Inter Press Service » Advancing Deserts http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Sun, 20 Apr 2014 08:06:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Uzbekistan’s Dying Aral Sea Resurrected as Tourist Attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uzbekistans-dying-aral-sea-resurrected-tourist-attraction/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:41:12 +0000 Adriane Lochner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133688 “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 […]

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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 EurasiaNet.org. 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 EurasiaNet.org 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 EurasiaNet.org.

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Putting Climate Polluters in the Dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-climate-polluters-dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:30:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133178 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. He […]

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

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

By 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.

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Costa Rican Farmers Become Climate Change Acrobats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/costa-rican-farmers-become-climate-change-acrobats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rican-farmers-become-climate-change-acrobats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/costa-rican-farmers-become-climate-change-acrobats/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 18:26:49 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132431 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, […]

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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.

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Shifting Rainy Season Wreaks Havoc on Barbuda’s Crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/shifting-rainy-season-wreaks-havoc-barbudas-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-rainy-season-wreaks-havoc-barbudas-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/shifting-rainy-season-wreaks-havoc-barbudas-crops/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 14:58:01 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132281 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 […]

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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.

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Indoor Mini-Farms to Beat Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indoor-food-gardens-beat-climate-change/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 18:29:31 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132201 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 […]

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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.

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Website Gives Real-Time Snapshot of Deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/website-gives-real-time-snapshot-deforestation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=website-gives-real-time-snapshot-deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/website-gives-real-time-snapshot-deforestation/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 01:27:55 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131862 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 […]

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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.”

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Agenda Needs a Triple Play http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/u-n-s-post-2015-agenda-needs-triple-play/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-post-2015-agenda-needs-triple-play http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/u-n-s-post-2015-agenda-needs-triple-play/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 11:31:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129289 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 […]

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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
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 2013 (IPS)

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.

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The Carbon Warrior http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/carbon-warrior/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-warrior http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/carbon-warrior/#comments Sun, 01 Dec 2013 16:45:27 +0000 Anna Shen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129185 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 […]

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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.

graciela350

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.

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In Haiti, Planting Trees Is No Simple Matter http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/haiti-planting-trees-simple-matter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=haiti-planting-trees-simple-matter http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/haiti-planting-trees-simple-matter/#comments Fri, 29 Nov 2013 16:48:57 +0000 Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129161 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 […]

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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.

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South Scores 11th-Hour Win on Climate Loss and Damage http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/south-scores-11th-hour-win-on-climate-loss-and-damage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-scores-11th-hour-win-on-climate-loss-and-damage http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/south-scores-11th-hour-win-on-climate-loss-and-damage/#comments Sun, 24 Nov 2013 20:34:06 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129042 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 […]

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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.

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New Hope for Haiti’s Decimated Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/new-hope-for-haitis-decimated-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-hope-for-haitis-decimated-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/new-hope-for-haitis-decimated-forests/#comments Mon, 18 Nov 2013 20:06:28 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128912 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. But there […]

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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.

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U.N. Climate Meet: “It’s About Survival” http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/u-n-climate-meet-its-about-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-meet-its-about-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/u-n-climate-meet-its-about-survival/#comments Wed, 13 Nov 2013 21:55:16 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128806 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 […]

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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.

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OP-ED: A Global Green New Deal for Sustainable Development http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/op-ed-a-global-green-new-deal-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-a-global-green-new-deal-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/op-ed-a-global-green-new-deal-for-sustainable-development/#comments Mon, 11 Nov 2013 14:00:17 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128732 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 […]

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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.

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World Headed for a High-Speed Carbon Crash http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/world-headed-for-a-high-speed-carbon-crash/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-headed-for-a-high-speed-carbon-crash http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/world-headed-for-a-high-speed-carbon-crash/#comments Thu, 07 Nov 2013 18:55:27 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128686 If global carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, humanity will eventually be left with no other option than a costly, world war-like mobilisation, scientists warned this week. “It’s blindingly obvious that our economic system is failing us,” said economist Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey in […]

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Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 7 2013 (IPS)

If global carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, humanity will eventually be left with no other option than a costly, world war-like mobilisation, scientists warned this week.

“It’s blindingly obvious that our economic system is failing us,” said economist Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey in the UK."Prosperity isn’t just about having more stuff. Prosperity is the art of living well on a finite planet." -- economist Tim Jackson

Climate change, pollution, damaged ecosystems, record species extinctions, and unsustainable resource use are all clear symptoms of a dysfunctional economic system, Jackson, author of the report and book “Prosperity Without Growth”, told IPS.

“It is a travesty of what economy should be. It has absolutely failed to create social well being and has hurt people and communities around the world,” he said.

Emissions need to peak and decline by 2020 to have a chance at keeping global temperature rise to less than 2.0 degrees C, according to the Emissions Gap Report 2013, involving 44 scientific groups in 17 countries and coordinated by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels has raised the global average temperature only 0.85C so far, but even that has produced a wide range of impacts.

Despite years of negotiations, countries’ commitments to reducing emissions remain far short of what’s needed, said Merlyn van Voore, UNEP climate change coordinator.

Even if nations meet their current climate pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, CO2 emissions in 2020 are likely to be eight to 12 billion tonnes higher than what is needed to stay below 2C at a reasonable cost, the report concluded. Failure to close this “emissions gap” by 2020 will require an unprecedented global effort to crash carbon emissions.

“Waiting brings huge additional costs,” van Voore said in a press conference.

No country has offered to do anything beyond their 2009 Copenhagen commitments. Nor is anyone expecting new offers at next week’s UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 19) in Warsaw. Very few country leaders will attend COP 19, making this a technical negotiation on the shape of new climate treaty that will only come into force in 2020.

In the six years remaining before 2020, not only do countries need to increase their reduction commitments, some countries have to actually put policies in place to meet their Copenhagen commitments. China, India, Russia and the European Union are on track, but the U.S. and Canada are not, the report found.

In recent months, however, the U.S. has introduced some new policies and plans, including emissions caps on power plants. Canada is going in the opposite direction.

A government report recently acknowledged its emissions will be at least 20 percent higher than its Copenhagen reduction target. This was considered “good progress” given the skyrocketing emissions from its rapidly expanding tar sands oil operations, the Canadian government report said.

“Canada is a wealthy country. It could easily meet its target,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate & Energy Programme at the World Resources Institute.

“It’s very important for Canada to meet its target. That sends a very important message to the world,” Morgan, lead author of the UNEP report, told IPS.

However, economics is getting in the way of action. Canada has become very rich as the biggest supplier of foreign oil to the U.S. In less than 20 years, Canada’s GDP has tripled to 1.8 trillion dollars, with ambitious plans to grow even more. Politicians in Canada, and all over the world, reject anything they believe would hurt their countries’ economic growth.

Jackson and number of ecological economists say the current self-destructive economy must be transformed into one that delivers a shared and lasting prosperity. This kind of Green Economy is far beyond business as usual with some clean technology thrown in. It is what Jackson calls a “fit-for-purpose economy” that is stable, based on equity and provides decent, satisfying livelihoods while treading lightly on the earth.

The current growth-worshiping consumption economy is “perverse” and at odds with human nature and our real needs, he said.

“Prosperity isn’t just about having more stuff,” he said. “Prosperity is the art of living well on a finite planet.”

With powerful vested interests in the current economy, making this transformation will be difficult but it is already starting to happen at the community level. Jackson and co-author Peter Victor of Canada’s York University lay all this out in a new report “Green Economy at Community Scale“.

They see the roots of a transformational Green Economy in community banks, credit unions and cooperative investment schemes that enhance local communities. The Transition Town movement, creating local currencies, community-owned energy projects, global Ecocity movement are all part a response to an economy that does not work for most people and has created an environmental crisis, said Victor in a press release.

“Using GDP as measure of success is like riding a bike while only paying attention to how fast you are pedaling,” Jackson said.  “It is wrong in so many ways.”

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Jordan’s Farmers Struggle to Weather Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/jordans-farmers-struggle-to-weather-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jordans-farmers-struggle-to-weather-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/jordans-farmers-struggle-to-weather-climate-change/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 08:04:41 +0000 Elizabeth Whitman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128588 Abu Waleed isn’t quite sure where to begin his litany of grievances. Bugs that chomp their way through the mint he grows, or the dry well that forces him to pump water from a half kilometre away? Or perhaps the 160 dinars he spent on spinach seeds only to see scant growth after planting. For […]

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Abu Waleed says climate change has increased temperatures, bringing pests and diseases. Credit: Elizabeth Whitman/IPS.

Abu Waleed says climate change has increased temperatures, bringing pests and diseases. Credit: Elizabeth Whitman/IPS.

By Elizabeth Whitman
AMMAN, Jordan, Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

Abu Waleed isn’t quite sure where to begin his litany of grievances. Bugs that chomp their way through the mint he grows, or the dry well that forces him to pump water from a half kilometre away? Or perhaps the 160 dinars he spent on spinach seeds only to see scant growth after planting.

For the small community of farmers in the Zarqa river basin east of the capital Amman, industrial development, poor resource management and climate change have converged to create a perfect storm of problems that damage farmers’ produce and livelihoods and ultimately threaten food security in Jordan.

The Jordanian government and organisations from local NGOs to U.N. agencies are taking baby steps to mitigate the effects of climate change, but Abu Waleed and other farmers say these efforts are not enough.

Others suggest that while climate change exacerbates existing environmental problems in Jordan, the core of mitigation lies not in tackling climate change but in improving how Jordan consumes and manages the scant resources it does have.Between 1975 and 2007 grain-cultivating areas decreased by 65 percent and vegetable-cultivating areas by 91 percent.

Among the driest countries in the world, Jordan has an average of 145 cubic metres of water available per person annually (the water poverty line is 500 cubic metres). Its average annual precipitation is 111 millimetres.

Prime areas for agricultural cultivation, such as rain-fed areas, are shrinking, in part because of urbanisation and development. Between 1975 and 2007, according to research by Dr. Awni Taimeh from the University of Jordan, grain-cultivating areas decreased by 65 percent and vegetable-cultivating areas by 91 percent.

Farmers in Abu Waleed’s area have meanwhile noticed changes in weather in recent years. Along with a decrease in rainfall, temperatures have risen, leading to more pests and bugs and shifting growing seasons. They are calling on the government to help mitigate these effects. Some in the government too admit that it needs to do more.

Hussein Badarin from Jordan’s Ministry of Environment has worked in climate change policy for nearly two decades. He told IPS “there’s not enough coordination” among individuals and institutions working on climate change, A government ministry may for example need data that a university researcher has been compiling, yet neither knows the other exists.

Today, what remains of the Zarqa river could pass for a watery landfill. Plastic bottles, plates and trash bags float atop a green surface, and there’s no telling what lies beneath. The water itself is so polluted that farmers cannot use it for agriculture.

Instead, they must pump groundwater to water crops, says Suheib Khamaiseh, field coordinator for the Arab Women Organisation, a local partner for a project run by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that enhances the ability of local communities in the basin to adapt to climate change.

But underground aquifers from which these farmers pump are being depleted at twice the rate at which they recharge, according to the World Food Programme and the United Nations Development Programme in Jordan.

According to an assessment carried out as part of the IUCN project, illegal “underground water pumping, rainfall shortage and high temperatures” all directly affect “underground water levels, water production quality, and soil quality.”

“Pests, weeds, chemical use, and irrigation all have increased,” the report added. Climate change impacts have also decreased “production area, output quality, and amount produced per cultivated area.”

Abu Yazan, a soft-spoken farmer in Ruseifa in the Zarqa river basin, has installed a drip irrigation system that he says uses water more efficiently and increases production. He estimates that two dunams (.49 acres) of land with drip irrigation yield three tonnes of carrots, whereas the same amount of land with traditional watering techniques yields half that.

Rainfall has decreased, he says, and he has to filter pumped water before using it for irrigation. “We never used electric pumps like this in the past,” he adds as he turns on a pump that shoots water into a holding pool. He believes the government, or the municipality, should come every season and help clean up the area, yet neither does.

“The biggest problem is the water,” Abu Waleed, the farmer from neighbouring Khirbet al-Hadeed, declares. Not only is the quantity insufficient for agriculture, he says, but it also needs some pH (acidity/alkalinity level) adjustments. “You can’t taste it, but you can tell when you grow with it.”

Leading a tour through plots of vegetables, Abu Waleed points out the garlic with which he is experimenting. Certain plants have reacted poorly to rising temperatures, so he wants to test if the garlic can handle the heat.

Fifty years ago, garlic plants grew so high that “you could not walk,” he recalls. Now, they don’t reach past his thigh. From a separate plot he yanks a small radish the size of his pinkie finger out of the ground. Bugs have been eating the leaves of the radish plants, which then die, he says.

The bugs and pests “appear because of the heat,” says Abu Waleed, and they ruin both plants and produce. He has yet to find a way to successfully wipe out the bugs, even with pesticides. “The Ministry of Agriculture needs to do something.”

Beyond the direct impact of climate change on farmers like Abu Yazan and Abu Waleed is the issue of food security. About five percent of Jordan’s land is arable, according to Jordan’s first National Climate Change Policy,released earlier this year, but that amount is shrinking because of urbanisation, development and decreased precipitation.

As a result, Jordan’s self-sufficiency in certain foods is shrinking too. Although it grows enough of certain staple vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers to cover what the country consumes, it imports wheat, rice and barley. From growing 4.6 percent of the wheat consumed in 2005, it grew just 1.8 percent in 2011, according to the Department of Statistics.

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Mongolia’s Wild Asses Cornered From All Sides http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/mongolias-wild-asses-cornered-from-all-sides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mongolias-wild-asses-cornered-from-all-sides http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/mongolias-wild-asses-cornered-from-all-sides/#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 08:07:26 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128261 Decades of international and local collaboration have brought the Tahki or Asian Wild Horse back from the brink of extinction and reintroduced herds to Mongolia’s Gobi desert and grasslands. However, the country’s other wild equine – the Mongolian Wild Ass or Khulan – is fast disappearing. It was put on the IUCN red list of […]

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The remains of an illegally hunted khulan. Credit: Courtesy Goviin Khulan

The remains of an illegally hunted khulan. Credit: Courtesy Goviin Khulan

By Michelle Tolson
SOUTHERN GOBI REGION, Mongolia , Oct 24 2013 (IPS)

Decades of international and local collaboration have brought the Tahki or Asian Wild Horse back from the brink of extinction and reintroduced herds to Mongolia’s Gobi desert and grasslands. However, the country’s other wild equine – the Mongolian Wild Ass or Khulan – is fast disappearing.

It was put on the IUCN red list of endangered species in 2008.

“The Khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus) get less attention compared to the Tahki, which is nationally cherished,” says Mongolia-based French ethologist Anne-Camille Souris, who has worked on wild equine projects such as the International Tahki Group since 2003.

“There is research,” she tells IPS, “but little action.” According to her, there are 2,000 Tahki worldwide and 14,000 Khulan. But while the former’s population is growing, the numbers of this subspecies of the Asiatic Wild Ass are falling steadily.

In 2007, Souris co-founded the not-for-profit organisation Goviin Khulan. “We cooperate with local scientists and specialists, authorities, rangers, governors of each administrative subdivision, schools, Buddhist monasteries and the local population in our study area,” she says.

The organisation’s research area falls in the Southern Gobi Region (SGR), home to the largest population of Khulan. Two smaller and more remote populations are found in the Dzungarian Gobi and Transaltai Gobi to the west, but are cut off from the SGR population.

Most of the country’s mining activity takes place in the SGR, a mineral-rich region. But while the Mongolian government has designated special protected areas in the southwestern Dornogovi province and the southeastern Omnigobi province, the Khulan range extends far beyond them.

The Mongolian Wild Ass or Khulan is fast disappearing. Credit: Harlequeen/CC BY 2.0

The Mongolian Wild Ass or Khulan is fast disappearing. Credit: Harlequeen/CC BY 2.0

The Khulan are also facing competition from domestic livestock, which are depleting foraging and water resources.

Climate change has affected Mongolia’s ecosystem significantly in the past two decades. The Mongolia: Assessment Report on Climate Change 2009 showed a 19 percent loss of surface water, a seven percent loss of grassland and 26 percent loss of forest, with “barren land” tripling from 52,000 sq km to 149,000 sq km. Of the 1,800 dug wells in the Dornogovi province, only about 1,000 still have water.

As a result, Khulan are now perceived as a threat by herders, who might often assist poachers who sell their meat. According to a national survey, the market-based economy spurred the rise of poachers – from 25,000 during the socialist days to 245,000 by 2008.

Souris, however, says that rather than a threat, Khulan are beneficial to domestic livestock as they are able to dig under the soil to find groundwater. Her organisation has documented domestic animals drinking from watering holes created by the Khulan.

Livestock population in the region increased considerably after the collapse of socialism in 1990 – from 762,000 to over five million currently.

The Gobi is the centre of Mongolia’s cashmere industry, which proved a lifeline after the switch to a market-based economy. Disadvantaged by China’s subsidised cashmere industry in Inner Mongolia, herders increased the number of goats to hedge against loss.

A 2010 World Bank report counts these among the factors contributing to an alarming decline in Khulan numbers, from 40,000 in the 1990s to 14,000 in the last count in 2009. Recent figures suggest a decline of 10 percent each year.

Another report, by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on Migratory Species and the WWF Mongolia Programme Office, studied the impact of roads and train tracks on Khulan and other migratory species in Mongolia.

Titled Barriers to Migration; Case Study in Mongolia, the 2011 case study said how train tracks running north to south, from the Russian border to China, bisect the Gobi, thereby shrinking the Khulan’s range.

Herds on the eastern side of the tracks vanished after the railways were built. And with eight large mines in the region producing and transporting coal, one road to the border had a reported traffic of 500 coal trucks daily. The report concluded that the Khulan needed underpasses to travel safely.

The Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, one of the largest extraction projects in the country that is run jointly by the Mongolian government with private interests, plans to build a few such underpasses. However, its principal water adviser Mark Newby maintains that their current impact is small compared to coal transport.

Copper concentrate shipments, he tells IPS, “occur in convoys of 16 trucks, with up to three convoys currently going to the border per day.” That makes up about 50 trucks currently, with an increase of “up to six convoys” in the future.

Newby also says that paving what used to be a dirt road has not only improved the dust situation for herder families living alongside, but Khulan crossings too have been recorded. Twenty Khulan were collared for the project to track their movements.

Oyu Tolgoi also conducted an aerial survey from May to July. “In 2008, academics, researchers and world experts on ungulate species suggested [doing an aerial survey],” Dennis Hosack, principal adviser in the Biodiversity Offsets at the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, which has a controlling stake in the mining project, tells IPS.

Currently in the data analysis stage, its progress can be followed on a blog on the subject.

By contrast, the largely government-owned Tavan Tolgoi coal mine has yet to collaborate on Khulan preservation, although Souris says she hopes it will.

To raise awareness on Khulan vulnerabilities, the Goviin Khulan association has also been partnering with the monks of Ulgii Hiid in Dornovobi province since 2008, as well as with the monks at Khamariin Khiid near the Dornogovi provincial capital Sainshand, and the Tributary Fund and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, using Buddhist principles to preserve natural resources.

It also dedicated a day in September - Sep. 18 – to “bring in Mongolian artists and act as a bridge to Mongolian culture and natural protection,” says Souris. “There are very few paintings of wild species; mostly they show nomadic, domestic life,” she adds.
Choimjants, a monk at Ulgii Hiid, donated a work of art featuring camels, Khulan and two famous monks. “These monks have worked on their own initiative, but it shows the important impact our work to protect the Khulan has locally,” Souris adds.

Local artist S. Tugs-Oyun, celebrated for her paintings of Mongolia, is excited about the initiative. “People want money these days, but we have to take care of nature,” she tells IPS.

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The United States of Drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-united-states-of-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-united-states-of-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-united-states-of-drought/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 18:02:07 +0000 Ramy Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128293 As the planet heats up and larger populations demand larger water supplies, the United States will be left high and dry if it fails to address a worsening water shortage. By 2060, the gap between water supply and demand could grow to nearly four billion cubic metres per year – 10 times the amount of […]

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Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service (FFAS) Michael Scuse (left) tours a drought stricken corn field with Doug Goyings, on the Goyings farm in Paulding County, Ohio on July 17, 2012. Credit: USDA

Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service (FFAS) Michael Scuse (left) tours a drought stricken corn field with Doug Goyings, on the Goyings farm in Paulding County, Ohio on July 17, 2012. Credit: USDA

By Ramy Srour
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 2013 (IPS)

As the planet heats up and larger populations demand larger water supplies, the United States will be left high and dry if it fails to address a worsening water shortage.

By 2060, the gap between water supply and demand could grow to nearly four billion cubic metres per year – 10 times the amount of water used by the desert-bound city of Las Vegas.“If you go to the western U.S., people are still in that mindset of trying to withdraw as much water as they can, as long as they can pump faster than their neighbour." -- Betsy Otto of WRI

“Water shortage has huge ramifications not just for the entire national economy – as farmers, ranchers, cotton producers have to cope with less and less water – but also for the natural system itself,” Adam Freed, the director of the Securing Water Programme at the Nature Conservancy, an environmental organisation here, told IPS. “And climate change is only going to make it worse.”

According to a new trend analysis by scientists in the public and private sectors, U.S. population growth of nearly one percent and rising global temperatures will result in a clear and significant supply-and-demand imbalance.

Dr. Robert Mace, deputy executive administrator of water science and conservation at the Texas Water Development Board, which monitors aquifer levels throughout the state, told IPS that “2011 was both the hottest and driest year on record in Texas. Statewide agricultural losses [across all crops and livestock] that year totaled 7.62 billion dollars, making it the most costly drought in history – more than 3.5 billion dollars higher than the 2006 drought losses, which was the previous costliest drought on record.”

In the future, 16.7 percent of water supplies in the state are projected to come from agricultural irrigation conservation strategies, according to the 2012 State Water Plan.

In Texas and across the United States – as across the world – initiatives addressing water shortages are already emerging. Clean water funds and water efficiency infrastructure in a host of Western cities make clear that the reality of the looming problem has already begun to dawn on some policymakers.

Organisations such as the Nature Conservancy are creating so-called water funds, conservation projects that aim to guarantee a continuous supply of clean water all along the watershed. One way to do that is by encouraging upstream farmers and downstream municipalities to enter into financial agreements with one another, with cities and utilities paying the farmers to “send” them clean and abundant water.

The money helps upstream users finance water restoration and conservation projects. There are currently 15 water funds projects worldwide, including two major projects in the United States, in the often-parched states of New Mexico and Texas. More are on the way.

Thus far, some of the success of these projects comes from the financial incentives for the upstream stakeholders. Farmers realise that securing their water supply is in their long-term interest, as they are less likely to have to import water from somewhere else.

“Finding the balance between conserving our resources while protecting our economy and the people who rely upon it will always be a difficult task,” Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, told IPS.

The Ogallala Aquifer, which runs under eight Great Plains states and provides nearly a third of all irrigated water in the U.S., is falling, but “reducing the amount of pumping to sustainable levels would cause economic devastation”, she said.

“While some will argue we’re not doing enough, fast enough, a culture of conservation aimed at reducing the decline of the Ogallala is emerging in western Kansas,” Streeter added.

Downscaling to the local

A report by the U.S. Department of the Interior recently noted that one of the country’s most at-risk areas is the Colorado River Basin. This watershed, running through seven western states and two Mexican states, is the largest water source in the United States.

The Basin’s two reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lade Meade, are also the country’s largest reservoirs. And according to Ken Nowak of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. federal agency that oversees water resource management, the two lakes are quickly drying out.

Cities across the western half of the country are scrambling to stop that from happening.

Founded in 2007, the Water Utility Climate Alliance, or WUCA, is a network that brings together 10 of the nation’s largest municipal water providers.

“WUCA has been doing some really great work. What they’re getting at is trying to understand what the science behind climate change is really telling us,” Betsy Otto, the director of the Aqueduct project at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank here, told IPS.

“But the biggest problem with climate change estimates is that they only give us the global picture. The real challenge is then to downscale them to the local level and understand them.”

In Seattle, a co-chair of the WUCA network, city officials realised that their water demand estimates were far too aggressive, and did not reflect the city’s real needs.

“By carefully looking at the data, they suddenly realised they needed much less water than the estimates suggested,” Otto says. “So they started to bring their demand down, by simply saving water.”

In part, this achievement comes from simple strategies such as the city’s decision to distribute free energy-saving showerheads to all single-family homes, or the creation of water audits helping home- and business-owners understand how they can bring down their water waste.

The city of Seattle now claims to have enough water for the next 30 years.

“Of course, these measures need money in order for them to go through,” Otto notes. “But they’re still much cheaper than having to build water reservoirs.”

Accepting limits

The broader challenge, advocates say, is to get other areas with critical current or future water-shortage problems to come up with their own plans. One of the most significant obstacles in this regard across the country may simply be the general approach to water supply.

“Water scarcity increases commodity prices,” John Mesko, a Minnesota farmer who raises grass-fed beef, told IPS. “Farmers make more and this gives them the push to invest in irrigation facilities. So it’s easy to think ‘I can afford to install irrigation, I make profits.’ That’s fine. But it’s just a quick fix. We need to prepare for the long haul.”

Indeed, unlike with surface water, there are almost no regulations on groundwater pumping. One way would be for federal regulations to put caps on allocations, or distribute permits as for surface water use.

“If you go to the western U.S., people are still in that mindset of trying to withdraw as much water as they can, as long as they can pump faster than their neighbour,” Otto warns. “They continue to think that there are simply no limits on how much you can withdraw.”

*With additional reporting by Aarthi Gunnupuri in New York.

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When Poverty Quietly Morphs into Catastrophe http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/when-poverty-quietly-morphs-into-catastrophe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-poverty-quietly-morphs-into-catastrophe http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/when-poverty-quietly-morphs-into-catastrophe/#comments Thu, 17 Oct 2013 00:11:34 +0000 Miriam Gathigah and George Gao http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128212 Wambui Karunyu, 72, and her seven-year-old grandson are the only surviving members of their immediate family.  Karunyu’s husband and five children all succumbed to the hardships of living in the semi-arid area of lower Mukurweini district in central Kenya. In 2009, a drought struck parts of central and southeast Kenya, leaving 3.8 million people in […]

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In the face of severe food shortages and with no relief aid, the elderly like Zeinab Wambui, from lower Mukurweini, Central Kenya, are facing very tough times. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

In the face of severe food shortages and with no relief aid, the elderly like Zeinab Wambui, from lower Mukurweini, Central Kenya, are facing very tough times. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah and George Gao
NAIROBI/NEW YORK, Oct 17 2013 (IPS)

Wambui Karunyu, 72, and her seven-year-old grandson are the only surviving members of their immediate family.  Karunyu’s husband and five children all succumbed to the hardships of living in the semi-arid area of lower Mukurweini district in central Kenya.

In 2009, a drought struck parts of central and southeast Kenya, leaving 3.8 million people in need of food aid. Four years later, conditions in the area remain dire. According to the regional Drought Management Authority, while the upper parts of Mukurweini receive an annual rainfall of 1,500 mm, lower Mukurweini only receives 200mm.

A new report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a U.K. based think tank, identifies Kenya as one of 11 countries most at risk for disaster-induced poverty. The report, entitled “The geography of poverty, disasters and climate extremes in 2030”, warns that the international community has yet to properly address the threats disasters pose to the poorest parts of the world.

The report includes locations where both poverty and natural disasters will likely be concentrated in 2030; and in many instances, these locations overlap.

Hazards and vulnerability to poverty in 2030 Source: Overseas Development Institute

Hazards and vulnerability to poverty in 2030
Source: Overseas Development Institute

However, the severity of disasters – such as drought, floods and hurricanes – depends on what “disaster risk management” policies the government has put in place, according to ODI.

In 2010, for example, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti killed 11 percent of people who felt its tremors, while the Chilean earthquake – of an even higher magnitude, 8.8 – killed 0.1 percent; and in 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed 138,000 people in Myanmar, while Hurricane Gustav of similar strength killed 153 when it struck the Caribbean and the U.S.

“Slow-onset” disasters – such as the drought afflicting Karunyu and her grandson in Kenya – are often the harshest setbacks for development, especially in poor, rural areas that lack social safety nets, according to ODI.

“I plant maize and beans every season, but I harvest nothing. I never stop planting because I hope that this time will be better than the last time. But it’s always the same, loss and hunger,” Karunyu tells IPS.

Simon Mwangi, a resident of Mukurweini and a service provider with the Dairy Goats Association of Kenya, an association of small-scale goat farmers, tells IPS that Karunyu’s story is not unique.

“Life here is characterised by poverty and hunger. A great majority live in rural areas, and they are farmers. Due to prolonged dry spells, the situation is alarming, since they have no other livelihoods,” he says.

Mwangi notes that unreliable rainfall, frequent droughts and the inability of residents to adapt to harsh climatic changes has affected the growth of a variety of crops, such as maize and beans, which used to grow successfully.

“Lower Mukurweini is no longer a corn zone, but farmers continue to plant maize with no success. There are drought-resistant crops that can do well here, including fruits, such as pineapples and indigenous mangoes. But the lack of extension officers has made it difficult for people here to adapt to the dry climate,” he says.

There is also a lack of NGOs and aid workers in Mukurweini to address the residents’ plight. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) operated in Mukurweini for nine years, but left in 2011. “Things were much better when [IFAD] ran irrigation and trainings for farmers. Some sub-locations were doing much better, and there was food. But many parts of lower Mukurweini are now at risk of starvation,” says Mwangi.

Ten Worst Natural Disasters Reported in Kenya from 1980 to 2010

Ten Worst Natural Disasters Reported in Kenya from 1980 to 2010. Source: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

In Kenya, each child born in a drought year is 50 percent more likely to become malnourished, according to the report. And from 1997 to 2007, less than 10 percent of Kenya’s poor escaped poverty, while 30 percent of Kenya’s non-poor entered poverty, partly due to the multiple natural disasters affecting the country.

In July 2012, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assembled a team of 27 advisers to help him achieve the lofty goal of ending world poverty. Ten months later, the team – known as the High Level Panel of eminent persons (HLP) – produced a report that advised Ban, among other things, to “build resilience and reduce deaths from natural disasters” by a percentage to be agreed.

The HLP recommended this target on disaster-mitigation to be included in the post-2015 development agenda, a list that would replace the eight current Millennium Development Goals –which do not include the word “disaster” once.

The intensity of natural disasters is expected to increase with climate change. ODI predicts that up to 325 million impoverished people in 49 countries will be exposed to extreme weather conditions by 2030.

The regional Drought Management Authority says that Nyeri County, where Mukurweini is located, should expect more prolonged dry spells moving forward.

“During the day, you barely see anyone outside, it’s too hot. Even the earth becomes too hot, you cannot walk barefoot,” says Mwangi.

“Without food or access to water, the elderly starve and fade away quietly,” he says.

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U.S. Science Reporters Becoming an Endangered Species http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/u-s-science-reporters-becoming-an-endangered-species/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-science-reporters-becoming-an-endangered-species http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/u-s-science-reporters-becoming-an-endangered-species/#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2013 00:31:29 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128145 The news for environmental journalism in the United States is grim and getting grimmer. On Mar. 1, the New York Times announced it was discontinuing the Green Blog that tracked environmental and energy news. In January, the paper had dismantled its three-year-old environment pod. This year, too, Johns Hopkins University retired its 30-year-old science writing […]

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Jeff Adam works crop fields near Batavia, Iowa. Scientists say climate change could mean farmers like Adam will face new insects and plentiful weeds. Credit: Mary Chind/IPS

Jeff Adam works crop fields near Batavia, Iowa. Scientists say climate change could mean farmers like Adam will face new insects and plentiful weeds. Credit: Mary Chind/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee, Oct 15 2013 (IPS)

The news for environmental journalism in the United States is grim and getting grimmer.

On Mar. 1, the New York Times announced it was discontinuing the Green Blog that tracked environmental and energy news. In January, the paper had dismantled its three-year-old environment pod."Without journalists to uncover stories and speak to authoritative sources, the public loses." -- FERN's Samuel Fromartz

This year, too, Johns Hopkins University retired its 30-year-old science writing programme, following in the footsteps of Columbia University which, in 2009, closed its earth and environmental science journalism programme because of a poor job market.

Like climate change, the demise of science reporting is a slowly unfolding tragedy, say many environmental journalists in the United States.

At a time when conversations should be revolving around climate change, energy, natural resources and sustainable development, space for environmental reporting and coverage in the United States seems to be shrinking.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the fifth in a series, says the evidence is now overwhelming that humans are the primary drivers of global warming.

“A potential knowledge gap arises as environmental journalism shrinks. The public learns less about environmental and related health issues, but at the same time may fall prey to unscientific claims that often hold sway on the Internet,” a worried Samuel Fromartz, the editor-in-chief of the non-profit Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN), told IPS on the sidelines of the 23rd annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, held earlier this month in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“Without journalists to uncover stories and speak to authoritative sources, the public loses,” he said.

Scott Dodd, editor of On Earth.org of the Natural Resources Defence Council, and who considers climate change the “most urgent story of our times”, told IPS that environmental issues are “consistently under-covered”.

From 85 weekly science sections in newspapers in the U.S in 1989, there were just 19 left by 2012.

“Environment is maybe 25 percent of a reporter’s beat,” Dodd said. “They are asked to cover city hall, night cops, the planning commission, and squeeze in an environmental story here and there when there’s time.”

In addition, climate change and the associated energy issues “tend to be complex, unspool over longer time periods, and require a level of knowledge and expertise that the average general assignment reporter might not have,” he added, noted that he is one himself.

“A long-term story like climate change, where the news today isn’t all that different from the news last week or last year, it’s difficult without a deep knowledge of the subject to find a fresh angle and sell an editor on why it should be front page news,” Dodd said.

Founded in 1990 by a small group of “full time” reporters and editors, the SEJ’s membership speaks volumes of this decline. Today, with a current strength of 1,300 members, a vast majority are “freelance journalists”, not all by choice, conceded Beth Parke, SEJ’s executive director.

But to be fair, if space for pure environmental journalism has shrunk, a bit of “cross-fertilisation” with other beats is still taking place.

“Editors generally understand that they cannot cover health, food, real estate, transportation, politics, energy, consumer issues… without bringing environmental questions into the story in one way or the other,” Parke said.

Interestingly, this meltdown of environmental reporting in the U.S., observed Adam Vaughan, editor of the U.K. based Guardian’s environment site, is not mirrored on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Guardian, for example, still has four reporters, two editors, two sub-editors and a picture editor dedicated to the subject, and earlier this year the paper hired an Australian environment correspondent for the first time. The Times, said Vaughan, recently moved one of its best reporters, Ben Webster, back to the environment beat.

So what did environmental journalism in the U.S. lose its glory to?

According to Parke, “Scandals, celebrities, sports – almost everything but serious investigative journalism is favoured as opposed to explanatory and public service journalism.”

The commercial media, she said, are “under severe pressure” to cover issues that increases their sales, ratings, listenerships and online views.

But all is not lost. This shuttering has led to a new genre – a rise in nonprofit journalism.

“I have seen the rise of more specialist sites online, such as InsideClimate, which won a Pulitzer recently, and Climate Central,” said Vaughan.

“There’s been the rising phenomenon of philanthropic-funded environmental efforts [such as Carbon Brief, China Dialogue, and Energy Desk], as well as freely-distributed public interest reporting from veteran journalists under the banner of the Climate News Network which were doing some of the best reporting on climate change,” he said.

“Look at what is winning prizes,” Parke said. “It’s news of oil spills, ocean health, contaminated food and building products, climate change. We see a lot of great work taking place outside the traditional media structure.”

And yet this kind of reporting has some obvious pitfalls.

“I’d view [blogs and magazines by NGOs] as an extension of their communications and marketing work, not what I’d recognise as traditional, independent journalism. It’s writing with an agenda, however impartial it appears to be,” said Vaughan.

Dodd, on the other hand, is worried “fewer people are seeing the important stories that these new outlets are telling” because these tend to be smaller, niche operations, without the resources or audience reach that national newspapers and the nightly network news were once able to command.

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The Coming Plague http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-coming-plague/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-coming-plague http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/the-coming-plague/#comments Thu, 10 Oct 2013 00:37:28 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128053 A climate plague affecting every living thing will likely start in 2020 in southern Indonesia, scientists warned Wednesday in the journal Nature. A few years later the plague will have spread throughout the world’s tropical regions. By mid-century no place on the planet will be unaffected, said the authors of the landmark study. “We don’t […]

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Rich benthic fauna and associated reef fish, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, which is expected to be one of the first places in the world to see prolonged, record-breaking heatwaves. Credit: Courtesy of Keoki Stender, Marinelifephotography.com

Rich benthic fauna and associated reef fish, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, which is expected to be one of the first places in the world to see prolonged, record-breaking heatwaves. Credit: Courtesy of Keoki Stender, Marinelifephotography.com

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 10 2013 (IPS)

A climate plague affecting every living thing will likely start in 2020 in southern Indonesia, scientists warned Wednesday in the journal Nature. A few years later the plague will have spread throughout the world’s tropical regions.

By mid-century no place on the planet will be unaffected, said the authors of the landmark study."Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past." -- Nature study lead author Camilo Mora

“We don’t know what the impacts will be. If someone is about to fall off a three-storey building you can’t predict their exact injuries but you know there will be injuries,” said Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author.

“The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said Mora.

The “climate plague” is a shift to an entirely new climate where the lowest monthly temperatures will be hotter than those in the past 150 years. The shift is already underway due to massive emissions of heat-trapping carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.

Extreme weather will soon be beyond anything ever experienced, and old record high temperatures will be the new low temperatures, Mora told IPS. This will affect billions of people and there is no going back to way things were.

“Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past,” he said.

In less than 10 years, a country like Jamaica will look much like it always has but it will not be the same country. Jamaicans and every living thing on the island and in its coastal waters will be experiencing a new, hotter climate – hotter on average than the previous 150 years.

The story will be same around 2030 in southern Nigeria, much of West Africa, Mexico and Central America without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, the study reports.

“Some species will adapt, some will move, some will die,” said co-author Ryan Longman also at the University of Hawai‘i.

Tropical regions will shift first because their historical temperature ranges are narrow. Climate change may only shift temperatures by 1.0 degree C but that will be too much for some plants, amphibians, animals and birds that have evolved in a very stable climate, Longman said.

Tropical corals are already in sharp decline due to a combination of warmer ocean temperatures and  higher levels of ocean acidity as oceans absorb most the carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.

The Nature study examined 150 years of historical temperature data, more than a million maps, and the combined projections of 39 climate models to create a global index of when and where a region shifts into novel climate. That is to say a local climate that is continuously outside the most extreme records the region has experienced in the past 150 years.

Canada’s climate won’t shift until 2050 under the business as usual emissions scenario the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls RCP8.5. The further a region is from the equator, the later the shift occurs. If the world sharply reduces its use of fossil fuels (RCP4.5), then these climate shifts are delayed 10 to 30 years depending on the location, the study shows. (City by city projection here)

Tropical regions are also those with greatest numbers of unique species. Costa Rica is home to nearly 800 species, while Canada, which is nearly 200 times larger in area, has only about 70 unique or endemic species.

Species matter because the abundance and variety of plants, animals, fish, insects and other living things are humanity’s life support system, providing our air, water, food and more.

“It’s an elegant study that shows timing of when climate shifts beyond anything in the recent past,” said Simon Donner, a climate scientist at Canada’s University of British Columbia.

Donner, who wasn’t involved in the study, agrees that the new regional climates in the tropics will have big impacts on many species.

“A number of other studies show corals, birds, and amphibians in the tropics are very sensitive to temperature changes,” Donner told IPS.

The impacts on ecosystems, food production, water availability or cites and towns are not known. However, the results of the study confirm the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions to reduce those future impacts, he said.

Developed countries not only need to make larger reductions in their emissions, they need to increase their “funding of social and conservation programmes in developing countries to minimize the impacts of climate change”, the study concludes.

Amongst the biggest impacts the coming ‘climate plague’ will have is on food production, said Mora.

“In a globalised world, what happens in tropics won’t stay in the tropics,” he said.

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