Inter Press Service » Advancing Deserts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:30:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Latin America at a Climate Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:41:36 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136697 Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit during the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 23 will have a crucial opportunity to mobilise political will and advance solutions to climate change.

They will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.Cities need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 12 percent, according to U.N. figures, it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, according a World Bank Report.

For the Caribbean region in particular, reliance on imported fuels challenges balance of payments stability and increases the vulnerability of key ecosystems that underpin important productive sectors, including tourism.

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, as per capita income rises and countries become increasingly industrialised—and urban.

Although the region has a clean electricity matrix, with nearly 60 percent generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing GHG emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Importantly, 68 million Latin Americans continue using firewood for cooking, which leads to severe health problems especially for women and their young children, entrenching cycles of poverty and contributing to local environmental degradation, including deforestation.

Cities also need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

Urbanisation rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. By 2050, 90 percent of the population will be living in cities. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services.

Therefore, the question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or will turn towards increased fossil fuel generation.

In this context, energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region’s future.

Consequently, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favour renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower, according to a UNDP report.

On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. Climate variability also destabilises agricultural systems and production that are key to supporting economic growth in the region.

But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

Also, in most countries, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas, thereby decreasing vulnerability to foreign exchange shocks linked to prices changes in world markets.

In this context, countries have already been spearheading innovative policies. Several countries in the region produce biofuel in a sustainable way. For example, Brazil’s ethanol programme for automobiles is considered one of the most effective in the world.

Investing in access to energy is transformational. It means lighting for schools, functioning health clinics, pumps for water and sanitation, cleaner indoor air, faster food processing and more income-generating opportunities.

It also entails liberating women and girls from time-consuming tasks, such as collecting fuel, pounding grain and hauling water, freeing time for education and paid work.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to boost access to sustainable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012.

This was a joint partnership between national and local governments, UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian governments, which improved lives and transformed the energy sector.

In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and Latin America and the Caribbean are already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

In a Nicaraguan community that is no longer in the dark, Maribel Ubeda, a mother of three, said her children are the ones most benefitting from the recent access to energy: “Now they can use the internet and discover the world beyond our community.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Will the Upcoming Climate Summit Be Another Talkathon?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:35:44 +0000 Meenakshi Raman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136679 Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

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

By Meenakshi Raman
PENANG, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations hosts a Climate Summit Sep. 23, the lingering question is whether the meeting of world leaders will wind up as another talk fest.

It is most likely that it could go that way. The problem is that developed countries are pressuring developing countries to indicate their pledges for emissions reductions post-2020 under the Paris deal which is currently under negotiation, without any indication of whether they will provide any finance or enable technology transfer – which are current commitments under the Convention.Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

What is worse is that many developed countries – especially the U.S. and its allies – are delaying making their contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF was launched in 2011 and it was agreed in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 that developed countries will mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The GCF has yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Worse, there is a grave reluctance to indicate the size and scale of the resources that will be put into the GCF for its initial capitalisation. Only Germany so far has indicated that it is willing to contribute one billion dollars to the Fund. Others have been deafeningly silent.

The G77 and China, had in Bonn, Germany in June, called for at least 15 billion dollars to be put into the GCF as its initial capital. The Climate Summit must focus on this to get developed countries to announce their finance commitments to the Fund.

If it does not, the UNFCCC meeting in Lima will be in jeopardy, as this is an existing obligation of developed countries that must be met latest by November.

This is the most important issue in confidence building to enable developing countries to meet their adaptation and mitigation needs. Otherwise, without real concrete and finance commitments, the New York summit will be meaningless.

Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

In Cancun, many developing countries already indicated what they were willing to do in terms of emissions reductions for the pre-2020 time frame and many of them had conditioned those actions on the promise of finance and technology transfer.

Despite this, the GCF remains empty and no technology transfer has really been delivered.

The other issue is whether developed countries will raise their targets for emissions reductions, as currently, their pledges are very low.
In 2012 in Doha, Qatar, developed countries that are in the Kyoto Protocol (such as the European Union, Norway, Australia, New Zealand. Switzerland and others but not including the U.S., Canada and Japan) agreed to re-visit the commitments they made for a second commitment period from 2013-2020.

The total emissions that they had agreed to was a reduction of only 17 percent by 2020 for developed countries, compared to 1990 levels. This was viewed by developing countries as very low, given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had in their 4th Assessment Report referred to a range of 25-40 percent emissions reductions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels for developed countries.

It was agreed in Doha that the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol (KP) would revisit their ambition by 2014. Hence, whether this will be realised in Lima remains to be seen. So whatever announcements are made in New York will not amount to much if the cuts do not amount to at least 40 percent reductions by 2020 on the part of developed countries.

Developed countries that are not in the Kyoto Protocol such as the United States, Canada and Japan were urged to do comparable efforts in emissions reductions as those in the KP.

It is not likely at all that these countries will raise their ambition level at all, given that both Japan and Canada announced that they will actually increase their emission levels from what they had announced previously in Cancun!

For the U.S., the emission reduction pledge that they put forth is very low, amounting to only a reduction of about three percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. For the world’s biggest historic emitter, this is doing too little, too late.

It is against this backdrop that the elements for a new agreement which is to take effect post-2020 is to be finalised in Lima, with a draft negotiating text to be ready early next year.

If the pre-2020 ambition is very low both in terms of the emission reductions of developed countries and the lack of resources in the GCF, the basis for the 2015 agreement will be seriously jeopardised.

Without any leadership shown by developed countries, developing countries will be reluctant to undertake more ambitious action. Hence, the race to the bottom in climate action is real.

If the Climate Summit does not address the failure of developed countries to meet their existing obligations which were agreed to under the UNFCCC, it will indeed turn into a mere talkshop that attempts to provide a smokescreen for inaction on their part.

Another lingering question: Can the private sector, which is expected to play a key role in the summit, be trusted on climate change?

It is the private sector in the first place that got us into this climate mess. Big corporations cannot be trusted to bring about the real changes that are needed as there will be much green-washing.

Companies are profit-seeking and they would only engage in activities that will bring them profits. There are huge lobbies in the climate arena who are pushing false approaches such as trading in carbon and other market mechanisms and instruments through which they seek to make more profits.

For example, there is a big push for ‘ Climate Smart Agriculture” with big corporations and the World Bank in the forefront.

There is no definition yet on what is ‘climate smart’ and there are grave concerns from civil society and farmers movements that such policies being pushed by big corporations who are in the frontline of controversial genetic engineering, industrial chemicals and carbon markets.

Many criticise the CSA approach which does not exclude any practices—which means that GMOs, pesticides, and fertilisers, so long as they contribute to soil carbon sequestration, would be permissible and even encouraged.

Such approaches not only contribute to environmental and social problems but they also also undermine one of the most important social benefits of agroecology: reducing farmers’ dependence on external inputs. Yet CSA is touted as a positive initiative at the New York Summit – a clear cut case of green-washing.

Real solutions in agriculture are those which are sustainable and based on agroecology in the hands of small farmers and communities- not in the hands of the big corporations who were responsible for much of the emissions in industrial agriculture.

The same can be said about the Sustainable Energy for All – with big corporations driving the agenda – where the interests of those who really are deprived of energy access will not be prioritised.

This is because the emphasis is on centralised modern energy systems that are expensive and not affordable to those who need them the most undermines the very objective it is set to serve in term of ensuring universal access to modern energy services.

If these initiatives are touted as ‘solutions’ to climate change, then we are in big trouble – for they are not the real kind of solutions needed.

A lot is being said about creating enabling environments in developing countries to attract private investments.

It is for developing countries to put in place their national climate plans and in that context, gauge which private sector can play a role, in what sector and how to do so, including the involvement of small and medium entrepreneurs, including farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples etc.

But developed countries are pushing the interests of their big corporations in the name of attracting new types of green foreign investments. Such approaches are new conditionalities.

Any role of the private sector is only supplemental and cannot be a substitute for the provision of real financial resources and technology transfer to developing countries to undertake their action. This clearly cannot be classified as climate finance.

Developed country governments in passing on the responsibility for addressing climate change to the private sector are abdicating the commitments that they have under the climate change Convention. This is irresponsible and reprehensible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: A Climate Summit to Spark Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-climate-summit-to-spark-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-climate-summit-to-spark-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-climate-summit-to-spark-action/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:00:48 +0000 Ban Ki-moon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136675

Ban Ki-moon is Secretary General of the United Nations.

By Ban Ki-moon
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

On Sep. 23, I have invited world leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to a Climate Summit in New York so they can show the world how they will advance action on climate change and move towards a meaningful universal new agreement next year at the December climate negotiations in Paris.

This is the time for decisive global action. I have been pleased to see climate change rise on the political agenda and in the consciousness of people worldwide. But I remain alarmed that governments and businesses have still failed to act at the pace and scale needed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

But I sense a change in the air. The opportunity for a more realistic dialogue and partnership has arrived. Ever more heads of government and business leaders are prepared to invest political and financial capital in the solutions we need. They understand that climate change is an issue for all people, all businesses, all governments. They recognise that we can avert the risks if we take determined action now.

I am convening the Climate Summit more than a year before governments head to Paris to give everyone a platform to raise their level of ambition. Because it is not a negotiation, the Summit is a chance for every participant to showcase bold actions and initiatives instead of waiting to see what others will do.

An unprecedented number of heads of state and government will attend the Summit. But it is not just for presidents and prime ministers. We have long realised that while governments have a vital role to play, action is needed from all sectors of society.

That is why I have invited leaders from business, finance and civil society to make bold announcements and forge new partnerships that will support the transformative change the world needs to cut emissions and strengthen resilience to climate impacts.

The sooner we act on climate change, the less it will cost us in lost lives and damaged economies. Economists are also showing that new technological advances and better policies that put a price on pollution mean that moving to a low-carbon economy is not only affordable, but can spur economic growth by creating jobs and business opportunities.

All countries stand to benefit from climate action – cleaner, healthier air; more productive, climate-resilient agriculture; well-managed forests for water and energy security; and better designed, more livable urban areas.

Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why? Let us join forces to push back against sceptics and entrenched interests. Let us support the scientists, economists, entrepreneurs and investors who can persuade government leaders and policy-makers that now is the time for climate action. Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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U.N. Climate Summit: Staged Parade or Reality Show?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-climate-summit-staged-parade-or-reality-show/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 13:46:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136627 Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Soil degradation, climate change, heavy tropical monsoonal rain and pests are some of the challenges faced by farmers around the world. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The much-ballyhooed one-day Climate Summit next week is being hyped as one of the major political-environmental events at the United Nations this year.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged over 120 of the world’s political and business leaders, who are expected to participate in the talk-fest, to announce significant and substantial initiatives, including funding commitments, “to help move the world towards a path that will limit global warming.”"What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries." -- Dipti Bhatnagar of FoEI

And, according to the United Nations, the summit will mark the first time in five years that world leaders will gather to discuss what is described as an ecological disaster: climate change.

The United Nations says the negative impact of global warming includes a rise in sea levels, extreme weather patterns, ocean acidification, melting of glaciers, extinction of biodiversity species and threats to world food security.

But what really can one expect from a one-day event lasting probably over 12 hours of talk time, come Sep. 23?

“A one-day event was never going to solve everything about climate change, but it could have been a turning point by demonstrating renewed political will to act,” Timothy Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research for the GROW Campaign at Oxfam International, told IPS.

Some political leaders, he pointed out, will still use the opportunity to do that, “but too many look set to stay out of the limelight or steer clear of the kind of really transformational new commitments needed.”

Gore said the summit is designed as a platform for new commitments of climate action, but there is a real risk that even those that are made won’t add up to much.

“The focus on voluntary initiatives rather than negotiated outcomes means there are no guarantees that announcements made at the Summit will be robust enough,” he warned.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was launched in 2011, is expected to mobilise about 100 billion dollars per year from developed nations by 2020, according to the United Nations. But it is yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) and Justica Ambiental (FoE Mozambique), told IPS, “On Sep. 23 we will see world leaders falling far short of delivering what we need to tackle dangerous climate change.”

The Climate Summit is completely inadequate and expected ‘pledges’ by governments and business at the Summit will be tremendously insufficient in the face of the climate catastrophe, she warned.

“The whole idea of leaders making voluntary, non-binding pledges itself is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people dying every year because of the impacts of climate change,” Bhatnagar said. “We need equitable, ambitious and binding emissions reduction targets from industrialised countries – not a parade of leaders trying to make themselves look good.

“But this fake parade is the only thing we will see at this one-day summit,” she added.

On Sep. 21, two days ahead of the summit, hundreds of thousands of people will march against climate change in New York and in cities across the globe.

Martin Kaiser, leader of the Global Climate Policy project at Greenpeace, told IPS, “We welcome Ban Ki-moon hosting a global climate summit this month and will be on the streets of New York on Sep. 21 as the largest climate march in history sends a loud and clear message that world leaders must act now.”

He said governments and businesses must bring concrete commitments to the summit: Corporations should announce firm deadlines by which they will run their businesses on 100 percent renewable energy.

Additionally, “Governments need to commit to phase out of fossil fuels by 2050 and take concrete steps to get us there such as ending the financing of coal fired power plants.

“We also expect governments to announce new and additional money for the Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate disasters and steer the world to clean and safe energy,” he added.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS: “We also need secure, predictable, and mandatory public finance from developed to developing countries through the U.N. system.”

Developed countries’ leaders are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe. Their positions are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites, the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations, she added.

“What is needed to stop climate change are ambitious, equitable, binding emissions cuts from developed countries, along with finance and technology transfer to developing countries,” Bhatnagar added. “We also need a complete transformation of our energy and food systems.”

Oxfam International’s Gore told IPS there is also a need for more transparency to judge whether the announcements made are consistent with the latest climate science and protect the interests of those most vulnerable to climate impacts.

For example, he asked, “Are they consistent with a rapid shift away from fossil fuels towards renewables and do they ensure improved energy access for people that need it? Or do they just add green gloss to business as usual?”

Asked about the role of the private sector, Gore said: “We need private sector leadership to tackle climate change, and there are good examples emerging of companies that are stepping up to the plate.”

In the food and beverage sector, for example, Oxfam has worked with companies like Kellogg and General Mills to make new commitments to cut emissions from their massively polluting agricultural supply chains.

“But overall this Summit shows that too many parts of the private sector are not yet up to the job, as the initiatives that will be launched fall short of the transformational change we need,” he pointed out.

“This serves to remind us of the critical importance of strong government leadership on climate change – bottom-up voluntary initiatives are no substitute for real government action,” Gore declared.

FoEI’s Bhatnagar told IPS the private sector cannot be trusted to address climate change. Dirty energy corporations have a huge voice in the private sector but their aim is higher profits, not a safe climate, she said.

“They make climate change worse day by day and on top of that they are still massively subsidised by the public unfortunately. These public subsidies must stop now,” she added.

Li Shuo, a senior policy officer with Greenpeace China, told IPS the Climate Summit will see the new Chinese administration make its debut on the international climate stage.

As China has made significant progress on ending its coal boom at home, the Chinese government should grasp this opportunity to end the current “you go first” mentality that has poisoned progress through the U.N. climate talks, he said.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if China, emboldened by its domestic actions, were to lead the world to a new global climate agreement by announcing in New York that China will peak its emissions long before 2030?” Li asked.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Majority of Consumer Products May Be Tainted by Illegal Deforestationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 23:43:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136591 Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

At least half of global deforestation is taking place illegally and in support of commercial agriculture, new analysis released Thursday finds – particularly to supply overseas markets.

Over the past decade, a majority of the illegal clearing of forests has been in response to foreign demand for common commodities such as paper, beef, soy and palm oil. Yet governments in major markets such as the United States and European Union are taking almost no steps to urge corporations or consumers to reject such products.“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture." -- Sam Lawson of Earthsight

Indeed, doing so would be incredibly difficult given the incredibly widespread availability of potentially “dirty” products, the new analysis, published by Forest Trends, a Washington-based watchdog group, suggests. In many countries, consumers are likely using such products on a regular basis.

“In the average supermarket today, the majority of products are at risk of containing commodities that come from illegally deforested lands,” Sam Lawson, the report’s author and director of Earthsight, a British group that investigates environmental crime, told IPS.

“That’s true for any product encased in paper or cardboard, any beef, and any chicken or pork given that these [latter] animals are often raised on soy. And, of course, palm oil is now in almost everything, from lipstick to ice cream.”

In the absence of legislation to prevent such products from being imported and sold, Lawson says, “There’s always this risk.”

Overall, some 40 percent of all globally traded palm oil and 14 percent of all beef likely comes from illegally cleared lands, the paper estimates. The same can be said of a fifth of all soy and a third of all tropical timber, widely used to make paper products.

Meanwhile, some three-quarters of Brazilian soy and Indonesian palm oil are exported. Such trends are growing in countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While many case studies on these issues have previously been published on particular countries, sectors or companies, the new report is the first to try to extrapolate that data to the global level.

“Consumer demand in overseas markets resulted in the illegal clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometers of tropical forest during the first 12 years of the new millennium,” the report estimates, noting this adds up to “an average of five football fields every minute”.

While much this illegal clearing is being facilitated by corruption and lack of capacity in developing countries, Lawson places the culpability elsewhere.

“It’s companies that are carrying out these acts and they bear ultimate responsibility,” he says. “Big consumer countries also need to stop undermining the efforts of developing countries by allowing these products unfettered access to their markets.

Logging lessons

The ramifications of degraded forestlands, of course, are both local – impacting on livelihoods, ecosystems and human health – and global. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon but also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Between 2000 and 2012, the emissions associated with illegal deforestation for commercial agriculture each year was roughly the same as a quarter of the annual fossil fuel emissions in the European Union.

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

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts.

This rising global consensus around the importance of maintaining forest cover in the face of global climate change has led to significant international efforts to tackle illegal logging. And these have met with some important success.

Yet Earthsight’s Lawson says that some of the companies that were previously involved in illegally cutting tropical hardwoods are now engaging in the illegal clearing of forests to make way for large-scale agriculture.

“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture,” he says. “What we need now is to repeat some of the efforts that have been made in relation to illegal logging and apply those to agricultural commodities.”

The European Union, for instance, is currently in the process of implementing a bilateral system of licensing, in order to allow for legally harvested timber to be traced back to its source. Similar bilateral arrangements, Lawson suggests, could be introduced around key commodities.

Proven legality

Such a process would charge governments and multinational companies with ensuring that globally traded commodities do not originate from illegally cleared forestlands. In essence, this would create a situation in which the base requirement for entry into major markets would be proven legality.

Today, of course, the choice of whether or not to purchase a product made with ingredients potentially sourced from illegally deforested lands is up to the consumer – if that information is available at all. Yet such a new arrangement would turn that responsibility around entirely.

“All of this onus on the consumer bothers me – it really shouldn’t have to be so difficult to make these choices,” Danielle Nierenberg, the president of Food Tank, a Washington think tank focused on sustainability issues, told IPS.

“The fact is, consumers are still blind to these issues – despite the growth of the local food movement in Western countries, there remains significant demand for a range of inexpensive products. That’s why the real action has to come from the corporate side, and governments need to take a bigger interest.”

The United States has landmark legislation in place that bans the use of illegally sourced wood products in the country. By many accounts, that legal regime has been notably effective in cutting off the country’s massive market to those products.

Yet for now, Nierenberg says that there is no political appetite in Washington to do something similar regarding agricultural commodities.

“Instead, the real opportunity for government initiative comes from the developing world,” she says. “They need to invest more in small- and medium-scale farmers, protect their lands from land grabs, and invest in simple agricultural technologies that actually work. That’s where the real change could happen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Large Dams “Highly Correlated” with Poor Water Qualityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:34:45 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136401 Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Large-scale dams are likely having a detrimental impact on water quality and biodiversity around the world, according to a new study that tracks and correlates data from thousands of projects.

Focusing on the 50 most substantial river basins, researchers with International Rivers, a watchdog group, compiled and compared available data from some 6,000 of the world’s estimated 50,000 large dams. Eighty percent of the time, they found, the presence of large dams, typically those over 15 metres high, came along with findings of poor water quality, including high levels of mercury and trapped sedimentation.“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins." -- Jason Rainey

While the investigators are careful to note that the correlations do not necessarily indicate causal relationships, the say the data suggest a clear, global pattern. They are now calling for an intergovernmental panel of experts tasked with coming up with a systemic method by which to assess and monitor the health of the world’s river basins.

“[R]iver fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity,” International Rivers said Tuesday in unveiling the State of the World’s Rivers, an online database detailing the findings. “Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline.”

The group points to the Tigris-Euphrates basin, today home to 39 dams and one of the systems that has been most “fragmented” as a result. The effect appears to have been a vast decrease in the region’s traditional marshes, including the salt-tolerant flora that helped sustain the coastal areas, as well as a drop in soil fertility.

The State of the World project tracks the spread of dam-building alongside data on biodiversity and water-quality metrics in the river basins affected. While the project is using only previously published data, organisers say the effort is the first time that these disparate data sets have been overlaid in order to find broader trends.

“By and large most governments, particularly in the developing world, do not have the capacity to track this type of data, so in that sense they’re flying blind in setting policy around dam construction,” Zachary Hurwitz, the project’s coordinator, told IPS.

“We can do a much better job at observing [dam-affected] resettled populations, but most governments don’t have the capacity to do continuous biodiversity monitoring. Yet from our perspective, those data are what you really need in order to have a conversation around energy planning.”

Dam-building boom

Today, four of the five most fragmented river systems are in South and East Asia, according to the new data. But four others in the top 10 are in Europe and North America, home to some of the most extensive dam systems, especially the United States.

For all the debate in development circles in recent years about dam-building in developing countries, the new data suggests that two of the world’s poorest continents, Africa and South America, remain relatively less affected by large-scale damming than other parts of the world.

Of course, both Africa and South America have enormous hydropower potential and increasingly problematic power crunches, and many of the countries in these continents are moving quickly to capitalise on their river energy.

According to estimates from International Rivers, Brazil alone is currently planning to build more than 650 dams of all sizes. The country is also home to some of the highest numbers of species that would be threatened by such moves.

Not only are Brazil, China and India busy building dams at home, but companies from these countries are also increasingly selling such services to other developing countries.

“Precisely those basins that are least fragmented are currently being targeted for a great expansion of dam-building,” Hurwitz says. “But if we look at the experience and data from areas of high historical dam-building – the Mississippi basin the United States, the Danube basin in Europe – those worrying trends are likely to be repeated in the least-fragmented basins if this proliferation of dam-building continues.”

Advocates are expressing particularly concern over the confluence of the new strengthened focus on dam-building and the potential impact of climate change on freshwater biodiversity. International Rivers is calling for an intergovernmental panel to assess the state of the world’s river basins, aimed at developing metrics for systemic assessment and best practices for river preservation.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” Jason Rainey, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Economic burden

Particularly for increasingly energy-starved developing countries, concerns around large-scale dam-building go beyond environmental or even social considerations.

Energy access remains a central consideration in any set of development metrics, and lack of energy is an inherent drag on issues as disparate as education and industry. Further, concerns around climate change have re-energised what had been flagging interest in large dam projects, epitomised by last year’s decision by the World Bank to refocus on such projects.

Yet there remains fervent debate around whether this is the best way to go, particularly for developing countries. Large dams typically cost several billion dollars and require extensive planning to complete, and in the past these plans have been blamed for overwhelming fragile economies.

A new touchstone in this debate came out earlier this year, in a widely cited study from researchers at Oxford University. Looking at nearly 250 large dams dating back as far as the 1920s, they found pervasive cost and time overruns.

“We find overwhelming evidence that budgets are systematically biased below actual costs of large hydropower dams,” the authors wrote in the paper’s abstract.

“The outside view suggests that in most countries large hydropower dams will be too costly … and take too long to build to deliver a positive risk-adjusted return unless suitable risk management measures … can be affordably provided.”

Instead, the researchers encouraged policymakers in developing countries to focus on “agile energy alternatives” that can be built more quickly.

On the other side of this debate, the findings were attacked by the International Commission on Large Dams, a Paris-based NGO, for focusing on an unrepresentative set of extremely large dams. The group’s president, Adama Nombre, also questioned the climate impact of the researchers’ preferred alternative options.

“What would be those alternatives?” Nombre asked. “Fossil fuel plants consuming coal or gas. Without explicitly saying it, the authors use a purely financial reasoning to bring us toward a carbon-emitting electric system.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Climate Policy Goes Hand-in-Hand with Water Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:16:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136373 Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops."This is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons [and] more intense hurricanes." -- Natalie Boodram of WACDEP

Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.

The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.

“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.

“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.

“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.

Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.

Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.

Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.

GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.

“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.

“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.

The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.

The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.

“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.

IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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OPINION: Boosting Resilience in the Caribbean Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-boosting-resilience-in-the-caribbean-countries/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 10:42:20 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136332 By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise.

Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the U.N. Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake.In addition to saving lives, for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when a disaster strikes.

That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23.

Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position.

In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which are crucial for these countries’ economies, are especially exposed. Agriculture provides 20 percent of total employment in the Caribbean. In some countries, like Haiti and Grenada, half of the total jobs depends on agriculture. Moreover, travel and tourism accounted for 14 percent of Caribbean countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013 – the highest for any region in the world.

According to Jamaica’s Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, during the period 2000-2010 the country was impacted by 10 extreme weather events which have led the country to lose around two percent of its GDP per year. Moreover, sea levels have risen 0.9 mm per year, according to official figures. This causes Jamaicans, who live largely on the coast, not only to lose their beaches, but it also increases salinity in fresh waters and farming soil.

Courtesy of UNDP

Courtesy of UNDP

Also, when I visited Jamaica in July, the country was facing one of the worst droughts in its history. This had already led to a significant fall in agricultural production, higher food imports, increased food prices and a larger number of bush fires – which in turn destroy farms and forested areas.

Clearly, if countries do not reduce their vulnerabilities and strengthen their resilience – not only to natural disasters but also to financial crises – we won’t be able to guarantee, let alone expand, progress in the social, economic and environmental realms.

Preparedness is essential—and international cooperation plays a key role. UNDP is working closely with governments and societies in the Caribbean to integrate climate change considerations in planning and policy. This means investing in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and preparedness, particularly in the most vulnerable communities and sectors.

In Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, where I also met recently with key authorities, UNDP is working with the government to enhance climate change preparedness on three fronts: agriculture, natural disasters and promoting the use of renewable energy resources, which is critical to reduce the dependency on imported fossil fuels.

Knowledge-sharing between and within regions is also vital. UNDP has been working with governments in the Caribbean to share a successful practice that began in Cuba in 2005. The initiative, the Risk Reduction Management Centres, supports local governments’ pivotal role in the civil defence system.

In addition, experts from different agencies collaborate to map disaster-prone areas, analyse risk and help decision-making at the municipal level. Importantly, each Centre is also linked up with vulnerable communities through early warning teams, which serve as the Centre’s “tentacles”, to increase awareness and safeguard people and economic resources.

This model has been adapted and is being rolled out in the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

In Jamaica, for example, in hazard-prone St Catherine’s Parish on the outskirts of Kingston, a team has been implementing the country’s first such Centre, mapping vulnerable areas and training community leaders to play a central role in the disaster preparation and risk reduction system.

In Old Harbor Bay, a fishing community of 7,000 inhabitants, UNDP, together with the government of Jamaica, has provided emergency equipment and training for better preparation and evacuation when hurricanes or other disasters strike.

Boosting preparedness and increasing resilience is an investment. In addition to saving lives, for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when a disaster strikes.

However, it is also crucial to address vulnerability matters beyond climate change or natural disasters. Small Island Developing States—in the Caribbean and other regions— are often isolated from world trade and global finance. The international community needs to recognise and support this vulnerable group of countries, as they pave the way to more sustainable development.

Jessica Faieta is United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Director for Latin America and the Caribbean www.latinamerica.undp.org @jessicafaieta @undplac

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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When Land Restoration Works Hand in Hand with Poverty Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 02:53:42 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136297 Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
SANGAREDDY, India, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Tugging at the root of a thorny shrub known as ‘juliflora’, which now dots the village of Chirmiyala in the Medak District of southern India’s Telangana state, a 28-year-old farmer named Ailamma Arutta tells IPS, “This is a curse that destroyed my land.”

The deciduous shrub, whose scientific name is prosopis juliflora and belongs to the mesquite family, is not native to southern India. The local government introduced it in the 1950s and 1960s to prevent desertification in this region where the average annual rainfall is about 680 mm.

Decades later, the invasive plant has become a menace to farmers in the area, making it impossible to cultivate the land. This is partly due to juliflora’s ability to put out roots deep inside the earth – up to 175 feet in some places – in search of water.

Desperate farmers, who number some 5.5 million in the region, are now uprooting the shrubs as part of a government-sponsored scheme to make the land fertile once more.

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance. -- Indian Council for Agricultural Research
“The last time we grew anything on the land was about seven years ago, before this [shrub] started spreading all over it,” says Arutta, who is paid about three dollars a day for his work and looks forward eagerly to begin cultivating rice once more.

The operation provides employment while simultaneously laying the groundwork for future food security, and revitalising a degraded area.

Villagers employed by the scheme also perform duties such as removing stones and pebbles from the land, tilling the soil, de-silting ponds and lakes, and collecting fresh mud from waterholes and tanks to apply to the tilled land.

With funds provided through the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a nationwide programme that provides 100-day jobs to poor villagers during the non-farming season, locals are also building check dams on streams and rivulets, and digging percolation tanks to recharge the groundwater table.

Though small in scope, the scheme is highlighting the threat posed by desertification and its impact on the poorest communities in a country where 25 percent of the rural population (roughly 216.5 million people) lives below the poverty line, earning some 27 rupees (0.44 dollars) a day.

In Telangana there are 1.1 million small and marginal farmers who own less than five acres of land. With 54 percent of the state’s land degraded, these farmers fear for their future.

A global problem from an Indian perspective

According to Venkat Ravinder, an assistant director for the MGNREGA programme in Medak district, land degradation is the main environmental problem for farmers in the region.

Recurring drought and erratic rainfall have played havoc on groundwater tables (in some areas water levels have fallen five to 20 metres below ground level), making the surface of the soil unhealthy and dry.

Also, abundant growth of juliflora has increased the level of acidity in the topsoil, making it difficult for farmers to ensure plentiful yields of crops like rice, cotton and chili.

“Due to the high level of land degradation, over 2,000 acres of land have been lying fallow here,” Ravinder, who is overlooking the land restoration process in 125 villages of the district, told IPS.

“Our aim is to make this fallow land cultivable. So, we are clearing it of the harmful vegetation, and through silt application we are increasing the fertility and water-holding capacity of the soil,” he explained.

Globally, 1.2 billion people are directly affected by land degradation, which causes an annual loss of 42 billion dollars, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded, according to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance.

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Having set 2013 as a global deadline to end land degradation, the UNCCD says governments around the world should prioritise land restoration, given that such a massive population depends on unyielding and unhealthy soil.

“Landscape approaches to degraded land restoration are key in drylands to enhance livelihoods and address environmentally forced migrations,” Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the UNCCD, told IPS.

According to the Indian minister for the environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, this is an achievable goal. He says his own government is determined to be “land degradation neutral” by 2030.

Speaking on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) earlier this year in New Delhi, the minister said that the problem of degradation, desertification and the creation of wastelands were major challenges impacting livelihoods.

Reiterating the government’s stated goal of scaling up efforts to eradicate poverty, under the leadership of newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar stressed that various government agencies should work together on a common implementation strategy regarding desertification, including the departments of water resources, land resources, forests, and climate change and agriculture.

With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of India’s economy, such moves are urgently required, experts say.

Land degradation, poverty and migration: A vicious cycle

Thirty-year-old Arutta Somaya, a farmer from a small village in Telangana state, says his four-acre plot of farmland has become infested with juliflora, and is now virtually uncultivable.

With few options open to him, and a family of four to feed, Somaya left home in 2010 in search of work and for three years travelled to states like Maharasthra in the north, and Odisha in the east, working as a daily migrant labourer.

Today, he is back home and cultivating his land, which was cleared and restored under the land development programme.

Somaya tells IPS that several of his neighbours and friends are also considering returning home as they can earn a livelihood again.

“Before returning home, I was digging bore holes. We had to work for over 15 hours a day. It was very difficult. Now I don’t have to do that again,” adds the farmer, who is planting rice and napier grass, a fast-growing, commercially viable crop that is used as cattle fodder.

Hundreds of other seasonal migrants will be able to return home if the land development programme continues, says Subash Reddy, director of Smaran, a Hyderabad-based non-profit that promotes soil and water conservation.

He also believes the scheme could be more successful if the government roped in community organisations, especially those that work for the welfare of migrants.

“In India, at least 15 million people migrate each year from villages to the cities,” he told IPS. “How many of them are aware of what schemes the government is introducing at home?

“There are several NGOs that work closely with migrant workers,” Reddy added. “These organisations could be instrumental in informing the workers about land restoration [programmes] and also help them return home in time to avail themselves [of the benefits].”

According to the UNCCD, rampant land degradation could cause a collapse of food production, which would see global food prices “skyrocket”. Also, continued desertification, land degradation and drought could cause rampant migration and displacement of millions.

India is poised to set an example to a global problem – it just needs to find the political will to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Recurrent Cholera Outbreak in Far North Cameroon Highlights Development Gapshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 09:30:30 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136203 Lara Adama digs for water in a dried up river bed in Dumai, in Cameroon’s far north. There has been a nine-month drought in the region and recurrent cholera outbreaks. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Lara Adama digs for water in a dried up river bed in Dumai, in Cameroon’s far north. There has been a nine-month drought in the region and recurrent cholera outbreaks. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
DUMAI/YAOUDE, Cameroon, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Under a scorching sun, with temperatures soaring to over 40 degrees Celsius, Lara Adama’s family is forced to dig for water from a dried-out river bed in Dumai, in northern Cameroon. 

This is one of the rivers that used to flow into the shrinking Lake Chad but there is not much water here.

There has been a nine-month-long drought in the region and Adama tells IPS that her family “digs out the sand on this river bed to tap water.”

“We depend on this water for everything in the house,” Adama, a villager in Mokolo in Cameroon’s Far North Region, says.

A cholera outbreak has been declared in Adama’s village. But she and other community members have no choice but to get their water from this river.

The lone borehole in this village of about 1,500 people is out of use due to technical problems.

“Every family comes here to retrieve drinking water. Our animals too depend on this water source to survive. When we come after the animals have already polluted a hole, we simply dig another to avoid any health problems,” she says.

This region is threatened by extreme water shortages and climate variability. Barren soils constitute some 25 to 30 percent of the surface area of this region. Lake Chad is rapidly shrinking while Lake Fianga dried up completely in December 1984.

Gregor Binkert, World Bank country director for Cameroon, tells IPS that a water-related crisis is prevalent in the north and there is an increased need for protection from floods and drought, which are affecting people more regularly.

“Northern Cameroon is characterised by high poverty levels, and it is also highly vulnerable to natural disasters and climate shocks, including frequent droughts and floods,” Binkert explains.

The protracted droughts in Far North Region have triggered a sharp increase in cholera cases. The outbreak is mainly concentrated in the Mayo-Tsanaga region as all its six health districts have cases of the infectious disease. The current outbreak has already resulted in more than 200 deaths out of the 1,500 cholera cases reported here since June.

According Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health Andre Mama Fouda, “poor sanitation and limited access to good drinking water are the main causes of recurrent outbreak in the Far North. A majority of those infected with the disease are children under the age of five and women.”

Since 2010 three cholera outbreaks have been declared in Far North Region:
  • In 2010, a cholera outbreak spread to eight of Cameroon’s 10 regions, resulting in 657 deaths – 87 percent of which where were from the Far North Region.
  • In 2011, 17,121 suspected cholera cases, including 636 deaths, were recorded in Cameroon. Again a majority of those who died were from the Far North.
  • The latest cholera case in Far North was registered on Apr. 26, when a Nigerian family crossed into Cameroon to receive treatment. Neighbouring Nigeria has reported 24,683 cholera cases since January and the first week of July.

Poor hygiene practices

“Cholera in this region is not only a water scarcity problem, it also aggravated by the poor hygienic practices that are deeply rooted in people’s culture. Water is scarce and considered as a very precious commodity, but handling it is quite unhygienic,” Félicité Tchibindat, the country representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Cameroon, tells IPS.

Cultural practices are still primitive in most villages and urban areas.

Northerners have a culture where people publicly share water jars, from which everyone drinks from.

“These practices and many others make them vulnerable to water vector diseases. [It is the] reason why cholera can easily spread to other communities. Cholera outbreaks are a result of inadequate water supplies, sanitation, food safety and hygiene practices,” Tchibindat says.

Open defecation is also common in the region. According Global Atlas of Helminth Infections, 50 to 75 percent of the rural population in Far North Cameroon defecate in the open, compared to 25 to 50 percent of people in urban areas.

Access to good drinking water and sanitation is also very limited. Two out of three people do not have access to proper sanitation and hygiene. While about 40 percent of the population has access to good drinking water, this figure is much lower in rural areas. In rural Cameroon only about 18 percent of people have access to improved drinking water sources, which are on average about over 30 minutes away.

Development challenges

Water sanitation and health (WASH) is vital for development, yet Far North Region has some of the most limited infrastructure in the entire nation, coupled with security challenges as the region is increasily throated by Nigeria’s extremist group Boko Haram.

Poverty is high in the region, UNICEF’s Tchibindat says. And the security issue in neighbouring countries has not helped Cameroon provide proper access to medical services here.

According to UNICEF, major challenges abound in Cameroon. There is a low capacity of coordination for WASH at all levels, and poor institutional leadership of sanitation issues. The decentralisation of the WASH sector means there is no proper support with inequitable distribution of human resources in regions.

“The government and many development partners have provided boreholes to communities and the region counts more than 1,000 boreholes today,” Parfait Ndeme from the Ministry of Mines, Water Resources and Energy says.

But about 30 percent of boreholes are non-functional and need repair, according to UNICEF.

Ndeme explains that, “the cost of providing potable water in the sahelian region might be three times more costly than down south. Distance is one major factor that influences cost and the arid climate in the region makes it difficult to have underground water all year round.”

A borehole in the northern region costs at least eight million Francs (about 16,300 dollars) compared to two million Francs (about 4,000 dollars) in other regions.

Health care challenges are prominent.

“The Far North has limited access development which also has a direct influence of the quality of health care,” Tchibindat says.

The unavailability of basic infrastructure and equipment in health centres makes it difficult to practice in isolated rural areas. Consequently, most rural health centre have a high rate of desertion by staff due to the low level of rural development, she adds.

Most of Cameroon’s health workers, about 59.75 percent, are concentrated in the richest regions; Centre, Littoral and West Region, serving about 42.14 percent of Cameroon’s 21 million people.

According to the World Health Organisation:

  • 30.9 percent of health centres in Cameroon do not have a medical analysis laboratory.
  • 83 percent of health centres do not have room for minor surgery.
  • 45.7 percent of health centres have no access to electricity
  • 70 percent of health centres have no tap water.

“Due to lack of equipment in hospitals, the treatment might only start after a couple of hours increasing the probability of it spreading,” Peter Tambe, a health expert based in Maroua, the capital of Far North Region, tells IPS.

“Report of new cholera cases are numerous in isolated villages and the present efforts by the government and development partners are not sufficient to treat and also monitor prevalence,” Tambe says.

Since the discovery of cholera in the region, the government and UNICEF and other partners have doubled their services to these localities to enforce health facilities and provide the population with basic hygiene aid, water treatment tablets and free treatment for patients, regardless of their nationality, along the border with Chad and Nigeria.

“Despite insecurity challenges facing this region, the government and its partners have embarked on information exchanges with Niger, Chad, and Nigeria to avoid further cross-border cases,” Public Health Minister Fouda tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at nformonde@gmail.com

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Island States to Rally Donors at Samoa Meethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:49:19 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136190 Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid accelerating climate change and other challenges, a major international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month represents a key chance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean to turn the tide.

“This is an opportune moment where you will have all of the donor agencies and the funding partners so as civil society we have prepared a draft which looks at agriculture, health, youth, women and many other areas to present to the conference highlighting the needs in the SIDS,” Pamela Thomas, Caribbean civil society ambassador on agriculture for the United Nations, told IPS."We face particular vulnerabilities and our progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon." -- Ruleta Camacho

“My primary area is agriculture and in agriculture we are targeting climate change because climate change is affecting our sector adversely,” she said.

“One of the projects we are putting forward to the SIDS conference is the development of climate smart farms throughout the SIDS. That is our major focus. The other area of focus has to do with food security, that is also a top priority for us as well but our major target at this conference is climate change,” added Thomas, who also heads the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN).

SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway, a 30-page document developed ahead of the conference, outlines the particular challenges that SIDS face.

These include addressing debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, climate change, biodiversity conservation and building resilience to natural systems, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, threats to fisheries, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, to name a few.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator on sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, said the challenges faced by Caribbean SIDS are related to sustainable development issues.

She pointed out that there are still significant gaps with respect to sustainable development in SIDS and developing countries generally.

“With respect to SIDS we face particular vulnerabilities and our development progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon,” she told IPS. “So because of our isolation and other physical impacts of these phenomenons we are sometimes held back.

“You take the case of Grenada where its GDP went to zero overnight because of a hurricane. So we have these sorts of factors that hinder us and so we are trying our best.”

Despite these circumstances, Camacho said Caribbean SIDS have done very well, but still require a lot of international assistance.

“The reason for these conferences, this being the third, is to highlight what our needs are, what our priorities are and set the stage for addressing these priorities in the next 10 years,” she explained.

In September 2004, Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean region in a decade, laid waste to Grenada. The havoc created by the 125 mph winds cut communication lines and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of all buildings on the island.

Thomas’ group, CaFAN, represents farmers in all 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Initiated by farmer organisations across the Caribbean in 2002, it is mandated to speak on behalf of its membership and to develop programmes and projects aimed at improving livelihoods; and to collaborate with all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to the strategic advantage of its farmers.

Camacho said the Sep. 1-4 conference provides opportunities not only for farmers but the Caribbean as a whole.

“Because we are small we are a little bit more adaptable and we tend to be more resilient as a people and as a country,” she said. “So with respect to all our challenges what we need to do is to communicate to our funders that the one size fits all does not work for small island developing states.

“We have socio-cultural peculiarities that allow us to work a little differently and one of the major themes that we emphasise when we go to these conferences is that we don’t want to be painted with the broad brush as being Latin America and the Caribbean. We want our needs as small island Caribbean developing state and the particular opportunities and our positioning to be recognised,” Camacho said.

And she remains optimistic that the international funding agencies will respond in the affirmative in spite of a recurring theme in terms of the Caribbean requesting special consideration.

“Like any business model, you can’t just try one time. You try 10 times and if one is successful then it was worth it. Yes there have been disappointments where we have done this before, we have outlined priorities before,” she explained.

“To be quite frank, this document (S.A.M.O.A) seems very general when you compare it to the documents that were used in Mauritius or Barbados, however, we have found, I think Antigua and Barbuda has been recognised as one of the countries, certainly in the environmental management sector to be able to access funding.

“We have a higher draw down rate than any of the other OECS countries and that is because of our approach to donor agencies. We negotiate very hard, we don’t give up and we try to use adaptive management in terms of fitting our priorities to what is on offer,” Camacho added.

The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States is “The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”.

The conference will include six multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, held in parallel with the plenary meetings.

It will seek to achieve the following objectives: assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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U.S. Waives Sanctions on Myanmar Timberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 20:49:42 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136138 Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are split over a decision by the U.S. government to waive sanctions on Myanmar’s timber sector for one year.

The decision, which went into effect late last month, is being hailed by some as an opportunity for community-led and sustainability initiatives to take root in Myanmar, where lucrative forestry revenues have long been firmly controlled by the military and national elites. The European Union, too, is currently working to normalise its relations with the Myanmarese timber sector.“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process.” -- Kevin Woods of Forest Trends

Yet others are warning that Washington has taken the decision too soon, before domestic conditions in Myanmar are able to support such a change.

“Lifting sanctions on the timber industry now appears to be a premature move by the U.S., and risks lessening Burma’s impetus towards reform,” Ali Hines, a land campaigner with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Burma is not yet in a position to state convincingly where and how timber is sourced, meaning that U.S. importers and traders have little way of knowing whether Burmese timber is illegal, or linked to social or environmental harm.”

In June, Washington granted a limited one-year license to the 200 members of the U.S.-based International Wood Products Association (IWPA) to engage in transactions with the Myanma Timber Enterprise, the state logging agency. U.S. officials say the aim of the decision is to allow U.S. companies and customers to help strengthen reforms in the Myanmarese timber trade, hopefully promoting transparency and building nascent sustainability practices.

“Interaction with responsible business can help build basic capacity so that Burma can begin to tackle the long-term systemic issues present in its extractive sectors,” Kerry S. Humphrey, a media advisor with the U.S. State Department, told IPS.

“The State Department has been in consultations with IWPA to ensure that any trade conducted under this license is in line with U.S. Government policies, including promoting sustainable forest management and legal supply chains.”

Humphrey notes that IWPA will now be required to file quarterly reports with the State Department on its “progress in helping to ensure legal timber supply chains”.

Yet critics worry this will simply create two parallel timber sectors, one licit and another that is little changed. The industry, as with Myanmar’s broader extractives sector, has long been notorious for deep corruption and human rights abuses.

“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process,” Kevin Woods, a Myanmar researcher with Forest Trends, a watchdog group, told IPS.

Instead, Woods says, the end result could be to “create a wall around a few government-managed timber reserves to feed global tropical timber demand, leaving the rest of the country’s forests located in ethnic conflict zones to be continually pillaged and sold across its borders.”

Free-for-all?

Nearly a half-decade after Myanmar began a stuttering process of pro-democratic reform, many today are increasingly concerned that this process is slowing or even reversing course. Late last month, 72 members of the U.S. Congress warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that conditions in the country have “taken a sharp turn for the worse” over the past year and a half.

Kerry was in Myanmar over the past weekend, where he reportedly raised U.S. concerns over such regression with multiple top government officials.

Yet he also rejected concerns that Washington is “moving too quickly” in rolling back punitive bilateral sanctions on Myanmar. He had gone through “a long list of challenges” with Myanmarese officials, Kerry told journalists Sunday, “in a very, very direct way”.

With the removal of sanctions, however, many worry that Washington is losing important leverage. In the timber sector in particular, some question the extent to which U.S. and other foreign companies will have the wherewithal, or interest, to effect change on the ground in Myanmar – particularly given the tepid commitments made by the country’s government.

“This is not the time for U.S.-based timber importers to be investing in Burma,” Faith Doherty, a senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Secretary Kerry … raised serious questions as to the backsliding of reforms and continuing human rights abuses within the country – how do companies within the IWPA think they are able to avoid contributing to these issues that are prevalent throughout the timber sector?”

Indeed, some observers suggest that Myanmar’s opening-up has been accompanied by a sense of free-for-all.

“Illegal logging and natural resource grabbing, including land, in ethnic states and regions … have become worse since the reforms started and the influx of foreign investment into the country,” Paul Sein Twa, with the Burma Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Remember, we are still in a fragile peace-building period and there is no rule of law in the conflict areas. So our recommendation is to go slowly on reforming law and policies – to open up more space, engage with civil society organisations and the ethnic armed groups.”

Certification momentum

Any ultimate success in reforming Myanmar’s forestry sector will depend on future actions by both the country’s government and the foreign companies that end up purchasing the country’s timber. Yet some are applauding the lifting of U.S. sanctions as an important opportunity to finally begin the work of reform.

“The problem with sanctions is that they restrict buyers in our country from engaging in the sector – the international marketplace, which today includes strong preferences for sustainable products, is inaccessible,” Josh Tosteson, a senior vice-president with the Rainforest Alliance, a group that engages in the certification of tropical forest products, told IPS.

“Particularly if the lifting of sanctions comes along with some commitments from significant buyers to work cooperatively to support and incentivise the march toward sustainability certification, that can inject some real energy to drive this process forward.”

This week, the Myanmar Forest Department accepted a proposal from the Rainforest Alliance for a pilot production community forest in the country’s south.

“Having market mechanisms there that provide a minimum preference and a new market norm that won’t allow anything other than responsible or sustainably produced products to enter the market – that will be the key element,” Tosteson says.

“Particularly in intra-Asian trade you’ll need to have buying companies get on board with these norms. That will be a significant challenge, but if they’re not stepping up to create these new market norms no other efforts will matter – illicit products will simply flow through the routes of least resistance.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 18:26:46 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135923 In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh.

Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence.“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” -- Clionadh Raleigh

In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.

Much of the uncertainty over the connection between climate change and armed conflict exists because it is such a fledgling area of interest. According to David Jensen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme, the relationship between climate change and conflict began receiving significant U.N. attention only in recent years.

“While the debate on this topic started in 2006-2007, there remains a large gulf between what is discussed at the global level and in the Security Council, and what is actually happening at the field level,” he told IPS.

A body of peer-reviewed literature on climate change and conflict has recently begun to emerge, but scientists have discovered that the link between climate change and conflict is more complex than they expected.

“A number of studies have found a statistical link between climate change and conflict, but they tend to focus on a specific area and cover a short time period,” Halvard Buhaug, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Conditions of Violence and Peace department, told IPS. “The challenge is to determine whether these studies are indicative of an overarching, more general trend, which hasn’t been documented yet.”

Much of the nuance behind the climate conflict correlations is lost when technical scientific reports are spread to a wider audience.

Buhaug told IPS that “parts of the public debate on climate change and violence are accurate, but there is an unfortunate tendency, whether by researchers or the media, to exaggerate the strength behind the scientific research and under-communicate scientific uncertainty.”

“In some media reports, phrases like ‘may’ are turned into ‘will’ and the future is portrayed in… gloomy shades.”

Following is a sampling of the back-and-forth debate taking place in the scientific community:

A prominent study by Burke etal. (2009) concluded that rising temperatures would lead to increased battle deaths in Africa. It predicted that if current trends held, increased temperatures would cause 393,000 extra battle deaths in Africa by 2030.

According to Buhaug (2010), the prevalence and severity of African civil wars has decreased since 2002 in spite of increased warming, defying Burke’s hypothesis. In his study, he found no evidence of a correlation between temperature and conflict.

Hendrix and Salehyan (2012) found that extreme deviations in rainfall, whether it was more rain or less rain than usual, are positively associated with all types of political conflict in Africa.

Benjaminsen et al. (2012) found little evidence for claims that rainfall variability is a substantial driver of conflict in Mali.

In 2013, Hsiang, Burke and Miguel published a meta-analysis of 60 studies on the subject in Science. They found that the majority of studies from all regions support the conclusion that climate change does and will lead to higher levels of armed conflict.

In a response in Nature Climate Change, Raleigh, Linke and O’Loughlin (2014) criticized the above study for using faulty statistics that ignored political and historical drivers of conflict and overemphasized climate change as a causal factor.

The debate over whether climate change exists and is human-caused has long been settled by scientists. The debate over whether it will impact armed conflict goes on.

A deeper understanding of the connection between climate change and conflict requires a careful examination of the drivers of violence and the role of the environment in individuals’ livelihoods.

Cullen Hendrix, assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told IPS that the relationship between climate and conflict is mediated by levels of economic development.

Climate conflict is most likely to occur in rural, non-industrialised regions “where a large portion of the population is still dependent on the natural environment for their income and sustenance,” he said.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, more than two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture. A change in climate conditions could have negative impacts on stability. However, researchers would emphasise that it is important not to jump to conclusions and assume that climate change will necessarily lead to conflict.

“Almost all of us would acknowledge that other factors such as political exclusion of persecuted minority groups or economic inequalities or weak central government institutions matter more [than climate]” Hendrix told IPS. “But that’s not the same as saying that climate doesn’t matter.”

When asked about the biggest lessons learned during his time with UNEP, Jensen had a similar take. “When you’re trying to rebuild communities and livelihoods, you can’t just focus on a single stress factor like climate change, you have to be looking at multiple factors and building resilience to all kinds of shocks and stresses…including climate change but not exclusively.”

Hendrix expects the next generation of scientific work to examine how drought, floods, desertification and other climate change phenomena could impact conflict “through indirect channels such as suppressing economic growth or causing large-scale migration from one country to another.”

In post-conflict situations and fragile states at risk of climate conflict, governance and land distribution have emerged as key considerations.

“Clarity on land and resource rights is one of the key prerequisites to reducing vulnerability and supporting livelihood recovery,” Jensen told IPS.

Clionadh Raleigh, who is also a professor of Human Geography at the University of Sussex, believes that government land distribution policies are often the real source of conflict, but their impact is obscured by the climate conflict debate.

“If you were to ask somebody in Africa ‘what are the conflicts about here?’ they might readily say something like land or water access,” she told IPS. “But land and water access are almost entirely determined by local and national government policy, so they don’t have almost anything to do with climate.”

Certain leaders have attempted to blame climate change for the consequences of their own disastrous policies, according to Raleigh. Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe’s famines on climate change, instead of his own corrupt land reallocation policies.

Omar al-Bashir blamed the Darfur conflict on drought instead of the government’s shocking political violence against a large chunk of its population.

While climate change itself is a topic of utmost importance, is it even worth it to talk about its connection to armed conflict? Raleigh doesn’t think so.

“It’s just a simplistic, nonsense narrative that the climate makes people violent,” Raleigh told IPS.

She believes the climate conflict debate falls into a trap called environmental determinism, a school of thought that asserts that climatic factors define human behaviour and culture. For example, it assumes that a society will act in a certain way depending on whether it is located in a tropical or temperate region.  Environmental determinism gained prominence in the late 19th century but soon declined in popularity amidst accusations of racism and imperialism.

“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” Raleigh told IPS.

Buhaug believes the climate change and armed conflict debate does have merit, since most scientists are careful to not ascribe too much causal weight to one particular factor.

However, he does worry that “there is a tendency in research, but especially in the communication of research, to ignore the importance of political and socio-economic conditions and the motive and agency of actors.”

Raleigh, for her part, wishes the whole debate would just go away.

“People have an often mistaken interpretation of what’s going on at the sub-national level, on the local level within African states and developing countries,” she told IPS. “And they just assume that violence is one of the first reactions to societal change, when it is far more likely to be cooperation.”

Environmental cooperation occurs at both the inter-state and local levels, according to Jensen. At the local level, “in Darfur, we see different groups coming together to co-manage water resources.” At the trans-national level, “there’s a lot of talk about water wars between countries, but we often see the opposite in terms of much more cooperation between states over shared water resources.”

Following this line of thinking, the U.N. has tried to expand the climate conflict discussion from focusing on problems to exploring new solutions.

In November 2013, it launched a new website for experts and field practitioners to share best practices in addressing environmental conflicts and using natural resources to support peacebuilding, Jensen told IPS.

Climate change will most likely wreak havoc on the natural world and it may create the conditions for increased violence, but environmental scientists and practitioners agree: the future is not determined.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:14:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135713 Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lima link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-thirds remaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caribbean Grapples with Intense New Cycles of Flooding and Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/caribbean-grapples-with-intense-new-cycles-of-flooding-and-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-grapples-with-intense-new-cycles-of-flooding-and-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/caribbean-grapples-with-intense-new-cycles-of-flooding-and-drought/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:39:18 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135629 Dr. Paulette Bynoe, a specialist in community-based disaster risk management, climate change adaptation policy and environmental management, says integrated water resource management is critical. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mechanical Pumps Turning Oases into Mirageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/mechanical-pumps-turning-oases-into-mirages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mechanical-pumps-turning-oases-into-mirages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/mechanical-pumps-turning-oases-into-mirages/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 12:28:18 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135513 The water table is falling in Egypt's desert oases, raising questions of sustainability. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it is a finite resource, says Tutwiler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At the Crucial Nexus of Water and Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/at-the-crucial-nexus-of-water-and-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-the-crucial-nexus-of-water-and-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/at-the-crucial-nexus-of-water-and-energy/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135406 Pakistani woman Roma Juma makes tea for guests using her smoke-free stove. Fuel-efficient stoves can help prevent deforestation and conserve watersheds. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adapting to a Dry Season That Never Seems to Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/adapting-to-a-dry-season-that-never-seems-to-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adapting-to-a-dry-season-that-never-seems-to-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/adapting-to-a-dry-season-that-never-seems-to-end/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 15:01:46 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135206 Caribbean scientists are developing drought-tolerant varieties of crops which are then distributed to farmers in countries most severely affected by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Picture the World as a Deserthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/picture-world-desert/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=picture-world-desert http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/picture-world-desert/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 23:30:44 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135054 Two billion hectares of land are badly degraded as a result of desertification. Credit: Bigstock/IPS

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

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecosystem-based adaptation

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

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

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

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

Investment Versus Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching conservation, practicing investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(END)

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Saving West Africa’s Last Intact Tropical Rainforest through Tourismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/ivorians-learn-save-one-last-intact-tropical-rainforests-west-africa-exploiting-tourism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ivorians-learn-save-one-last-intact-tropical-rainforests-west-africa-exploiting-tourism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/ivorians-learn-save-one-last-intact-tropical-rainforests-west-africa-exploiting-tourism/#comments Fri, 09 May 2014 11:54:19 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134191 Chimpanzees are one of the many endangered species that tourists will have the opportunity to see in Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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