma Rosa Loaiza, shares the farm work. “We are a model of family agriculture. She comes out to the plot of land itself to help,” said her husband.

The community of Pacayas, one hour east of San José, is located on the eastern end of the fertile Costa Rican central valley, between the Irazú and Turrialba volcanos. The population density is higher than the national average and it receives 2,300 millimetres of rain a year, on slopes of up to 70 percent.

Now climate change is another factor, increasing rainfall and soil erosion. The Ministry of Environment and Energy estimates that erosion has reduced agricultural GDP by 7.7 percent between 1970 and 1989.

The 2014 agricultural census may show a worsening of the situation in this Central American country of 4.4 million people, where agriculture contributed 10.7 percent of GDP in 2000 but 8.67 percent in 2012, according to official figures.

Chacón, wearing black rubber boots and a white hat for protection against the sun, proceeds along the cultivated rows. His field has a 50 percent slope, and there is a height difference of up to 20 centimetres between one maize row and another, sufficient for rainwater not to pour straight down to the Pacayas river in the canyon below.

Farmers in Pacaya cultivate crops on a slant across the slope so that rains will not wash away their soil. In this micro-basin, 68 percent of the fields have a slope of more than 30 percent. Credit: Diego Argueda Ortiz/IPS

Farmers in Pacaya cultivate crops on a slant across the slope so that rains will not wash away their soil. In this micro-basin, 68 percent of the fields have a slope of more than 30 percent. Credit: Diego Argueda Ortiz/IPS

He is a subsistence farmer, like the rest of the farmers in the area, whose parcels are an average area of 2.5 hectares and who eke their living out of the mountainside. If their crops fail, they do not eat; if they overplant and the soil is washed away, they also fail to put food on the table.

“There has to be a balance between sustainability and food security. I can’t tell local people: this land is unfit for agriculture, you should plant forests, because it is all they have,” agricultural scientist Beatriz Solano, assigned to the area for the past 17 years by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, told IPS.

A study published in 2013 by the journal Environmental Science & Policy describes how “a combination of extreme precipitation, steep topography and questionable land use has led to heavy erosion and impairment of soil regulation services” in the area.

Even families with land on gentler slopes have had to apply new techniques. The certified organic farm Guisol is an example. Its owners, 68-year-old María Solano and 43-year-old Marta Guillén, work small parcels using live hedges to contain erosion, as they showed IPS.

Not all the area’s producers are aware of the importance of such actions. A survey carried out in 2010 by a researcher with the inter-American Tropical Agronomy Research and Training Centre (CATIE), based in this country, found that seven out of 10 farmers in Pacayas did not use soil protection techniques.

Moreover, the small size of the farms means that they do not benefit from payment for forest cover, the preferred system of erosion control in Costa Rica.

Experts say the latest soil conservation practices in family agriculture will be essential in Pacayas, because of the changes in rainfall patterns.

“There used to be steady rainfall from October to January or February, with thick mist. Now it’s more unstable, and without water potatoes do not grow, and it is farmers who lose out, because seeds and fertilisers are increasingly expensive,” 68-year-old farmer Guillermo Quirós, who had to rebuild the drainage channels on his farm two years ago, told IPS.

In 2011 researcher Carlos Hidalgo of the National Institute of Agricultural Innovation and Technology Transfer concluded a research study monitoring soil management in the area.

“It’s a process that has to include all the actors, including municipalities, producers and research centres,” Hidalgo told IPS in his office in San José.

The multi-disciplinary effort is making progress. Every two months, the soil management committee for the Birrís river basin, a group made up of different sectors, meets in Alvarado municipality to which Pacayas belongs. There they plan their work for the next period.

This month the modest town hall of Alvarado hosted the first meeting of 2014, presided over by local environment manager Gabriela Gómez, and seven out of the eight participants were women. In Pacayas, men carry out most of the agricultural work and women take on local planning and conservation.

“We’re gong to ask the TEC (Technological Institute of Costa Rica) to do a study of run-off, so we can improve the ditches, prevent flooding in the lowlands of the district and reduce erosion,” Gómez told IPS. She has led environmental initiatives that have achieved nationwide recognition.

Pacayas is located in the Birrís river basin, a hydrographical complex rising in the mountains above the town, which feeds the hydropower plants of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).

The Institute spends close to four million dollars a year removing sediment derived from soil erosion from its reservoirs.

Meanwhile, Chacón and other small farmers keep building terraces following the contours of their plots, to prevent the rains from stripping their topsoil.

The impact is clearly visible. On the other side of the river that borders his field, the earth is reddish and bare and there are only a few green patches lower down the slope. “That soil has already been eroded,” said agricultural scientist Solano.

]]> 1
Shifting Rainy Season Wreaks Havoc on Barbuda’s Crops Fri, 28 Feb 2014 14:58:01 +0000 Desmond Brown Some small famers in the Caribbean have come together to build their own catchments to harvest rainwater for crops and livestock. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Some small famers in the Caribbean have come together to build their own catchments to harvest rainwater for crops and livestock. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
HIGHLANDS, Barbuda, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

Water rationing has become a way of life for the 1,800 residents of the tiny island of Barbuda, which has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands.

Marine biologist John Mussington told IPS the problem is that the wet period has shifted from the traditional July to September period to September to November, and when the rains do come, the showers are sharp and end just as quickly.An artificial rainwater catchment is one adaptation option that can reduce the threat of drought.

“Without areas to store the water when it comes, it runs off into the sea or penetrates underground,” Mussington told IPS. “The other problem is that the groundwater is ‘hard’ due to high levels of calcium and magnesium, and in many cases salty due to saltwater intrusion.

“This groundwater is not suitable for agriculture and because the wet season has shifted, the traditional method of planting crops at particular times so that they can be rain-fed is not as effective,” Mussington added.

The director of the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, Keithley Meade, said that climate change poses the greatest threat to Barbuda and the rest of the Caribbean region.

“If you look at what happened in the southern islands in December…climate change is impacting us,” Meade told IPS.

A slow-moving, low-level trough on Dec. 24 dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Dominica, killing at least 13 people.

“We find that our droughts are drier than normal and our wet seasons are wetter than normal,” Meade said.

Barbuda has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Barbuda has been experiencing prolonged dry periods, especially in the Highlands area near the main agricultural lands. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

As the conditions worsen, the state-owned Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) has been urging residents to practice water conservation, with several public service announcements (PSAs) airing on radio and television.

“No rainfall is expected within this period. We have been getting some drizzle, but not the gut showers that are needed,” water manager Ivan Rodriques told IPS.

On average, Antigua and Barbuda requires 5.6 million gallons of water per day, increasing to six million gallons during the peak tourism season.

But there is a flicker of hope: the island is set to benefit from an artificial catchment area to trap rainwater.

The much needed help is thanks to the Reducing the Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project, being implemented by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Susanna Scott, coordinator of the RRACC project, told IPS the artificial catchment would be used “to demonstrate an adaptation option that can reduce the threats of drought and decreasing water availability on the agriculture sector.”

Mussington welcomes the plan to build a water catchment and storage area on the western edge of the Highlands to overcome some of the challenges being faced by the island.

“Incidentally, the concept and initial project design was my doing. By harvesting rainwater on the Highlands and storing the water, it can be used throughout the year to produce high value vegetable crops.

“By incorporating an aquaponics component, Barbuda could become self-sufficient in vegetables and also have the availability of fresh fish for local consumption and export in a more efficient production system,” he said.

Gaston Browne, who is seeking to oust Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer in general elections, constitutionally due here in March, has vowed to make Barbuda “the breadbasket” of the twin-island state.

But with forecasts for hotter and drier conditions going forward, Browne could find it difficult, if not impossible to realise his promise for the drought-stricken island.

Barbuda and mainland Antigua are not the only countries where drought, brought on by climate change, is wreaking havoc on agriculture and water resources.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  scientists said last month was the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth warmest on record. It also marked the driest month for the contiguous United States since 2003 and the fifth driest since records started being kept in 1880.

On Feb. 24, while launching the United Nations (UN) International Year of Small Island Developing States, Antigua-born General Assembly President John Ashe said “this year takes place at a time when the vast majority of islands are combatting the ravages of climate change, and some, like the Maldives are literally sinking because of it.”

Ironically, predictions are that the tiny 62-square-mile island of Barbuda could sink in 60 years due to sea level rise.

“The challenges that small island developing states are facing are challenges that all countries should be concerned about,” the head of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, said at the launch.

He noted that small islands are particularly vulnerable because of their unique locations. For example, the hurricane season has devastating impacts on lives and property, particularly in countries which see an increasing number of cycles and decreasing rainfall.

“Climate change represents a grave threat to the survival and viability of a number of low-lying nations,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in his address at the launch of the International Year.

To galvanise support for addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mobilising political will, Ban will convene a Climate Summit on Sep. 23 in New York.

U.N. member states agreed two years ago to support 51 highly vulnerable Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – a group that was politically recognised at the Rio Summit in 1992, underscored at a major international conference in Barbados in 1994 and again at a follow-up meeting in Mauritius in 2005.

The group of states share similar sustainable development challenges, including small but growing populations, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, excessive dependence on international trade, and fragile environments.

]]> 0
Indoor Mini-Farms to Beat Climate Change Thu, 27 Feb 2014 18:29:31 +0000 Jewel Fraser Ancel Bhagwandeen with his hydroponic unit for growing vegetables indoors. The unit makes use of smart electronics. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Ancel Bhagwandeen with his hydroponic unit for growing vegetables indoors. The unit makes use of smart electronics. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 27 2014 (IPS)

Industrial engineer Ancel Bhagwandeen thinks that growing your food indoors is a great way to protect crops from the stresses of climate change. So he developed a hydroponic system that “leverages the nanoclimates in houses so that the house effectively protects the produce the same way it protects us,” he says.

Bhagwandeen told IPS that his hydroponic project was also developed “to leverage the growth of the urban landscape and high-density housing, so that by growing your own food at home, you mitigate the cost of food prices.”

The hydroponic unit can also run on solar energy. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

The hydroponic unit can also run on solar energy. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrients in water, is increasingly considered a viable means to ensure food security in light of climate change.

His project is one of several being considered for further development by the Caribbean Climate Innovation Centre (CCIC), headquartered in Jamaica.

The newly launched CCIC, which is funded mainly by the World Bank and the government of Canada, seeks to  fund innovative projects that will “change the way we live, work and build to suit a changing climate,” said Everton Hanson, the CCIC’s CEO.

A first step to developing such projects is through Proof of Concept (POC) funding, which makes available grants from 25,000 to 50,000 dollars to successful applicants to “help the entrepreneur to finance those costs that are related to proving that the idea can work,” said Hanson.

Among the items that POC funding will cover are prototype development such as design, testing, and field trials; market testing; raw materials and consumables necessary to achieve proof of concept; and costs related to applications for intellectual property rights in the Caribbean.

A POC competition is now open that will run until the end of March. “After that date the applications will be evaluated. We are looking for ideas that can be commercialised and the plan is to select the best ideas,” Hanson said.

The CCIC, which is jointly managed by the Scientific Research Council in Jamaica and the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute in Trinidad and Tobago, is seeking projects that focus on water management, resource use efficiency, energy efficiency, solar energy, and sustainable agribusiness.

Bhagwandeen entered the POC competition in hopes of securing a grant, because “this POC funding would help in terms of market testing,” he explained.

The 48-year-old engineer says he wishes to build dozens of model units and “distribute them in various areas, then monitor the operations and take feedback from users.” He said he would be testing for usability and reliability, as well as looking for feedback on just how much light is needed and the best locations in a house or building for situating his model.

“I would then take the feedback, and any issues that come up I can refine before going into mass marketing,” he said.

Bhagwandeen’s model would enable homeowners to grow leafy vegetables, including herbs, lettuce and tomatoes, inside their home or apartment, with minimal expense and time.

The model uses smart electronics, meaning that 100 units can run on the same energy as a 60-watt light bulb, he said. So it differs from typical hydroponics systems that consume a great deal of energy, he added. His model can also run on the energy provided by its own small solar panel and can work both indoors and outdoors.

Bhagawandeen said his model’s design is premised on the fact that “our future as a people is based more and more on city living and in order for that to be sustainable, we need to have city farming at a family level.”

A U.N. report says that “the population living in urban areas is projected to gain 2.6 billion, passing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion in 2050.” Most of that urban growth will be concentrated in the cities and towns of the world’s less developed regions.

To meet the challenges of climate change adaptation, the CCIC “will support Caribbean entrepreneurs involved in developing locally appropriate solutions to climate change.”

Bhagwandeen said that support from organisations like the CCIC is critical for climate change entrepreneurs. “From the Caribbean perspective, especially Trinidad and Tobago, we are a heavily consumer-focused society. One of the negatives of Trinidad’s oil wealth is that we are not accustomed to developing technology for ourselves. We buy it.

“We are a society of traders and distributors and there is very little support for innovators and entrepreneurs.”

He said access to markets and investors poses a serious challenge for regional innovators like himself, who typically have to rely on bootstrapping to get their business off the ground.

Typically, he said, regional innovators have to make small quantities of an item, sell those items, and then use the funds to make incrementally larger quantities. “So that if you get an order for 500 units, you cannot fulfill that order,” he said.

Fourteen Caribbean states are involved in CCIC: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Caribbean CCIC is one of eight being developed across the world.

]]> 0
Website Gives Real-Time Snapshot of Deforestation Fri, 21 Feb 2014 01:27:55 +0000 Bryant Harris The data from GFW will provide details about the operations of large corporate suppliers, some of whom engage in illegal timber harvesting. Credit: Crustmania/ CC by 2.0

The data from GFW will provide details about the operations of large corporate suppliers, some of whom engage in illegal timber harvesting. Credit: Crustmania/ CC by 2.0

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Feb 21 2014 (IPS)

A new website launched Thursday will allow governments, businesses, civil society and private citizens to monitor near real-time loss and gain in forest cover in every country around the world.

On Thursday, the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank here, together with Google and more than 40 other partners launched an early version of a project they’re calling Global Forest Watch.“You can’t solve problems that you can’t see." -- Rajiv Shah

U.S., Norwegian and Mexican government officials also attended the launch, alongside academics, businesspeople, civil society representatives and indigenous rights advocates.

“To be able to point to this tool, to look at data, is really, really important,” Kerri-Ann Jones, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, told IPS.

“President [Barack] Obama’s administration is committed to science-based policy, and when you can have real-time data and you can talk about changes on the ground … it’s going to have a very profound effect on our policy dialogue with partners around the world.”

Global Forest Watch (GFW) uses satellite technology from the U.S. government as well as “cloud computing” power donated by Google to provide close-range satellite imagery on tree-cover gain and loss. Currently, GFW provides monthly updates at a resolution of up to 500 metres, as well as yearly updates at a resolution as close as 30 metres.

Because GFW is free and publicly accessible, its partnering organisations hope it will enable private individuals to act as “citizen scientists”, able to exert public pressure on governments and businesses to implement eco-friendly policies and sustainable timber harvesting.

GFW can provide users with alerts via e-mail and text in multiple languages. It is also designed to allow users to upload and share its images over social networks, which organisers hope will help concerned citizens form advocacy groups.

Multiple governments and NGOs funded the project. Norway contributed 10 million dollars in funding while USAID, the U.S. bureau charged with administering foreign aid, donated 5.5 million. Additionally, the United Kingdom and the Global Environment Facility, an international conservation group, each put forth five million dollars.

Changing business

The data from GFW will provide details about the operations of large corporate suppliers, some of whom engage in illegal timber harvesting.

On Thursday, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah noted that the data will shed light on these suppliers and allow his agency to work with foreign businesses to lessen the effects of deforestation in highly susceptible areas.

“You can’t solve problems that you can’t see,” Shah told IPS. “And now that we can see where deforestation is happening as it links into these specific supply chains, we will also target our programming and our funding to those communities to reduce the level of deforestation that’s taking place in the areas where it’s most acute.”

In addition to lumber, foreign suppliers often rely on rainforests to procure goods like palm oil, a popular additive in processed snack food.

report from the Rainforest Action Network, an advocacy group, found that the Kellogg Company, a U.S. food manufacturer, relies on palm oil suppliers whose activities contribute to widespread destruction of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests, severely threatening their indigenous inhabitants and endangered species like orang-utans.

In the face of public criticism, Kellogg announced on Feb. 14 that it would strengthen its standards for its palm oil suppliers to ensure more sustainable harvesting practices.

Palm oil also happens to be one of the industries that the U.S. government is targeting in its fight against deforestation.

“We have a goal that is precise and focused: ending tropical deforestation in palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper,” said USAID Administrator Shah.

Indonesia is particularly susceptible to deforestation, both for its palm oil and other natural resources. On Wednesday, an Indonesian court sentenced a police officer to two years in prison and a 4,000-dollar fine for illegal logging.

However, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a watchdog group, argued that the sentence was too light as the court acquitted the officer of laundering 127 million dollars, some of which is thought to be connected to the illegal timber shipments. The EIA believes this serves as evidence of Indonesia’s reluctance to take on corruption and illicit activity in the forestry sector.

On Thursday, a demonstration of the GFW website revealed illegal encroachment on protected rainforest land in Indonesia in addition to a national park in Cote d’Ivoire.

“[Indigenous communities] can see exactly what’s happening when and where, and perhaps even take a guess at who might be doing it,” said the WRI’s Nigel Sizer during the presentation. “So this supports dramatic improvements in enforcement and awareness across the world.”

Some companies, such as Unilever and Nestle, have already committed to deforestation-free supply chains, and say they plan to use GFW to help identify suppliers who do not comply with their policies.

“Global Forest Watch is a major step forward and to have data in near real-time is absolutely new,” said Duncan Pollard, a Nestle official. “It is going to change the way we do business.”

Two hectares per person

As demand for goods such as palm oil has expanded, their procurement has contributed to the drastic increase in the rate of global deforestation over the past century.

Although the rate has slowed considerably over the past 10 years due to local and international preservation efforts, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that the world still lost an estimated 2.3 million square kilometres of forest between 2000 and 2012. That is the equivalent of losing 50 football fields a day, or an area roughly the size of Costa Rica every year.

“The first forest assessment done globally was done in 1923,” the FAO’s Ken MacDicken said Thursday. “At that time, there were 10 hectares per person of forest in the world. As of 2010, there are about two hectares per person.”

Scientists have shown that rapid rates of deforestation have profound impacts on the accessibility of food, medicine and water, as well as on biodiversity and global climate change.

“Trees and forests have brought joy, have brought food, have brought water and have brought life throughout the world,” Andrew Steer, WRI’s president, said at Thursday’s unveiling.

“Forests are home to more than half of all species in the world. Forests provide employment and water for over a billion people. Forests sequester 45 percent of all of the carbon in the world, so [they] play a central role in our challenge against climate change.”

]]> 2
U.N.’s Post-2015 Agenda Needs a Triple Play Thu, 05 Dec 2013 11:31:22 +0000 Thalif Deen Queuing for food at an NGO centre in Gaza. Credit: Erica Silverman/IPS

Queuing for food at an NGO centre in Gaza. Credit: Erica Silverman/IPS

By Thalif Deen

As the international community fleshes out a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be unveiled next year, civil society activists and U.N. officials agree their success will hinge on policies that address the nexus of poverty, hunger and environmental degradation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is making a strong push for a politically realistic set of SDGs, points out the latest grim statistics: more than one billion people are still living in extreme poverty and over 840 million are perilously hanging on the edge of starvation and hunger."Industrial agriculture, resource extraction by corporations and the international trade system all work against the hungry." -- Anuradha Mittal

Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of the U.S.-based NGO Food Tank, told IPS, “The urgency of finding ways to alleviate hunger, obesity, and poverty in the world is more important than ever before.”

As the SDGs to replace the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are being developed, there is a real opportunity to fight the root causes of hunger – poverty and lack of access to and affordability of food – while also finding economically sustainable ways of protecting the environment, she added.

And government, businesses, farmers, and civil society all recognise that the time to act is now – especially as climate change is taking a bigger toll all over the world, said Nierenberg, a former director of the Food and Agriculture Programme at the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.

A U.N. high-level panel, co-chaired by heads of government from Indonesia, Liberia and UK, provided a roadmap last May aimed at eradicating poverty and hunger – possibly by 2030. How that target can be achieved will be left in the hands of an Open Working Group, comprising some 30 U.N. member states, which is expected to formulate its recommendations for SDGs next year.

The proposed SDGs will be an integral part of the U.N.’s post-2015 economic agenda and a successor to the MDGs targeted to end in 2015.

The MDGs aimed at reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

But that goal is unlikely to be reached by most of the world’s poorer nations, primarily in Africa.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, assistant director general and coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, told IPS the FAO, like the other Rome-based agencies, remains committed to the single goal on food security and nutrition.

“FAO has already committed itself to completely eradicating hunger and malnutrition,” he added.

Sundaram said it is always difficult to prove that the MDGs contributed to reducing the number of people living in hunger.

The 1996 World Food Summit had in fact committed to halving the number of hungry people, in contrast to MDG (1c) which set the target of halving the proportion or share of hungry people. By defining the original poverty line primarily in terms of what it takes to avoid being hungry, the MDG (1a) poverty target indirectly gave attention to hunger as well, he said.

And by setting up a High-Level Task Force on World Food Security in response to the food price spikes in early 2008, the secretary-general has also drawn attention to the MDG hunger target.

Last year, Ban appointed FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva as his vice-chair while announcing a “Zero Hunger Campaign” at the Rio+20 summit in June 2012.

Such efforts have continued to focus attention on the MDG hunger target, noted Sundaram.

Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the San Francisco-based Oakland Institute, told IPS agriculture and hunger are key elements of the discussion around a proposed new set of SDGs.

“It is essential for future agriculture and food security policies to be thought and designed in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and economic globalisation,” she added.

Nierenberg told IPS the fight against food loss and food waste is just one example of how farmers, businesses, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can work together to establish better infrastructure to protect crops or develop better ways of getting food that would have otherwise been wasted to people in need.

In the post-2015 agenda, there is great potential to look at agriculture as the solution to some of our most pressing social and environmental challenges, whether its unemployment, conflict, urbanisation, and even climate change, she noted.

Mittal pointed out that the most effective ways to reduce hunger and and poverty in the world are also recognised as the best ways to address the challenges of environmental degradation and climate change.

These include actions and policies in favour of sustainable, low-input agriculture, agro-ecological methods that should primarily target the rural poor in developing countries, and primarily family farms and herders.

“It is an opportunity to have an impact on several fronts. But it is also a challenge as industrial agriculture, resource extraction by corporations and the international trade system all work against the hungry and contribute significantly to environmental degradation and climate change,” Mittal said.

She said the U.N.’s new development agenda must recognise and address this threat, and take decisive steps against the current development paradigm dominated by the promotion of foreign investment, which often translates into extraction of resources versus actual development for the people.

]]> 0
The Carbon Warrior Sun, 01 Dec 2013 16:45:27 +0000 Anna Shen By Anna Shen
NEW YORK, Dec 1 2013 (IPS)

Watching the colossal destruction of Typhoon Haiyan over the past month, Columbia University Professor Graciela Chichilnisky knows one thing for sure: climate change will likely result in more of these massive storms, threatening the very existence of humanity.

As one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change and creator of the carbon market enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol emissions treaty, Chichilnisky also knows this is nothing new.“What we need is to close the carbon cycle, which means whatever we put up, we bring it down.” -- Graciela Chichilnisky

“What the world needs now is solutions,” she told IPS. “If we can create the right institutions now we can solve energy and climate issues. For the first time, with the release of the official IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report, there is one very important paragraph: there are potential solutions, and the IPCC report talks about carbon negative technology.”

Chichilnisky, a world-class economist and mathematician, has also searched for the answers, published in much of her academic work that consists of 14 books and 250 articles in leading academic journals.

Despite overwhelming evidence detailing the costs of inaction, the outlook is increasingly dire: a recent U.N. climate change report forecasts a profound decline in the world’s food supply, increases in violent conflicts, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, and disease.


Courtesy of Graciela Chichilnisky.

Three of the diplomats who led the U.N. global warming talks have said that future climate treaties will not prevent the world from overheating. Two weeks of climate talks in Warsaw last month produced dismal progress.

Despite these obstacles, Chichilnisky remains tenacious. Jigar Shah, former CEO of Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, notes her lifelong efforts. “Graciela is a tour de force,” he told IPS. “She has been working on climate change for the better part of her life and has figured out how to inspire people with her messages. She can include that in her legacy.”

Indeed, Chichilnisky helped put the issue on the map from the very beginning, something recognised by the international community. She is seen as a key player in creating an international climate change framework as the Argentine-born U.S. lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Today, Chichilnisky is most concerned with finding ways to avoid, or at least ameliorate, the catastrophic impact climate change will have on humanity and the planet. She believes there is a way forward.

The goal of recent U.N. negotiations has been to keep warming below two degrees C by the year 2020. This may be possible using markets and technology, Chichilnisky says.

One compelling instrument uses a carbon neutral technology, which became the cornerstone of a company called Global Thermostat, which she founded with Dr. Peter Eisenberger, who also founded the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The company got a loan from Goldman Sachs, and six years ago, the technology caught the eye of Edgar Bronfman Jr., former CEO of Warner Music and Seagram. He is the lead investor in Global Thermostat, and later became executive chairman.

Bronfman told IPS that Chichilnisky brings a combination of vision, intelligence, determination and gravitas to the table.

“She is prepared to see things that not everyone can. I think the fact that she is a woman that has succeeded in her career means she is more determined and resourceful than most people,” he said.

“The work in the Kyoto Protocol lends credibility to Global Thermostat, which may seem to be too good to be true at first,” he added.

The company’s technology, which is targeted at power plants, refineries and other industries, captures and stores carbon dioxide emissions. Bronfman likens it to a “giant dehumidifier”.

“What we need is to take carbon down from air to close the carbon cycle, which means whatever we put up, we bring it down,” Chichilnisky said.

In short, the catastrophic risks of climate change require a fundamental transformation in the production and use of energy. The challenge is to increase the world’s energy supplies while also reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, she said.

The company has commercial deals with several of the biggest players in the market, including Corning. Some of its products feed CO2 to algae that turn it into clean fuel. There are two plants in Silicon Valley, California and one in the U.S. state of Alabama.

Chichilnisky insists the receding goal of staving off a two-degree C increase in temperature remains possible, especially with the use of proper technology. Most importantly, by showing the effectiveness of technology in combating the problem, she hopes to raise the political stakes.

“Right now, most politicians do not understand what is at stake. Few people understand that you can reduce carbon in a way that helps the economy. If you can reduce carbon and create jobs, then politically it would become possible. It will happen,” she said.

What is really needed is a war on all fronts, with everyone participating, she said. “It is an effort like going to the moon – it’s a global effort. Can we do it yes? Do people know how to do it – no,” she said, adding that: “We are in this all together. For the first time in history we are facing a problem that is sink or swim.”

The carbon market is 250 billion dollars a year in the European Union and has gone live on four continents. The market changes the numerical value of all energy, and with it clean energy becomes more profitable, which causes a shift in global energy markets.

“If you make money out of cleaning the atmosphere, improvements will happen. The carbon market provides for an improvement to happen. The market values a clean atmosphere at one trillion dollars a year,” she said.

]]> 3
In Haiti, Planting Trees Is No Simple Matter Fri, 29 Nov 2013 16:48:57 +0000 Correspondents Agronomist Ludson Lafontant looking at one of the recently constructed ledges during a visit to Doucet in August 2013. It contains a young mango tree plant, a grass plant, and peanut plants. Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

Agronomist Ludson Lafontant looking at one of the recently constructed ledges during a visit to Doucet in August 2013. It contains a young mango tree plant, a grass plant, and peanut plants. Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

By Correspondents
Doucet, Petit-Goâve, HAITI, Nov 29 2013 (Haiti Grassroots Watch)

Reforestation and soil conservation programmes costing many thousands of dollars in this rural community have resulted in hundreds of small ledges built of straw or sacks of earth. In certain areas, the earthworks seem to be lasting, but in others, they are disintegrating.

The construction and destruction of the anti-erosion ledges – all made with foreign development and humanitarian money – offer an example of how at least some of Haiti’s reforestation projects turn out.No matter what promises were made, a farmer will always be concerned with the immediate need of feeding and clothing his or her family first.

In the years since the 2010 earthquake, the 11th and 12th communal sections of Petit-Goâve, located 60 kilometres southwest of the capital, have hosted several soil conservation and agricultural programmes with budgets in the tens and even hundreds of thousands.

The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Helvetas and Action Agro Allemande (AAA), sometimes working with a local development organisation – Mouvman Kole Zepòl (MKOZE) – oversaw projects aimed at rehabilitating the watershed of the Ladigue River.

The steep slopes around the river “are very vulnerable to water erosion and mudslides,” MKOZE explained in a report on one project that had a budget of 91,534 dollars. “During rainy season, the waters from the Ladigue River dump a lot of sediment and rocks at the river’s mouth, destroying fields and causing homes to flood. Sometimes harvests, homes, animals and even human lives are lost.”

In the Petit-Goâve region, deforestation started about a half-century ago, according to many residents. It began with the devastating 1963 Hurricane Flora, which caused great damage and over 5,000 deaths in Haiti’s western and southern regions.

Molière Jean Félix, 62, remembers. “There were a lot of mango trees at the top of this mountain. We grew corn and rice. Now you can’t even plant Congo beans there,” recalled the farmer.

Haiti has less than three percent tree cover, down from about 60 percent a century ago, and perhaps 80 percent when Christopher Columbus first disembarked. In Haiti, trees are cut down primarily for fuel.

Most energy consumed in the country for cooking, industrial bakeries and dry cleaning – in fact, 75 percent of all energy used comes from wood and charcoal, according to government figures.

Missteps to Learn From

A few observers noted some bad choices made in the projects. For example, although Louis Calixte worked for AAA as a technician, he thinks the structures will not last.

“Some of the structures are good, but others are not good because of the kind of tree they planted. You can’t just plant a mango any old place. You have to plant it in a certain environment, where it will flourish. The same goes for eucalyptus. You can’t put it in a place meant to produce food,” Calixte explained.

After visiting many of the hillsides, agronomist Ludson Lafontant noted that some of the the techniques used offer advantages. For example, the dried grass used for some of the ledges will eventually decompose and serve as compost for weeds. However, the agronomist agreed that eucalyptus is not the best choice for reforestation.

“All plants use water,” he said. “But these kinds of plants – eucalyptus and also neem – I would not put them near rivers or wells or farmers’ fields. They suck up all the water around them.”

Félix sees tree-cutting almost every day. “Today, young people don’t have any way to make a living. They don’t produce coffee, they don’t raise pigs. So, they cut down trees in order to send their children to school,” he said.

In Doucet, as well as other parts of Haiti, foreign organisations often fund projects where local residents overseen by technicians are paid 200 to 300 gourdes a day (4.65-6.98 dollars) to build ledges made of sacks of dirt, dried reeds and wattle. The ledges are then planted with tree seedlings.

In addition to assisting with reforestation, development organisations also see the projects – known as “Cash for Work” (CFW) in English – as a kind of post-disaster emergency income programme.

“[CFW] helps us hire a lot of families and assures that they get a minimal revenue. This provides immediate assistance and is therefore a real advantage,” AAA’s Beate Maas told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW).

Reforestation vs. everyday needs

All around Doucet, many hills are decorated with hundreds of the new little ledges holding seedlings of fruit or eucalyptus trees. But there are many others where the ledges are disintegrating: mud is spilling out, and the saplings are dead or dying.

Farmers have planted peanuts, peas and other crops around the structures. In a few months, the hillsides will be as naked as they were before the reforestation project.

Ilomène Tataille is a mother, a landowner and a member of one of the voluntary committees set up to keep an eye on the ledges and the new plants, to assure that animals don’t eat them and to make sure the ledges are drained after each rainfall. Another task, she explained, is to make sure farmers don’t plant anything on the eroding slopes, and especially not peanuts, a popular crop in the region.

According to Tataille, even though the CFW workers and landowners all agreed at first not to disturb the hillsides, it is almost impossible to stop people from farming. Even she breaks her promise.

“Yes, I plant there also. We live in a very dry region. We can only farm peanuts. That is our profession. Sorry, but we don’t have any other job,” she said.

Tataille noted that another problem is the fact that landowners lease out their land, so even if they have made promises to AAA and MKOZE, they can’t force their tenants to follow suit.

Staff who work on the projects are aware of the vicious-circle element.

Agronomist Esther Paynis was a consultant to AAA for a project carried out with MKOZE between September 2012 and August 2013.

“We told people not to plant peanuts and other crops that involve digging into the earth, like yam and sweet potato. In the training sessions we held, everyone promised to respect those principles,” Paynis told HGW in a Sep. 30 email.

“If we give them advice that they later ignore, that’s not our fault. We told them the disadvantages of planting peanuts and how that could lead to the total degradation of the zone.”

During a visit in August 2013, journalists saw many young peanut plants on a number of hillsides near the ledges. Two months later, in October, many recently made structures on those same hillsides were in various states of disintegration. Many had been destroyed and tree saplings and other plants were dead, either drowned or buried by earth, both the result of the lack of maintenance.

One reason might be because the committees are voluntary.

“The committees don’t have any support. Some people agree to work for free, but others do not,” Junior Joseph, a member of a local peasant association, explained. “That’s when the structures deteriorate.”

In order to get an independent opinion, HGW consulted an agronomist who had not worked on the project. Agronomist Ludson Lafontant agreed with some of the criticism voiced by local farmers.

Reforestation is necessary but failure to implicate local farmers is a big problem, he said. No matter what promises were made, a farmer will always be concerned with the immediate need of feeding and clothing his or her family first.

Lave men siyè a tè?”

During a visit in August 2013, Lafontant said he feared the reforestation project would be another example of wasted money, of the Haitian proverb “Lave men siyè a tè,” which means “wash your hands, dry them on the ground.”

But Lafontant also criticised the population and the government.

“I always say we ought to love ourselves more than others love us. In other words, the non-governmental organisations come here, they write projects, they look for the money and they do the project,” he said.

“The money has to be justified so they can be proud to say they have worked on a X number of hectares, built contours on a Y square metres of land and given Z number of people jobs. That’s how they justify their money. But whose problem is it? Whose country is it? It’s ours, here in our home. We need to become conscious of that.”

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.

]]> 0
South Scores 11th-Hour Win on Climate Loss and Damage Sun, 24 Nov 2013 20:34:06 +0000 Stephen Leahy COP19 delegates huddle to resolve the issue of loss and damage. Credit: Courtesy of ENB

COP19 delegates huddle to resolve the issue of loss and damage. Credit: Courtesy of ENB

By Stephen Leahy
WARSAW, Nov 24 2013 (IPS)

The U.N. climate talks in Warsaw ended in dramatic fashion Saturday evening in what looked like a schoolyard fight with a mob of dark-suited supporters packed around the weary combatants, Todd Stern of the United States and Sai Navoti of Fiji representing G77 nations.

It took two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations to get to this point."We need those promises to add up to enough real action to keep us below the internationally agreed two-degree temperature rise.” -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

At issue in this classic North versus South battle was the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. Countries of the South, with 80 percent of the world’s people, finally won, creating a loss and damage pillar to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

Super-typhoon Haiyan’s impact on the Philippines just days before the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) amply illustrated the reality of loss and damages arising from climate change.  Philippines lead negotiator Yeb Saño made an emotional speech announcing “fast for the climate” at the COP19 opening that garnered worldwide attention, including nearly a million YouTube views

His fast would only end with agreement on a loss and damage mechanism – an official process now called the “Warsaw Mechanism” to determine how to implement this third pillar. Much still needs to be defined. Climate impacts result in both economic and non-economic losses, including the growing issue of climate refugees, people who are forced to move because their homelands can no longer support them.

“This Warsaw decision on loss and damage is a major breakthrough,” said Bangladesh’s Saleem Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in the UK.

“There is a long way yet to go for an effective climate treaty,” Huq told IPS.

Overall, the results from COP19 are mixed, said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of strategy and policy, who has attended all but one of these climate negotiations over the past 19 years.

“Loss and damages is big but we have the bare minimum in the rest to keep going,” he told IPS.

The U.N. talks known as COPs are part of a complex and acronym-laden process to create a new climate treaty to keep global warming to less than two degrees C, and to help poorer countries survive the mounting impacts.

In 2009 at the semi-infamous Copenhagen talks, the rich countries made a deal with developing countries, saying in effect: “We’ll give you billions of dollars for adaptation, ramping up to 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in exchange for our mitigation amounting to small CO2 cuts instead of making the big cuts that we should do.”

The money to help poor countries adapt flowed for the first three years but has largely dried up. Warsaw was supposed to be the “Finance COP” to bring the promised money. That didn’t happen.

Countries like Germany, Switzerland and others in Europe only managed to scrape together promises of 110 million dollars into the Green Climate Fund. Developing countries wanted a guarantee of 70 billion a year by 2016 but were blocked by the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and others.

“Rich governments have refused to recognise their legal and moral responsibility to provide international climate finance,” said Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South, Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.

The mitigation pillar in Warsaw is even shakier. Japan said they couldn’t make their promised emission reductions and gave themselves a new extremely weak target. Canada and Australia thumbed their noses at their reduction commitments and are increasing emissions.

Today’s reality is that slightly more than half of annual CO2 emissions are coming from the global south. In Warsaw, the big emitters like China and India refused to take on specific reduction targets. Instead they agreed to make “contributions”.  Specific details about reduction amounts and timing was deferred to a specially-convened leader’s climate summit in New York on Sep. 23, 2014.

“We need those promises to add up to enough real action to keep us below the internationally agreed two-degree temperature rise,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said here in Warsaw.

The one surprising success at COP 19 was an agreement on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). This will provide compensation for countries that could lose revenue from not exploiting their forests. Deforestation and conversion of forests to farmland contributes about 10 percent of total human-caused CO2 emissions.

“We now have a system in place to do REDD and reduce emissions,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous representative from the Philippines.

It’s a strong package that includes verification, monitoring and safeguards for local communities. Countries have to put all of this in place before they can access finance either through the Green Climate Fund or through carbon markets, Tauli-Corpuz told IPS.

“Hopefully, it will pump a lot of money into local communities and reduce deforestation,” she said.

Honouring land tenure or land rights of local communities to care for the forests is the key to making REDD work as intended and benefit local people and not corporations or national governments, she said.

Emissions from deforestation have been slowly declining. However, the vast majority of CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels, especially coal, and it continues to grow quickly. Those emissions will heat the planet for centuries and yet governments spend more than 500 billion dollars to subsidise these industries, said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace international executive director.

“Democracy has been stolen by corporations,” Naidoo told IPS. “While activists and protesters are arrested, the real hooligans are the CEOs of fossil fuel companies.”

The only avenue left to people is civil disobedience and 2014 will be the year of climate activism, he said.

“Now is the time to put our lives on the line and face jail time,” Naidoo said.

In what may be the first of many such actions, more than 800 members of civil society walked of the COP negotiations on the second to last day “in protest against rich industrialised countries jeopardising international climate action” they said.

While international negotiations inch along, climate scientists are growing increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence that climate change is happening faster and with larger impacts than projected.

To have a good chance at staying under two degrees C, industrialised countries need to crash their CO2 emissions 10 percent per year starting in 2014, said Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester.

“We can still do two C but not the way we’re going,” Anderson said on the sidelines of COP 19 in Warsaw. He wondered why negotiators on the inside are not reacting to the reality that it is too late for incremental changes.

“I’m really stunned there is no sense of urgency here,” he told IPS.

]]> 0
New Hope for Haiti’s Decimated Forests Mon, 18 Nov 2013 20:06:28 +0000 Desmond Brown Cassia siamia trees (used for charcoal) planted on farm borders in Haiti. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Cassia siamia trees (used for charcoal) planted on farm borders in Haiti. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
WARSAW, Nov 18 2013 (IPS)

Small farmers could play an important part in making Haiti – where just two percent of trees are still standing – green again.

With a population of 10 million and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 7.8 billion dollars, Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, has been crippled by environmental degradation for several years. “There is already a firm foundation to build on in some areas where present and past forestry and agroforestry projects had been implemented." -- Tony Rinaudo

But there is a flicker of hope for the country and its neighbour, Dominican Republic (DR), with which it shares the island of Hispaniola.

Inspired by the success of its Humbo forestry project in Ethiopia, developed under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), World Vision Australia has just completed a scoping mission to both countries, to examine the potential for natural regeneration of forests through “Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration” (FMNR).

“Healthy lives for children and their families are underpinned by a healthy environment and so more and more we’ve been looking at how we can help communities to build sustainable environments, and particularly in the face of climate change this is becoming increasingly important,” Timothy Morris, World Vision’s business unit manager, food security and climate change, told IPS on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference underway here at the national stadium of Poland.

The CDM allows for reforestation projects to earn carbon credits (Certified Emission Reductions – CER’s) for each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent “sequestered” or absorbed by the forest. In the case of World Vision’s Humbo project, revenue continues to be generated for the communities who manage the forest assets under seven cooperatives, representing almost 50,000 people.

“We understood that Haiti is an area that is being heavily degraded through deforestation, a high population and the need for fuels,” Morris said.

Devastating floods and landslides have also left bare many areas previously covered with forests, he noted.

World Vision’s point person on reforestation, Tony Rinaudo, recently visited Haiti and the Dominican Republic to examine the degraded landscape in the area.

“There is already a firm foundation to build on in some areas where present and past forestry and agroforestry projects had been implemented,” Rinaudo told IPS.
“I met individuals who valued and cared for trees – fruit, timber, charcoal – successfully.”

Rinaudo stressed that FMNR is certainly not a new concept since he “saw cases of it on some farm borders, in some cases within cropland”. But he said this understanding can be built on – to improve technique, scale up activities – and create greater awareness and practice.

“There is enormous potential for FMNR – for example, with prosopis which is a very aggressive thorny species. With systematic management a sustainable charcoal, pole, timber, honey, fodder industry could be established,” he told IPS.

Indi McLymont-Lafayette, regional coordinator for Panos Caribbean, which works to give voice to poor and marginalised communities, told IPS that some grassroots groups in Haiti were already actively involved in this issue.

“We have been working over the past two and a half years implementing a project looking at the rehabilitation after the earthquake,” she said.

“We include climate change and biodiversity issues with policy making. Part of that has entailed working with areas that have reforestation initiatives and one of the organisations in Haiti, Fondation Seguin, is very crucial, I think, for collaboration because they are already doing tremendous work in reforestation so I think World Vision could bring value to what is already being done.”

World Vision has had tremendous success with a community-managed forestry project in the Humbo region of Ethiopia, 342 kilometres south of the capital Addis Ababa. Over a 30-year crediting period, it is estimated that more than 880,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent will be removed from the atmosphere, making a significant contribution to mitigating climate change.

Prior to the project, Humbo’s mountainous terrain was highly degraded and chronically drought prone. Poverty, hunger and increasing demand for agricultural land had driven local communities to overexploit forest resources.

Hurricane-ravaged Haiti and the Dominican Republic are among the countries most affected by climate change. A study by the World Bank released this week states that if the sea continues to rise at the current rate, Santo Domingo, the capital of DR, will be one of the five cities most affected at a global level by climate change in 2050.

Another report released here shows that Haiti led the list of the three countries most affected by weather-related catastrophes in 2012.

A continuously growing urban population and an increasing demand for charcoal and fuel wood have all contributed to depleting Haiti’s natural environment. But Morris said the two Caribbean nations stand to reap many benefits from a forestry regeneration project.

“When we do this kind of work there are multiple benefits that can come from it, particularly in a coastal environment and environments that are exposed to storm activity,” Morris told IPS.

“The sorts of things that we would like to do by regenerating and planting trees are to enhance soil integrity; prevent erosion; build coastal land integrity for resilience to storm surge and coastal inundation; and to re-establish the natural asset base of the area for more sustainable usage over the long term.”

He said there could also be benefits in the form of increased food production, since “often we find that once we get into this technique – particularly around the water catchment areas and steep slopes – it can improve the soil integrity” for agricultural purposes.

]]> 0
U.N. Climate Meet: “It’s About Survival” Wed, 13 Nov 2013 21:55:16 +0000 Desmond Brown Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 is being held. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 is being held. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
WARSAW, Nov 13 2013 (IPS)

For the small island developing states of the Caribbean, there is nothing more important than the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place here at the national stadium of Poland from Nov. 11-22.

“We’re being impacted by climate change right now. We have to fight sea level rise, we are looking at increases in the frequency and severity of storm events, so it’s about survival,” Hugh Sealy, vice chair of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Board, told IPS."What we do in the next seven years will affect generations to come.” -- Hugh Sealy

“In my humble opinion, and forgive me for being melodramatic, this is the most important decade facing mankind,” said Sealy, a national of Grenada. “What we do in the next seven years will affect generations to come.”

The CDM is the largest carbon market in the world. It has so far delivered more than 315 billion dollars in assistance to developing countries. It has launched more than 7,400 projects since 2004 and has saved the developed countries about three billion dollars in cost compliance. The CDM now has a regional collaboration centre at St. George’s University in Grenada with two more centres in Lome and Kampala.

A new report released here shows that Haiti led the list of the three countries most affected by weather-related catastrophes in 2012. The others were the Philippines and Pakistan.

Germanwatch presented the ninth annual Global Climate Risk Index at the onset of the Climate Summit in Warsaw.

“The landfall of Hurricane Sandy in the U.S. dominated international news in October 2012. Yet it was Haiti – the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – that suffered the greatest losses from the same event,” said Sönke Kreft, team leader for international climate policy at Germanwatch and co-author of the index.

In the last two decades, the 10 most affected countries have without exception been developing nations, with Honduras, Myanmar and Haiti taking the brunt during the period 1993-2012, the report noted.

The Germanwatch Climate Risk Index ranks countries according to relative and absolute number of human victims, and relative and absolute economic damage. The core data stems from the Munich Re NatCatSERVICE. The most recent available data from 2012 as well as for the 20-year-period 1993-2012 were taken into account for the preparation of this index.

“Our results are really a wake-up call to ramp up international climate policy and to better manage weather-related disasters,” said Kreft. “The year 2015 represents a major milestone, which needs to deliver a new climate agreement, and the international disaster framework is also up for renewal.”

The climate summit in Warsaw is expected to chart a road-map for an ambitious 2015 agreement. But Sealy and a very vocal Caribbean delegation at the summit are determined to leave Warsaw with some tangible benefits.

“I live in Grenada right now,” Sealy told IPS. “The cost for electricity in Grenada is 40 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour, it’s one of the highest in the world. Ten percent of our GDP is spent on importing diesel. It’s a constraint for the entire economy. We have hotels that can’t pay their electricity bills.

“If we can get something out of this conference that says that monies will pour into developing countries to help them transform their energy sectors then that’s a sustainable development benefit that will affect the entire region.”

Sealy’s role here is as the lead negotiator for work stream two for the alliance. He explained that at the 2011 climate summit in Durban, it was agreed that developing countries and developed countries have to come together to take mitigation action to reduce CO2 emissions.

“Work stream one is trying to come up with a 2015 agreement that would come into effect in 2020. Work stream two, which is what the alliance pushed for, says we cannot wait until 2020 for an agreement,” Sealy said.

“We have to take action now so we insisted that we have a work stream two and my job here is to make sure that countries move forward in the next seven years enhancing mitigation,” he explained. “So what we hope to get out of work stream two is a technical process that identifies the mitigation potential that developing countries could take and also the means of implementation – the finance, the technology transfer, the capacity building that would allow small islands to move forward.”

The Warsaw conference also negotiates how to directly address climate-related loss and damage, a topic of special interest to small island states.

On Wednesday, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported that this year is on course to be among the top 10 warmest years since modern records began in 1850.

The first nine months, January to September, tied with 2003 as the seventh warmest such period on record, with a global land and ocean surface temperature of about 0.48°C (0.86°F) above the 1961–1990 average, according to the report.

WMO’s provisional annual statement on the Status of the Global Climate 2013 provides a snapshot of regional and national temperatures. It also includes details on precipitation, floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, ice cover and sea-level.

“Temperatures so far this year are about the same as the average during 2001-2010, which was the warmest decade on record,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

“All of the warmest years have been since 1998 and this year once again continues the underlying, long-term trend, the coldest years now are warmer than the hottest years before 1998,” he said.

“Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached new highs in 2012, and we expect them to reach unprecedented levels yet again in 2013. This means that we are committed to a warmer future,” added Jarraud.

Sealy told IPS that the key issues for the Caribbean at Warsaw include “recognising that climate change is affecting us now and we need support now to not only adapt but also to transform our economies.”

He pointed to Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines with sustained winds of 300 kilometres an hour and peak winds of 380 kilometres per hour.

“How can we adapt to that type of storm in the Caribbean?  It’s totally impossible. So what the world has to do is reduce their emissions and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We are trying to bring a sense of urgency to this conference that we have to do things now, not wait until 2020,” Sealy added.

]]> 0
OP-ED: A Global Green New Deal for Sustainable Development Mon, 11 Nov 2013 14:00:17 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Nov 11 2013 (IPS)

Eight decades ago, during the Great Depression, newly elected U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the New Deal consisting of a number of mutually supporting initiatives of which the most prominent were:

  • A public works programme financed by deficit financing
  • A new social contract to improve living standards for working families, and
  • Regulation of financial markets to protect assets of ordinary citizens and to channel financial resources into productive investment.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram. UN Photo/Mark Garten

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. UN Photo/Mark Garten

Today, we are in the midst of another protracted economic slowdown. The world needs a New Deal, which is both global and sustainable. The current system and crisis are global in nature, requiring a corresponding response.

It also has to be sustainable. We are in the midst of economic, social and environmental crises, with global warming looming larger. We are also threatened by pollution, natural resource degradation, loss of forests and biodiversity, as well as socio-political instability due to growing disparities.

The Global Green New Deal (GGND) should move all to a different, sustainable developmental pathway – in the spirit of Rio. The GGND should have ingredients similar to the original New Deal – namely public works employment, social protection, and increased productive investments for output and job recovery.

After half a decade of economic contraction and stagnation, with even developing countries slowing down recently, it is urgent to prioritise economic recovery measures, and not to expect recovery at the expense of others. The GGND should be part of a broader counter-cyclical response with three main elements.

First, national stimulus packages in developed and developing countries aiming to revive and green national economies. Second, international policy coordination to ensure that developed countries’ stimulus packages generate jobs in the North and strong developmental impacts in developing countries. Third, greater financial support for developing countries, as with the Marshall Plan.

Such investments should lead to the revival of growth that is both ecologically sustainable and socially inclusive. Support for agriculture should be an important feature of national stimulus packages in developing countries, with special attention to promote climate smart and ecologically sustainable agriculture.

After a half century of decline, except in the mid-1970s, real agricultural commodity prices were rising from about a decade ago. The recent price trend reflects yield growth slowing in recent years, while demand continued to grow rapidly. Rising incomes have increased food demand for humans and animal husbandry, while demand for biofuels has expanded rapidly in the last decade.

Higher and more volatile food prices threaten the food security and nutrition of billions. Prices were increasingly volatile for over half a decade, with successively higher peaks in 2007-08, 2010-11 and 2012. “Financialisation” – linking markets for commodity derivatives with other financial assets – also worsened price volatility.

Coordination and collaboration

Creating jobs in developed countries with strong developmental impacts should be part of developed countries’ stimulus packages. Over the longer term, reforms of the international financial and multilateral trading systems should support sustainable development.

Until recently, official development assistance for agricultural development in developing countries had declined for decades. Meanwhile, rich countries have continued to subsidise and protect their farmers, undermining food production in developing countries.

Food security should be treated as a global public good since the political and social consequences of food insecurity has global ramifications. Hence, there should be a multilateral response to ensure food security.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s – with considerable government and international not-for-profit support – greatly increased crop yields and food production, reducing hunger, starvation and poverty. However, efforts for wheat, maize and rice were not extended to other food crops.

We need a second generation Green Revolution to promote sustainable, including ‘climate smart’ agriculture, especially for water-stressed, arid areas. Public investments – with international assistance – must provide the incentives and other support needed to increase family farm investments.

Many other complementary interventions are urgently needed. Food security cannot be achieved without much better social protection. Resources are needed to strengthen social protection for billions in developing countries to ensure decent employment, food security and more sustainable development.

But sustainable social protection requires major improvements in public finances. While revenue generation requires greater national incomes, tax collection can still be greatly enhanced through improved international cooperation on tax and other international financial matters.

Clearly, the agenda for a Global Green New Deal requires not only bold new national developmental initiatives, but also far better and more equitable multilateral cooperation offered by a strong revival of the inclusive multilateralism of the United Nations system.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is Assistant Director General and Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

]]> 0