Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 16 Sep 2014 00:05:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 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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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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Dumping Ban Urged for Australia’s Iconic Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 17:43:58 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136271 A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Increased effort is needed to protect Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, which is in serious decline and will likely deteriorate further in the future, according to a new report.

“Greater reductions of all threats at all levels, reef-wide, regional and local, are required to prevent the projected declines,”said an outlook report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the government agency responsible for protecting the reef.“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs.” -- Richard Leck of WWF-Australia

However, the same agency recently approved the dumping of five million tonnes of dredging spoil in the reef region. Scientists and coral reef experts universally condemned the decision.

Documents obtained by Australia’s ABC TV investigative programme this week revealed scientists inside the Park Authority also opposed the dumping inside the UNESCO World Heritage Area.

“That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard,”Charlie Veron, a renowned coral reef scientist, told ABC. Veron is the former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is one of the seven greatest natural wonders of the world. Visible from space, it is a startlingly beautiful mosaic made up of thousands of reefs, sea grass beds, and islands running 2,300 km along the coast of the state of Queensland.

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

In 1981 UNESCO declared the GBR a World Heritage Area, calling it “an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration”. It was home to 10 percent of all fish on the planet. Dugongs and many varieties of dolphins and sea turtles were once abundant.

Although protected as a marine park for decades, more than half of the coral is dead.Without concerted action, just five to 10 percent of the coral will remain by 2020, according to a 2012 scientific survey reported by IPS.

“I’ve worked on the reef for over a decade and those survey results were absolutely stunning,”said Richard Leck, spokesperson for WWF-Australia.

“The GBR is likely the best monitored reef in the world and we’re seeing the impacts of massive coastal development,”Leck told IPS.

In 2010, the Australian government approved four massive liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plants with port facilities at the coal port of Gladstone in central Queensland. Extensive dredging resulted in the dumping of 46 million tonnes of material in the harbour and inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park boundaries.

Much of the most toxic dredging material was to be contained inside a huge retaining or bund wall in the Gladstone Harbour. It soon began to fail, eventually leaking as much as 4,000 tonnes of material daily. The impacts have been devastating.

“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs,”said Leck. “Gladstone was a clear failure by state and national governments.”

Local tourist operators say the water quality and clarity has declined significantly.

Queensland is also a major mining and export region, shipping 156 million tonnes annually, mostly to Asian markets. Now there are proposals to expand that output sixfold to nearly one billion tonnes annually by 2020.

India’s Adani Group plans to spend six billion dollars to build Queensland’s biggest coal mine, including a new town and a 350 km railway to connect to Port Abbot, near the tourist town of Bowen.

Other Indian miners, along with a number of Chinese mining interests, have locked up an estimated 20 billion tonnes of coal resources in central Queensland. Australian mining companies,including mining billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, are also expanding their operations.

In December 2013, Australia’s Minister of Environment Greg Hunt approved a plan to create one of the world’s largest coal ports at Port Abbot. A few months later, and in spite of strong opposition from its own scientists, the Park Authority agreed to allow five million tonnes of dredged material from Port Abbot to be dumped in the GBR.

“The Park Authority was in a difficult position. Saying ‘no’meant rejecting the minister’s approval of the dredging,”said Leck.

Hunt told ABC TV that he’d conducted “a very careful and deep review”and concluded that “the unequivocal advice we received was: this can be done safely.”

There is substantial scientific literature showing sediment from dredging can smother and kill marine species. Sediment also reduces light levels, causes physiological stress, impairs growth and reproduction, clogs the gills of fish, and promotes diseases, said Terry Hughes, director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland.

Some dredge spoil is very fine sediment — tiny little particles suspended in the water column — readily dispersed by winds, currents and waves. Over a period of just a few months they can travel 100 kilometres or more, Hughes told IPS.

A recently published modelling study predicts that fine sediments in suspension can spread up to 200 kilometres from coal ports within 90 days. It also measured sediments found in coral reefs in the GBR near another coal port and found high levels of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are associated with coal dust.

Given the perilous health of the reef, which is also facing enormous threats from rising water temperatures and ocean acidity due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, Hughes and other scientists are calling for a complete ban on dumping in the GBR or anywhere near it.

The additional threat posed by coal ports and other industrial developments along the coast is so serious that UNESCO warned Australia it would change the reef’s prestigious World Heritage Site designation to a “World Heritage Site in Danger”.

The UNESCO decision is expected mid-2015, which is also when the Port Abbot dredging is scheduled to begin.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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U.S., Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Treeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 23:35:52 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136255 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

“If Brazil and the United States get permission to commercialise these trees, there is nothing to say that they wouldn’t just export these products to other countries to grow,” Anne Petermann, the executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, a network that Wednesday announced a new global initiative, told IPS.

“These GE trees would grow faster and be more economically valuable, so it’s easy to see how current conventional plantations would be converted to GE plantations – in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Further, both Europe and the U.S. are currently looking at other genetically engineered trees that bring with them a whole additional range of potential impacts.”

While the United States has thus far approved the use of two genetically modified fruit trees, the eucalyptus is the first GE forest tree to near release. Similar policy discussions are currently taking place in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere, while China has already approved and is using multiple GE trees.

The plantation approach

The eucalyptus is a particularly lucrative tree, currently the most widely planted hardwood in the world and used especially to produce pulp for paper and paper products.

In the United States, the trees would also likely be used to feed growing global demand for biofuels, particularly in the form of wood pellets. In 2012 alone, U.S. exports of wood pellets increased by some 70 percent, and the United States is today the world’s largest such producer.

U.S. regulators are currently looking at two types of eucalyptus that have been genetically engineered to withstand frosts and certain antibiotics, thus allowing for plantations to be planted much farther north. The company requesting the approval, ArborGen, says the introduction of its GE seedlings would quadruple the eucalyptus’s range in the United States alone.

ArborGen has estimated that its sales could see 20-fold growth, to some 500 million dollars a year by 2017, if GE trees receive U.S. approval, according to a comprehensive report published last year by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. Likewise, Brazilian analysts have suggested that the market for eucalyptus products could expand by some 500 percent over the coming two decades.

Yet the eucalyptus, which has been grown in conventional plantations for years, has been widely shown to be particularly problematic – even dangerous – in monoculture.

The eucalyptus takes unusually high levels of water to grow, for instance, and is notably invasive. The trees are also a notorious fire hazard; during a devastating fire in the U.S. state of California in the 1990s, nearly three-quarters of the blaze’s energy was estimated to come from highly combustible eucalyptus trees.

In addition, many are worried that approval of the GE proposals in the United States and Brazil would, inevitably, act as a significant boost to the monoculture plantation model of production.

“This model has been shown to be very negative for local communities and nature, expelling and restricting the access of people to their territories, depleting and contaminating water sources – especially in the Global South,” Winifridus Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a global pressure group, told IPS from Uruguay.

“Many of these plantations in Brazil have hindered much-needed agrarian land reform under which hungry people could finally produce food on their own lands. But under the plantation model, most of the wood produced is destined for export, to attend to the ever-increasing paper demand elsewhere.”

Overbeek says Brazilian peasants complain that “No one can eat eucalyptus.”

More wood, more land

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand for a million tonnes of paper and related products every day. That amounted to some 400 million tonnes of paper used in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and could increase to 500 million tonnes per year by the end of the decade.

A key argument from ArborGen and others in favour of genetically engineered trees, and the plantation system more generally, is that increased use of “farmed” trees would reduce pressure on native forests. Indeed, ArborGen’s motto is “More Wood. Less Land”.

Yet as the world has increasingly adopted the plantation approach, the impact has been clear. Indonesia, for instance, has allowed for the clear-cutting of more than half of its forests over the past half-century, driven particularly by the growth of palm plantations.

According to U.N. data, plantations worldwide doubled their average wood production during the two decades leading up to 2010.  But the size of those plantations also increased by some 60 percent.

“While it sounds nice and helpful to create faster-growing trees, in reality the opposite is true. As you make these things more valuable, more land gets taken over for them,” GJEP’s Petermann says.

“Especially in Brazil, for instance, because we’ve seen an intensification of wood coming from each hectare of land, more and more land is being converted.”

In June, more than 120 environmental groups from across the globe offered a vision on comprehensive sustainability reforms across the paper sector, traditionally a key driver of deforestation. That document, the Global Paper Vision, encourages users and producers to “refuse fibre from genetically modified organisms”.

“Theoretically, arguments on the benefits of GE trees could be true, motivated by increasing competition for wood resources,” Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“But ultimately this is an attempt to find a technological solution – and, we feel, a false solution given the dangers, both known and unknown, around this experimental use. Instead, we advocate for conservation and reducing consumption as logical first steps before manipulating nature and putting natural systems at risk of contamination.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136213 A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take.” -- Claudia Torres

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Protecting America’s Underwater Serengetihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:09:49 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136151 The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. Credit: ukanda/cc by 2.0

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. Credit: ukanda/cc by 2.0

By Christopher Pala
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed to more than double the world’s no-fishing areas to protect what some call America’s underwater Serengeti, a series of California-sized swaths of Pacific Ocean where 1,000-pound marlin cruise by 30-foot-wide manta rays around underwater mountains filled with rare or unique species.

Obama announced in June that he wants to follow in the steps of his predecessor George W. Bush, who in 2010 ended fishing within 50 nautical miles of five islands or groups of islands south and west of Hawaii. Bush fully protected about 11 percent of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a total of 216,000 km2, by declaring them marine national monuments under the Antiquities Act, which does not require the approval of Congress.“This would be by far single greatest act of marine conservation in history.” -- Fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly

Obama is expected to use the same tool to extend the ban to 200 nautical miles and protect the rest of the EEZs, or a whopping 1.8 million km2. Given that the only two other giant fully protected areas, the U.K.’s Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean and the U.S. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, total about one million km2, Obama would more than double the no-take areas of the world’s oceans.

“This would be by far the single greatest act of marine conservation in history,” said Daniel Pauly, a prominent fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia. “It’s particularly welcome because overfishing is shrinking the populations of fish almost everywhere.”

By increasing the number of fish, the closure would boost genetic diversity, which will be increasingly valuable as marine species adapt to an ocean that is becoming warmer and more acidic at unprecedented speeds, he explained. The area is rich in sea-mounts, underwater mountains where species often evolve independently.

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. The Pacific bigeye tuna population, the most prized by sushi lovers after the vanishing bluefin, is down to a quarter of its unfished size, according to official estimates, and calls for reducing their take have been ignored.

The five roundish EEZs are called PRIAs, for Pacific Remote Island Areas. They are: Wake Atoll, north of the Marshall Islands; Johnston Atoll, southwest of Hawaii; Palmyra and Kingman Reef, in the U.S. Line Islands south of the Kiribati Line Islands; Jarvis, just below, and Howland and Baker, which abut Kiribati’s 408,000 km2-Phoenix Islands Protected Area. President Anote Tong has pledged to end all commercial fishing in the Phoenix protected area by Jan 1, 2015. The two areas together would create a single no-take zone the size of Pakistan, by far the world’s biggest.

None of the islands have resident populations. Palmyra has a scientific station with transient staff and Wake and Johnson are military, with small staffs. The others are uninhabited.

“These islands are America’s Serengeti,” said Douglas McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who once worked as an observer on a long-lining vessel based in Honolulu. “That’s where you can still find the grizzlies and the buffaloes of the sea.”

In Honolulu Monday, a public hearing recorded testimony from opponents and supporters. Though only four percent of the take of the Hawaii fleet in 2012 came from PRIAs, criticism from fishermen ran strong. A local television station headlined its story, “It’s designed to protect the environment, but could it put local fishermen out of business?”

Opposition was led by the Western Pacific Fisheries Advisory Council, known as Wespac and controlled by the local fishing industry. Wespac issued a report citing the “best available scientific information” that asserted the closure was unnecessary because, it claimed, the fisheries in the five areas, which are open only to U.S. vessels, were healthy and sustainable.

Like many academics, McCauley, the ecologist, disagreed. He pointed to official statistics that show the Pacific tuna, the world’s most valuable fishery, are becoming smaller and fewer, the result of the same kind of overfishing that pummeled populations in the other tropical oceans.

John Hampton, the Central and Western Pacific fishery’s chief scientist, analyses whole stocks – in this case Pacific populations of skipjack, bigeye, albacore and yellowfin, along with billfish like marlin and swordfish. He said closing even such large areas won’t help because the fish move around the entire ocean.

But studies have shown that varying percentages of tuna are actually quite sedentary and stay inside PRIA-sized areas; most Hawaii yellowfin, for instance, stay within a few hundred miles of the islands.

McCauley pointed to statistics collected by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service that show that the number of fish caught per 1,000 hooks by long-line vessels is higher in the PRIAs than in non-U.S. waters. For skipjack and albacore tuna, the ratio is two to one, and for yellowfin it’s six to one.

“This indicates that there’s already more fish inside the PRIAs, which illustrates that if you fish less, the population increases,” he said.

Alan Friedlander, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii, said even seabirds, the category of birds undergoing the steepest decline, would benefit from a ban on fishing.

Many species depend on tuna and other predators that feed on schools of small fish by driving them to the surface, where the birds can pick them off. “If you have more tuna, there’s going to be more prey fish driven to the surface and that will help the sea birds,” Friedlander said.

McCauley agreed and noted that historically, efforts to prevent the complete collapse of overfished species had focused on the species themselves.” “But by closing giant areas like these, you allow the ecosystem to become whole again,” he said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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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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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135998 Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.

 

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World Bank Board Declines to Revise Controversial Draft Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:11:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135842 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board Wednesday spurned appeals to revise a  draft policy statement that, according to nearly 100 civil-society groups, risks rolling back several decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations, the poor and sensitive ecosystems.

While the Committee on Development Effectiveness did not formally endorse the draft, it approved the document for further consultation with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders over the coming months in what will constitute a second round a two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies.“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law." -- Joji Carino

At issue is a draft safeguard framework that was designed to update and strengthen policies that have been put in place over the past 25 years to ensure that Bank-supported projects in developing countries would protect vulnerable populations, human rights, and the environment to the greatest possible extent.

“The policies we have in place now have served us well, but the issues our clients face have changed over the last 20 years,” said Kyle Peters, the Bank’s vice president for operations policy and country services.

He stressed that the draft provisions would also broaden the Bank’s safeguard policies to include promoting social inclusion, anti-discrimination, and labour rights, and addressing climate change.

But, according to a number of civil-society groups, the draft, which was leaked over the weekend, not only fails to tighten key safeguards, in some cases, it weakens them substantially.

“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” according to a statement sent to the Bank’s executive directors Monday by Bank on Human Rights (BHR), a coalition of two dozen human-rights, anti-poverty, and environmental groups that sponsored the letter.

“Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice,” the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the NGO Forum of the Asia Development Bank, among other groups, said.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that dilution is a provision that would permit borrowing governments to “opt out” of the Indigenous Peoples Standard that was developed by the Bank to ensure that Bank-funded projects protected essential land and natural-resource rights of affected indigenous communities.

“We have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over 20 years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world,” said Joji Carino, director of the Forest Peoples Programme.

“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws,” she added.

But Mark King, the Bank’s chief environmental and social standards officer, insisted that the draft’s provisions represented a “strengthening of existing policy” that, among other provisions, introduces “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples” in all Bank-supported projects.

“In exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country, in consultation with people affected by a particular project, we are proposing an alternative approach to the protection of Indigenous Peoples,” he said, adding that any such exception would have to be approved by the Bank’s board.

The Bank, which disburses as much as 50 billion dollars a year in grants and loans, remains a key source of project funding for developing countries despite the rise of other major sources over the past 20 years, notably private capital and, more recently, China and other emerging economies, which have generally imposed substantially fewer conditions on their lending.

Faced with this competition, the Bank has been determining how to make itself more attractive to borrowers by, for example, streamlining operations and reducing waste and duplication. But some critics worry that it may also be willing to exercise greater flexibility in applying its social and environmental standards – a charge that Bank officials publicly reject, despite the disclosure of recent internal emails reflecting precisely that concern.

Under prodding by NGOs and some Western governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Bank had established itself as a leader in setting progressive social and environmental policies.

More recently, however, “it has fallen behind the regional development banks and many other international development institutions in terms of safeguarding human rights and the environment,” according to Gretchen Gordon, BHR’s co-ordinator.

“The Bank has an opportunity to regain its position as a leader in the development arena, but unfortunately this draft backtracks on the last decade of progress,” she told IPS. “We hope that the [next round of] consultations will be robust and accessible to the people and communities who are most affected, and that at the end of the day, the Bank and its member states adopt a strong safeguard framework that respects human rights.”

While welcoming the Bank’s new interest in issues such as discrimination and labour rights, the BHR statement criticised what it called the framework’s movement from “one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance…”

According to the statement, the draft threatens long-standing protections for people who may be displaced from their homes by Bank-backed mega-projects and may permit borrower governments and even private “intermediary” banks to use their own standards for assessing, compensating and resettling affected communities “without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.”

In addition, according to BHR, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land grabs that have displaced indigenous communities, small farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists in some of the world’s poorest countries to make way for major agro-industrial projects.

“We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds,” said Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a group that has brought international attention to Bank-backed land grabs in his home country. “But we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses.”

The draft was based on a five-month-long consultation involving more than 2,000 people in more than 40 countries and a review of other multilateral development banks’ environmental and social standards, according to the Bank.

In a teleconference with reporters, King denied that the Bank was lowering its existing standards. In addition to broadening existing standards, he said, the Bank will “use as much as possible the borrower country’s own existing systems to deliver social and environmental outcomes that are consistent with our values.”

He and Peters also stressed that more attention will be paid to assessing and addressing the risks of social and environmental damage during project implementation, as opposed to the more “up-front approach” the Bank has taken in the past.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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A Carrot Is a Carrot – or Is It?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 07:09:54 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135770 Permaculture enthusiasts with their harvested produce. Credit: Graham Bell/IPS

Permaculture enthusiasts with their harvested produce. Credit: Graham Bell/IPS

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Food security is often thought of as a question of diversifying supply and being able to move food through areas plagued by local scarcity, relying on the global economic system – including trade and transport – as the basis for operations.

But there is a growing current of opinion that the answer lies much closer to home, by creating locally resilient food supplies which are less dependent on global systems and therefore on the political and economic crises that afflict these systems.

While both approaches have their place, one issue that they have in common is the goal of improving diets and raising levels of nutrition.

At the global level, this goal will take centre stage at the international conference on nutrition that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) are jointly organising in Rome from November 19 to 21 this year.“Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal” – Bruce Darrel, food security expert

The organisers will be seeking political commitment for funding improved nutrition programmes as well as including nutrition-enhancing food systems in national development policies. They are also likely to attempt to give the Zero Hunger Challenge in the post-2015 United Nations development agenda fresh momentum.

In the meantime, one task that many say still remains is how to address nutrition in a holistic way, ranging from soil health to plant and animal health as well as to education about food storage and preparation methods that maximise nutrition.

Canadian food security expert Bruce Darrell believes that there are currently few examples of holistic approaches to nutrient management that incorporate strategies for nutrient levels and develop efficient nutrient cycling. “Perhaps this is not surprising when dealing with something that is essentially invisible and which has no generally recognised name as a concept,” he argues.

In his daily work, Darrell examines the role of mineral nutrients in soil, how they are depleted by farming practices, and their implications for healthy food.

According to Darrell’s accumulated knowledge, a single carrot can be more than twice as high in nutrients as that of another carrot grown in poor quality soil, which contains less than half the amount of sugars, vitamins and minerals.

A lack of knowledge about these things needs to be overcome, says Darrell: “Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal.”

While the carrot is only one example of a whole range of food and nutrition issues, it is becoming clearer that the knowledge gap can be and is gradually being overcome.

Increasingly, individuals and small grassroots organisations are getting together to develop whole-systems approaches to nutrition. There are also more and more networks emerging globally to understand food.

“Not all of us have the luxury to decide exactly how we feed ourselves,” Ágnes Repka, a raw food expert from Hungary and one of the coordinators of the Future of Food European Learning Partnership, told IPS. “But many of us can make a choice on how to prepare the ingredients we have. Keeping as much of our food in their natural, raw form is one of the best ways to maintain its nutrients.”

The Partnership aims to bring sustainable food initiatives from different parts of Europe to one place and learn from each other, bringing the insights regarding sustainable agriculture and healthy food to a new level of understanding.

Repka stressed that when the members of the Partnership think about the healthiest possible food, “we mean what is healthy for our body, for our mind, for our communities and our planet.”

In order to communicate the new-found gains in the world of nutrition and to promote awareness in food education, Ireland’s Truefood Academy comes just at the right time.

Colette McMahon and Casandra Cosgrove of the Academy explain their reasons for putting an educational component in their nutrition-related work: “As nutritional therapists we have found that the practical skills and understanding of basic nutrition is poor and so began to develop and implement an outreach programme in a workshop format.”

The approach has proved successful and beneficial, deepening the understanding of the nutritional impact of traditional food preparation skills, which has demonstrated positive measurable results in the quality of life of the participants.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea in southern Scotland, Graham Bell grows over a metric ton of food on less than a 0.1 hectare garden and envisions permaculture as an apt and wise approach to sustainable and nutritious food harvesting.

“The great opportunity is for people to grow as much of their own food as possible,” says Bell. “The first need is to ensure access to land but a lot can be done on very little as we are proving. The next step is to ensure people have the skills to grow what they need.”

“Good change takes time,” adds Bell. “It is incremental. Permaculture is not a missionary activity. It is about modelling better ways of behaving. Better for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbours – and better for people we don’t know.”

Building durable, sustainable systems is a “one day at a time” approach, according to Bell – not an overnight solution. It involves a lot of sweat, toil and trial, but it is worthwhile, he and other practitioners say.

This summer, a permaculture gathering is taking place in Bulgaria, with the next gathering already scheduled at the Sieben Linden eco-village in Germany. Repka is an avid fan of such meetings and enjoys visiting and learning new things as well as sharing her knowledge.

“Learning how to get the most out of our food is a simple way that we can improve our health,” explained Repka. Uncooked plant based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in their raw form give our body more vitality, energy and health is Repka’s message.

“These are the simple choices we can make every day,” she added.

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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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Mexican Farmers Oppose Expansion of Transgenic Cropshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/mexican-farmers-oppose-expansion-of-transgenic-crops/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-farmers-oppose-expansion-of-transgenic-crops http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/mexican-farmers-oppose-expansion-of-transgenic-crops/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 22:39:08 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135558 A bean cleaning plant in the northern Mexican state of Zacatecas. Credit: Courtesy of Secretaría de Agricultura

A bean cleaning plant in the northern Mexican state of Zacatecas. Credit: Courtesy of Secretaría de Agricultura

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Bean grower Manuel Alvarado is part of the majority of producers in Mexico who consider it unnecessary to introduce genetically modified varieties of beans, as the government is promoting.

“There is no study showing superior yields compared with hybrid or regional seeds. People are still unaware of what transgenic products are, nor the effects they have, but some of the things that are known about them are not good,” said Alvarado, the head of Enlaces al Campo, a bulk beans sales company in the city of Fresnillo, in the northern state of Zacatecas."There can be no biosecurity with transgenics: they cause genetic erosion (loss of genetic diversity)." -- Silvia Ribeiro

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) may cause a number of problems, among them the possibility that “transgenics will contaminate native and hybrid seeds, which have higher germination rates than transgenics,” Alvarado told IPS.

Bean farmers in Mexico face a context of overproduction, low prices and increasing imports, in a country where there are 300,000 bean producers, half of them small scale farmers.

Alvarado has obtained yields of between 12 and 16 tonnes per hectare from 10 native varieties of beans on 15 hectares of land. He has also tested 28 commercial maize hybrid seeds, obtaining up to 15 tonnes per hectare on 14 hectares of land.

In 2013, beans were grown on an area of 1.83 million hectares in Mexico and 1.28 million tonnes were produced, with overall yields of 1.79 tonnes per hectare, according to the Observatorio de Precios (Price Observatory), an independent group providing information and analysis for food producers and consumers.

The northern states of Zacatecas, Durango and Chihuahua are the main producing areas.

Cultivation of GMO in Mexico is turning away from concentration on maize and soybeans, after various legal appeals in 2013 banned their planting. The Mexican government and the industry are expanding their sights now to include beans and wheat, among other crops.

On Apr. 22, the National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research (INIFAP) presented an application to the National Service for Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality (SENASICA) for experimental planting of transgenic beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) on 0.12 hectares in the central state of Guanajuato.

The application is based on the research paper “Resistance to Colletotrichum lindemuthianum in transgenic common bean expressing an Arabidopsis thaliana defensin gene,” funded by the National Council for Science and Technology and the Agriculture ministry and published in 2013 in the Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Agrícolas.

Producers and activists distribute beans on Paseo de la Reforma avenue in Mexico City on Jul. 3, demanding better conditions for their product. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Producers and activists distribute beans on Paseo de la Reforma avenue in Mexico City on Jul. 3, demanding better conditions for their product. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The five authors, scientists at INIFAP, engineered five independent lines and 20 transgenic bean plants expressing the defensin gene. These plants proved resistant to two strains of the pathogenic fungus Colletotrichum lindemuthianum, which causes the fungal disease anthracnose. Non-genetically modified plants were not resistant.

Anthracnose, rust, angular leaf spot and root rot are diseases that affect beans in Mexico, which has 70 different varieties of the crop.

Silvia Ribeiro, the Latin America director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), complained about the use of public funds to promote this kind of research which she views as a new “trick” to take over staple food production.

“The use of public resources for GMO research increases dependence on technology. It would be better to devote these funds to supporting the vast reservoir of wisdom on bean farming among campesinos (small farmers), and to promote preventive pest management and agroecosystems,” she told IPS.

SENASICA has received four applications this year for experimental and pilot plots of transgenic maize in 10 hectares in the northwestern staes of Sonora and Sinaloa from Pioneer, a U.S. seed company.  A further four pilot project applications for 85,000 hectares of genetically modified cotton in different states have been made by U.S. giant Monsanto.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre has also presented five applications for experimental planting of transgenic wheat on half a hectare in the central state of Morelos, adjacent to Mexico City.

In 2013, SENASICA received 58 applications for experimental, pilot and commercial planting of transgenic maize on a total of over five million hectares, presented by Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta (Switzerland) and Dow Agrosciences (U.S.).

Another 29 applications for experimental, pilot and commercial planting of transgenic cotton were made by Monsanto and Bayer (Germany), which also requested three experimental permits for soybeans on 45 hectares in the southeastern states of Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán and the southern state of Chiapas.

U.S. company Forage Genetics applied for an experimental alfalfa plantation on 0.38 hectares in the northern state of Coahuila.

“They want to shift the focus of the debate away from the fact that only companies present applications, and show that there is a national research capability,” Catherine Marielle, the coordinator of the sustainable food systems programme of the Group for Environmental Studies, an NGO, told IPS.

In July 2013, 53 individuals and 20 civil society organisations mounted a collective legal challenge against applications to plant transgenic maize, and in September a federal judge granted a precautionary ban on such authorisations.

The Agriculture and Environment ministries and the companies involved presented more than 70 rebuttals of the ruling, but the case “will take time,” according to court sources.

Since March 2014, organisations of beekeepers and indigenous communities have won two further provisional protection orders against commercial transgenic soybean crops in Campeche and Yucatán.

In June 2012, the Agriculture ministry authorised Monsanto to plant transgenic soybean commercially on an area of 253,000 hectares in seven Mexican states, including Campeche.

“We have perfected technological packages on how to prepare the soil, what seed to use and what fertilisers to apply. In the medium term we want to move to using organic fertilisers. All this would be scuppered if transgenic beans are imposed,” producer Alvarado said.

At present farmers sell beans for 30 to 45 cents of a dollar per kilo. With a state subsidy of a similar value, growers can recoup their production costs.

In Alvarado’s view, farmers could compete with U.S. imports “if we organise in the production zones, and the state stockpiles, provides credit to producers and value is added” to beans.

Although GMOs have been commercialised since the mid 1990s, nearly all transgenic crop production is concentrated in 10 countries: United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Pakistan and Uruguay, in that order.

Most transgenic crops are used for livestock forage, but Mexico wants maize, at least, to be used for human food.

The government supports GMO, according to agricultural officials, because in the medium and long term they are a means of confronting climate effects on food production and guaranteeing food security.

“Mexico does not need transgenics. The country has never produced as much maize as it produces now. Besides, there can be no biosecurity with transgenics: they cause genetic erosion (loss of genetic diversity),” because contamination of conventional crops is inevitable, said Ribeiro of ETC Group.

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

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New Data Sends Wake-Up Call on Caribbean Reefshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/new-data-sends-wake-up-call-on-caribbean-reefs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-data-sends-wake-up-call-on-caribbean-reefs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/new-data-sends-wake-up-call-on-caribbean-reefs/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 15:03:07 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135448 Protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution could help reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution could help reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

Marine environmentalist Eli Fuller, who for the past two decades has been exploring the coastline of Antigua and Barbuda, warns that while there has been “dramatic changes” to coral reefs since he was a little boy, “it’s getting worse and worse.”

So he is not surprised by the largely pessimistic findings of a three-year study by 90 international experts in a report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).“Those reefs are the frontline barriers against storm waves." -- marine biologist John Mussington

But there was a spot of surprisingly good news. According to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, can help reefs recover and even make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

“We have seen definitely the last two summers, and here we are in summer again, we are seeing ever so slightly raised sea levels, but in conjunction with that we are seeing eroded coral barriers, especially on the north coast and east coast of Barbuda and quite a few areas in Antigua,” Fuller told IPS.

“Between Prickly Pear and Long Island, those reefs out there – they almost used to get to the surface. Now I am seeing sailboats sail over areas where they would have run aground and had to be salvaged before.

“We are seeing more surge come ashore and more erosion. You are having areas that were never affected by erosion getting eroded terribly. I look at the north coast of Barbuda and I can’t believe some of the erosion they are facing, and when you go offshore to those reefs only the bases of the big, huge coral structures are there. All the tops have died and eroded away so we are seeing more water coming to our shoreline,” he added.

Fuller is worried about the future of tourism in a region where it is the number one industry and foreign exchange earner for most countries.

Marine environmentalist Eli Fuller says Caribbean reefs are in "big trouble". Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Marine environmentalist Eli Fuller says Caribbean reefs are in “big trouble”. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“We are in big trouble right now, let alone in the future when the reefs erode more and more and sea levels come up and up,” he said.

Like Fuller, for marine biologist John Mussington, the drastic decline of Caribbean coral is “not surprising.”

“We have actually seen the decline. The causes that they have listed include tourism, pollution, climate change in terms of global warming being a factor as well as overfishing,” he told IPS.

Mussington said the reefs are critical and serve several very important roles.

“The beach is a beautiful place. We have nice white sand beaches and we have crystal clear water. The reefs are responsible for that. If you lose your reefs you are no longer going to have sand and you will no longer have clear water,” he said.

“Those reefs are the frontline barriers against storm waves. If you have any rough weather, groundswells, tropical storms or hurricanes, those reefs are responsible for breaking the impact of those waves. So if you lose the reefs you are going to be further exposed to erosion and the destruction from storms.

“Another function that is very critical to us is that the reefs provide us with food. The marine resources in terms of fish, lobster and conch are associated with the reef system and when you lose that you are going to lose those things,” he said.

Mussington said the report should serve as a wake-up call for the Caribbean.

“All those things that I’ve mentioned, you realise that that is the sum total of the main attraction for our tourism industry which is number one – so if you lose all of that, it’s obvious that you lose everything,” Mussington explained.

But Mussington said it is not all doom and gloom for the Caribbean, noting there is a technique for re-growing and restoring reefs which is touted as one of the major solutions that small islands like those in the Caribbean should focus on.

“All you need to have is a wire frame and a very low voltage electrical source that will encourage deposition of calcium on the framework. Once you have that deposition of calcium on the framework then coral will grow,” he explained.

The study also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish.

These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, “all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing”.

The study is urging other countries to follow suit.

“Barbuda is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins, and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves,” said Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative, which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan.

“This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs,” she added.

The IUCN said that reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered tragic declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida Reef Tract from Miami to Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

President and founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation, Ken Nedimyer, concurs that “there are some simple things which can be done like changing fishing habits and reducing inputs from the hotels, resorts, golf courses. Those are things that can be done and should be done and places that take these steps will reap the rewards.”

Chair at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, Dr. Nancy Knowlton, believes the surprising part of the report is that it’s not actually happening everywhere and that there are places like Bonaire and Bermuda and the flower garden reef off the Gulf of Mexico where coral reefs are thriving.

“That’s because of careful management of the reef and to me that’s actually despite a sort of overwhelmingly bad news of reefs disappearing in the next 20 years,” she told IPS.

“On the positive side, there are examples where when people manage reefs properly they actually don’t decline. I think that is the most important message from the report and the one that’s most surprising because I think that everyone had thought that Caribbean reefs were just doomed.

“Coral reefs are ecosystems which are routinely battered by hurricanes over thousands and thousands of years and yet they have in the past always bounced back, and the reason they bounce back is because the local conditions are favourable for coral growth. So creating those favourable conditions for corals to rebound is really the most important thing to do,” Knowlton added.

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Obama Urged to Sanction Mozambique over Elephant, Rhino Poachinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/obama-urged-to-sanction-mozambique-over-elephant-rhino-poaching/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-urged-to-sanction-mozambique-over-elephant-rhino-poaching http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/obama-urged-to-sanction-mozambique-over-elephant-rhino-poaching/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 23:33:29 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135347 Some 50,000 elephants are being killed each year in Africa, alongside 1,000 rhinos, leaving perhaps as few as 250,000 elephants in the wild globally. Credit: PJ KAPDostie/cc by 2.0

Some 50,000 elephants are being killed each year in Africa, alongside 1,000 rhinos, leaving perhaps as few as 250,000 elephants in the wild globally. Credit: PJ KAPDostie/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

Environmentalists are formally urging President Barack Obama to enact trade sanctions on Mozambique over the country’s alleged chronic facilitation of elephant and rhinoceros poaching through broad swathes of southern Africa.

Investigators say substantial evidence exists of Mozambique’s failure to abide by international conventions against wildlife trafficking, including to back up allegations of state complicity.“We believe that there are ex-military officials who are providing political protection to the [trafficking] syndicates who are arming and funding these poaching teams." -- Allan Thornton

While President Obama last year mounted a new initiative by the U.S. government to tackle international wildlife trafficking, with a particular focus on ivory, some say Mozambique’s actions are undermining those efforts – and threatening these species worldwide.

A new petition, publicly announced Wednesday, now provides evidence on the issue and urges the president to make use of legal authorities to encourage Mozambique to crack down on poachers.

“Mozambique continues to play an ever-growing and uncontained role in rhinoceros and elephant poaching,” Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation, one of the petitioners, told IPS.

“Although they have been given direction by the international community to enact certain controls, those have been only superficial and have had no meaningful effect. If you look at the large-scale poaching and illegal trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory out of Mozambique, it’s directly undercut President Obama’s [efforts] on wildlife trafficking.”

Increasingly working hand in hand with organised crime, poachers over the past three years have killed record numbers of elephants and rhinoceroses, particularly in Africa. Some 50,000 elephants are being killed each year in Africa, alongside 1,000 rhinos, leaving perhaps as few as 250,000 elephants in the wild globally.

Driving this illicit market is increased consumer demand in Asia, particularly in China and Vietnam. According to a U.N. report from last year, large seizures of ivory bound for Asia have more than doubled since 2009.

The new petition focuses on the central international agreement around wildlife trafficking, known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and warns that Mozambique’s outsized role in African ivory poaching is diluting the convention’s effectiveness. The CITES standing committee is meeting next week in Switzerland.

“Available evidence indicates that Mozambican nationals constitute the highest number of foreign arrests for poaching in South Africa. Organized crime syndicates based in Mozambique are driving large scale illegal trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory,” the petition states.

“Given the scope and depth of the illegal killing and trade in rhino and elephant products by Mozambican nationals, we urge the United States to … enact substantial trade sanctions.”

High-level complicity

Supporters say that strong action by the Mozambican authorities would have a significant and immediate impact on the global supply of illicit ivory.

Officials reportedly estimate that 80 to 90 percent of all poachers in South Africa’s massive Kruger National Park are Mozambican nationals. Local groups say that on most nights more than a dozen separate poaching parties can be prowling the park, most from well-documented “poaching villages” located across the border in Mozambique.

Meanwhile, enforcement of wildlife-related legislation in Mozambique is said to be essentially non-existent, with penalties for poaching and trafficking thus far not effective. Yet changing that situation has been complicated by what appears to be state collusion.

“It’s impossible for that level of illegal activity to be going on without high-level complicity,” Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a watchdog group based here and in London that co-authored the new petition, told IPS.

“We believe that there are ex-military officials who are providing political protection to the [trafficking] syndicates who are arming and funding these poaching teams. There is substantial evidence implicating both the police and military.”

Mozambique keeps strict control over the types of weapons used by the country’s poachers, Thornton notes, yet such weapons are available to the military. Similarly, police and military uniforms have repeatedly been found in poaching camps.

Thornton says that putting together the new petition took several months, due to the mass of evidence available.

“If all Mozambican citizens were prevented from illicitly crossing over the border, poaching would drop significantly. But there has been no enforcement on the Mozambique side, despite legal obligations under CITES,” he says.

“We believe that the Mozambique government should be held accountable for their activities and act rapidly against these poachers, criminal syndicates and those protecting them. They could close this trade literally in a week.

Unparalleled scope

Thornton says his office is not yet clear on whether the Obama administration has exerted diplomatic pressure on the Mozambique government over the issue of wildlife trafficking. But in filing the new petition, these groups are highlighting the fact that the president does indeed have the legal backing to act on the issue.

Under U.S. legislation known as the Pelly Amendment, the president is allowed to impose trade sanctions if a country is certified to be “diminishing the effectiveness” of an international conservation programme. (U.S. officials could not be reached for comment for this story.)

Further, there is notable precedent under which past determinations – set in motion by EIA petitions – have met with particular success. Two decades ago, for instance, a similar petition was lodged around the trafficking of rhinoceros and tiger parts through Taiwan into China.

That effort resulted in U.S. trade sanctions. Over the following two years, both the Taiwanese and Chinese governments engaged in a broad crackdown on these trades.

“This had a huge impact on reducing demand [for ivory] and reducing the poaching of rhinos virtually around the world,” Thornton says.

“We saw rhino populations stabilise worldwide, because two of the biggest markets had closed for demand. This is the same thing we’re now looking for in Mozambique.”

He continues: “And we’re hoping for a particularly prompt response, because the scope of illegal activities we’re currently seeing – where one country is sending hundreds of poachers into another country – is almost unparalleled.”

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Costa Rica Enforces Green Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/costa-rica-enforces-green-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rica-enforces-green-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/costa-rica-enforces-green-justice/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 08:29:30 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135329 Members of Costa Rica’s Environmental Administrative Tribunal (TAA) take a break during an inspection of damage to wetlands in Puntarenas by invading farmers. Back centre: TAA president, judge José Lino Chaves. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Members of Costa Rica’s Environmental Administrative Tribunal (TAA) take a break during an inspection of damage to wetlands in Puntarenas by invading farmers. Back centre: TAA president, judge José Lino Chaves. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PUNTARENAS, Costa Rica, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

Biologist Juan Sánchez drives the leader of two off-road vehicles along a dirt road in southeastern Costa Rica. Officials and experts are on their way to inspect a homestead whose owner has destroyed part of a mangrove swamp.

Sánchez is a technical officer for the Environmental Administrative Tribunal (TAA), the environmental court that enforces environmental laws in Costa Rica.

During the inspection of the wetland, 280 kilometres southeast of San José, he told IPS that for the past seven years he has been “chasing the bad guys”: companies and individuals who are harming natural resources in this Central American country of 4.5 million people.

The TAA was created in 1995 and is one of the foremost mechanisms in Costa Rica to combat destruction of the ecosystem. It depends on the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE), not the judicial branch.

It only has 20 officials to fulfil its remit of enforcing green justice.

“We have been relatively successful in the area of environmental administrative justice,” the TAA president, judge José Lino Chaves, told IPS.

In his view, “the TAA’s change of language and actions since 2008 has managed to warn Costa Ricans that we were doing something really wrong,” and that “caring for the environment is a priority” for the country.

One-quarter of Costa Rican territory is under some form of environmental protection, 53 percent is forested and it contains nearly four percent of the world’s biodiversity. The country promotes its natural wealth as its chief attraction and an asset to combat climate change.

The TAA is complemented by the Public Prosecutor’s Agrarian Environmental Office, which is also very short-staffed.

“I remember that a study carried out in the early 1990s found that 98 percent of the environmental offences reported were dismissed,” the former Environment minister (2002-2006), Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, told IPS.

At the time, “the (formal justice) system was inefficient, and according to the study the accused were acquitted because their responsibility could not be proved,” said Rodríguez, who is an environmental lawyer and a current vice president of Conservation International, an NGO.

“I don’t doubt the good intentions of the members” of the TAA, congressman and environmental lawyer Edgardo Araya, who won the legal battle against the Crucitas mining project in the national Dispute Tribunal, told IPS. “But the TAA as it stands is not viable; it lacks resources and judges.”

Álvaro Sagot, another environmental lawyer who won a pollution case against dairy giant Dos Pinos before the TAA, agreed about the lack of resources, but highlighted to IPS the value of the environmental court’s accessibility, as any person, with or without knowledge of the law, can bring a complaint.

Plaintiffs can also resort to the ordinary justice system. But Rodríguez said the criminal justice route is no use, because of lack of awareness. “I remember talking to judges who freed poachers arrested in national parks, because they did not consider this an offence,” he said.

One of the most famous TAA rulings was in September 2009, when it compelled the Panama registered vessel Tiuna to pay a fine of 668,000 dollars for tuna fishing in protected areas.

The environmental court assessed the value of the 280 tonnes of fish taken from the Coco Island National Park, off the western Pacific coast, and levied a proportionate fine.

Costa Rica has sought to build an international reputation as a “green country.” For years its slogan was “No Artificial Ingredients,” and in 2007 the government launched its “Peace With Nature” initiative, reaffirming Costa Rica’s commitment to the environment.

But cases are piling up in the TAA’s offices and Chaves himself admits that creating environmental awareness is a complex process.

This month the environmental court had 3,600 open case files to deal with, more than three times the number a decade ago. There are only six lawyers and three environmental judges, two of whom are lawyers and one an engineer.

The three judges are tasked with visiting all the affected zones to see for themselves the environmental damage in the field, in order to make their rulings.

On these field trips, judges and biologists alike wear mountain boots, protective cotton sunhats and machetes at their belts.

As well as inspecting specific cases, the TAA carries out “environmental sweeps,” their term for inspection tours lasting several days, with the purpose of putting a stop to ecological damage in a given territory.

The TAA has already halted 200 real estate projects on the Pacific coast and 40 on the Atlantic coast since the sweeps started in 2008, its president said.

But the “bad guys” do not give up. Only days after Sánchez’s inspection trip, another group of lawyers, experts and judges visited mangrove swamps in Puntarenas, in the Central Pacific region, 80 kilometres east of the provincial capital, to investigate another complaint.

They found a scene of devastation: 25 hectares of mangrove had been reduced to ashes by invaders who were already planting maize and sugarcane.

“They go on and on, and if we let them they would devour the whole zone. They burn down the mangroves and use the land for farming,” forest biologist Alexis Madrigal, the coordinator of TAA’s technical department, told IPS at the scene.

While members of the technical team removed the plastic bags the invaders used to mark their new plots, Chaves and the two lawyers with him considered possible next steps.

The first thing is a precautionary measure to halt the land invasion, followed by a ban on agricultural use of the land or an order to pay an indemnity, or both.

The TAA inspired the creation of three environmental courts in Chile, and Chaves shared the Costa Rican experience with the courts’ Chilean promotors.

The two systems are similar in that they both have three judges, one of whom must be a scientist; they have wide independence and are responsible for punishing environmental harm. Peru is making headway with a comparable initiative.

The main challenge faced by the TAA is expanding the number of its technical field staff as well as the lawyers in its San José headquarters, so that members of the legal team are not burdened with the unmanageable load of 600 case files each, as they are now.

It also needs stability. From 2012 to 2014, Chaves was vice minister of Water and Oceans at MINAE. He was able to secure improved budgets for the ATT, but its activities, especially the sweeps, declined.

In July, after a year and a half of less ambitious inspections, the TAA will undertake a tour in which MINAE, institutions like the National Environmental Technical Secretariat, the Water and Sanitation Institute and the security forces will also participate.

They are bound for the north of the country, where expansion of agriculture is threatening biodiversity and water for human consumption. In his San José office, judge Chaves smiles and says: “The environmental sweeps are back.”

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Violence Casts Shadow Over ‘Himalayan Viagra’ Harvest in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/violence-casts-shadow-over-himalayan-viagra-harvest-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-casts-shadow-over-himalayan-viagra-harvest-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/violence-casts-shadow-over-himalayan-viagra-harvest-in-nepal/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:39:44 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135217 Hundreds of thousands of harvesters flock to high-altitude pastures in Nepal to gather a fungus known as ‘Himalayan Viagra’. Credit: Uttam Babu Shrestha

Hundreds of thousands of harvesters flock to high-altitude pastures in Nepal to gather a fungus known as ‘Himalayan Viagra’. Credit: Uttam Babu Shrestha

By Naresh Newar
KATHMANDU, Jun 27 2014 (IPS)

Intense competition during harvest season for a fungus dubbed ‘Himalayan Viagra’ – coveted for its legendary aphrodisiac qualities – has sparked violence in Nepal’s remote western mountains, causing concern among security officials here about the safety of more than 100,000 harvesters.

“The violence has already begun even at the initial stage of the harvest, and we can expect more,” Nepal Police Divisional Inspector General Kesh Bahadur Shahi, head of the Midwestern Development Region headquarters in Surkhet District, 600 km west of the capital Kathmandu, told IPS.

Earlier this month a harvester named Phurwa Tshering (30) was killed in a violent tussle in the Dolpa District, northeast of Surkhet, where tens of thousands of harvesters gather each year.

A second harvester, Thundup Lama, died some days later in a Kathmandu hospital from injuries sustained in the scuffle, amid allegations of police misconduct.

Known among the scientific community as ophiocordyceps sinensis – though harvesters refer to it simply as ‘caterpillar fungus’, and Tibetan traders use the name ‘yartsa gunbu’ (meaning, literally, ‘winter worm, summer grass’) – the fungus germinates underground inside living larvae, mummifies them during the winter, and then emerges through the head of the dead caterpillar, pushing up through the soil in the form of a stalk-like mushroom.

For over 2,000 years people across the Asiatic region have sought this fungus for its healing properties, including its fabled ability to treat diseases of the kidney and lungs, as well as cure erectile dysfunction.

A harvester holds up a single piece of ‘Yartsa Gunbu’, otherwise known as ‘winter worm, summer grass.’ Credit: Uttam Babu Shrestha

A harvester holds up a single piece of ‘Yartsa Gunbu’, otherwise known as ‘winter worm, summer grass.’ Credit: Uttam Babu Shrestha

Since 2001, when the Nepali government legalised harvesting of the fungus, the mountains have become the site of a veritable battle royal.

Lured by the promise of high profits harvesters flock to the Himalayas every June to participate in the two-month hunt for the prized fungus, setting up camp on the northern alpine grasslands of Nepal, Bhutan, India and the Tibetan Plateau, at altitudes of between 3,000 and 5,000 metres above sea-level.

Though each stalk measures no more than four centimeters in length, a single gram of yartsa gunbu can sell for up to 80 dollars (mostly in China), making the dangerous, high-altitude hunt more than worth it for thousands of impoverished farmers.

But because the substance is so rare and so valuable, the collection period often turns deadly. So far, no one has been held accountable for the deaths, and Nepal’s police force has denied allegations of wrongdoing.

Unsatisfied with officials’ assurances, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently deployed an investigation team to the Dolpa district, which borders Tibet.

“Our team has headed for field investigations to the site where the incident occurred and we will also speak to the Nepal police to uncover the truth,” Bed Prasad Adhikari, secretary of the NHRC, told IPS.

“We need to wait until the investigation is concluded, and only then will NHRC reveal the truth to the public,” he added.

In 2011 a local court sentenced six men to life in prison for the murder of seven of their harvest rivals.

While Nepali security officials scramble to patrol some of the world’s roughest terrain, ecology experts warn of over-harvesting and the need for sustainable practices that could support local economies and end the cycle of violence.

Stepping up security

“There is an urgent need for sustainable harvesting practices and an equitable benefit-sharing mechanism with the local people." -- Yam Bahadur Thapa, director general of the Department of Plant Resources (DoPR) at Nepal’s ministry of forests and soil conservation
The police are expecting more violence as the season enters its third week, and have already dispatched 160 personnel attached to the Armed Police Force (APF) – a paramilitary set up during Nepal’s decade-long civil war – to patrol harvesting sites, including the northern Mugu and Dolpa districts.

“We have asked for more personnel from the Nepal police to support our security operation,” Shahi said.

Speaking to IPS in Kathmandu, Police Spokesperson and Senior Superintendent of Police Ganesh KC told IPS this is the first time armed personnel have been deployed to oversee the harvest, and they are facing challenges due to the huge radius of the harvesting zone, and the extremely difficult terrain.

The Dolpa District alone – home to 24 pastures rich in the caterpillar fungus – spans nearly 8,000 square km.

To make matters worse, commercial traders and so-called ‘cartels’ have now joined the fray.

“There is a mafia of traders from Kathmandu and other adjoining Nepali districts near the Chinese border who are involved in the scheme, and they come with huge stacks of cash and will not return empty-handed,” Shahi said. “Some traders even bring helicopters to buy as much as they can.”

From policing to long-term policies

Various studies suggest that China’s booming economy, which has fueled demand for the ‘winter worm, summer grass’, has created a global market for the fungus that touches 11 billion dollars a year.

Nepal currently meets two percent of the global demand for the precious fungus, making it the world’s second largest supplier.

But as demand outpaces supply, and a valuable natural resource is plundered away annually, tensions over access rights have been mounting.

“There is loss of social integrity among local people; there are cases of robbery and deaths as a result [of this harvest],” Yam Bahadur Thapa, director general of the Department of Plant Resources (DoPR) at Nepal’s ministry of forests and soil conservation, told IPS.

“There is an urgent need for sustainable harvesting practices and an equitable benefit-sharing mechanism with the local people,” he noted, adding that the presence of outsiders often exacerbates tensions.

Thapa said the number of harvesters has doubled since 2001, while the number of units collected per person has declined drastically, from 260 pieces of fungus per person in 2006 to less than 125 now.

In addition, he asserted, “The price difference between the local and international market is huge, leading to an inequitable share of income among the primary collectors.”

For instance, a kilogram of fungus sold for 25,000 dollars by a middleman in Nepal could sell for up to 70,000 dollars once it is shipped abroad, he said.

A DoPR draft policy for caterpillar fungus harvest management submitted in April to the prime minister’s cabinet is still awaiting approval. The policy proposes regulating trade to increase government revenue, investing in scientific research, strengthening local institutions and raising awareness among the locals.

“There is no single inch of habitat left untouched…at the end of the harvesting season,” Uttam Babu Shrestha, a research fellow at the Institute of Agriculture and the Environment at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, told IPS.

His research during the 2011 harvest season in Nepal showed that, “Virtually all harvesters (95.1 percent) believe the availability of the caterpillar fungus in the pastures to be declining, and 67 percent consider current harvesting practices to be unsustainable.”

Shrestha found per capita harvesting to be higher in Nepal than in other countries, which adds to the tension. “Nepal’s harvesters and traders are doing business in a fearful environment,” he said, echoing the concerns of law enforcement officials.

Better central regulation would not only enhance sustainability and security, but would also increase government revenue, experts say.

The official royalty rate of around 10,000 Nepali rupees (about 100 dollars) per kilogram was set when Nepal legalised the harvest in 2001.

Since then, “The market price… has increased up to 2,300 percent and yet the royalty rate is the same,” Shrestha said, describing the stagnant rate as a “missed opportunity.”

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) estimates that the government of Nepal currently earns about 5.1 million rupees from the trade.

Experts say that by paying local harvesters a higher price, the government could witness a substantial increase in revenue flows.

Until the government agrees upon a comprehensive plan, the high-altitude pastures will continue to see fear, violence and destruction in pursuit of the mysterious fungus.

(END)

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Siberian Global Warming Meets Lukewarm Reaction in Russiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/siberian-global-warming-meets-lukewarm-reaction-in-russia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=siberian-global-warming-meets-lukewarm-reaction-in-russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/siberian-global-warming-meets-lukewarm-reaction-in-russia/#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2014 11:45:03 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135112 Climate change will cause the Siberian permafrost to thaw. Credit: Softpedia/Celsias

Climate change will cause the Siberian permafrost to thaw. Credit: Softpedia/Celsias

By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Jun 21 2014 (IPS)

People in Siberia must prepare to face frequent repeats of recent devastating floods as well as other natural disasters, scientists and ecologists are warning, amid growing evidence of the effects of global warming on one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.

More than 50,000 people were affected by floods in the Altai region and Khakassia and Altai republics in southern Siberia at the end of May and early June. These came just over half a year since the worst floods in Siberia in living memory.

But while floods caused by snowmelt are not uncommon to Siberia, these most recent ones were caused by excessive rainfall – a phenomenon global warming is expected to make much more frequent in future.As the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas producer behind the United States, India and China, and with a fossil fuel-intensive economy which the government is desperate to boost, Russia has historically been far from the vanguard of global environmental policy reform.

Vladimir Galakhov, a physical geography professor at Altai University in Siberia, told IPS: “Although many people think the recent floods were caused by snow melting, it was actually intense rainfall. We had two months’ rain in one week. Weather models for the next two decades forecast a 10 percent rise in rainfall volumes, so we can expect more flooding in the future.”

Siberia is home to some of the richest diversity of flora and fauna in the world, including endangered species such as the Amur tiger. It is also one of the coldest places on earth, with average temperatures in most parts just under zero degrees Celsius and often much lower.

But scientific studies in the last decade have shown that parts of Siberia are warming more quickly than any other part of the world – something pointed out again in the wake of the floods by local meteorologists.

Professor Valentin Meleshko, a meteorologist and former head of the St Petersburg-based Voyeikov Geophysical Observatory, told Russian media last month after the flooding that rapid temperature rises were having a “significant” impact on Siberia.

“All forecasts from complex [weather and climate change forecast] models show that Siberia will get more precipitation, mostly in winter, when more snow will accumulate.

“It will naturally melt in spring and this melting snow will put more water into rivers, and the floods in Siberia will be more intense than before.”

But warming is not only expected to increase flooding. According to experts such as Alexei Kokorin, head of the WWF Russia climate division, it poses other serious threats.

He told IPS that the size of Siberia meant that different areas will be affected in different ways: east and south-east Siberia in the area of the Amur River will see more frequent heavy rains and a monsoon climate while southern Siberia near Mongolia will see increasing desertification leading to water supply problems and disappearing pastures to provide feeding grounds for animals.

Meanwhile, in northern Siberia, the melting of permafrost will destroy existing infrastructure. This also threatens to drastically worsen climate change as vast amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – are trapped in the frozen ground and if released into the atmosphere in large amounts would accelerate global warming.

“Siberia will maybe not be the very worst affected area in the world by global warming, but some parts of it will be heavily affected,” Kokorin told IPS.

Ecological groups have been warning of these risks for years and appealing to Russian authorities to take action.

But the Russian political response to global warming has been characterised largely by apparent ambivalence.

As the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas producer behind the United States, India and China, and with a fossil fuel-intensive economy which the government is desperate to boost, Russia has historically been far from the vanguard of global environmental policy reform.

But some experts believe that the general government ambivalence to climate change is driven by the fact that Russia potentially stands to be one of the biggest geopolitical gainers from climate change.

Although a highly resource-rich nation, vast reserves of fossil fuels in Russia are under either ice or frozen permafrost. Higher temperatures could make it easier to access these and other enormous quantities of valuable ores and minerals as well as changing huge areas of land from being uninhabitable to fit for agricultural production or other use.

Arctic ice melt driven by global warming is also expected to soon provide an almost year-round open sea passage north of the country which Russia could exploit, allowing tens of millions of tons more of goods to be transported annually.

Some officials have publicly said that they view global warming positively. In an interview last year, Rinat Gizatullin, an official at the Russian Natural Resources Ministry, told the BBC: “We are not panicking. Global warming is not as catastrophic for us as it might be for some other countries. If anything, we’ll be even better off.”

Against this backdrop, the Russian scientific community is divided on climate change. While some, including senior state meteorologists, have in the past spoken publically of the threat from climate change to Russia, others are more reticent on the issue and refuse to openly acknowledge global warming as a phenomenon.

Raisa Buzunova, a hydrometeorologist from Kemerovo in western Siberia, told IPS that while temperatures had been rising constantly for years in parts of Siberia, the result of which was now extended summers, this was not evidence of global warming.

She told IPS: “We are not talking about a sudden change in climate or global warming, but only periodic temperature fluctuations. A stabilisation of temperatures in Siberia is expected by 2020.”

Many others say that global warming has actually peaked and that world temperatures will actually begin falling in a few years and then stabilising.

However, local ecologists say that the evidence is irrefutable, pointing to events such as the record wildfire season in 2012 in Siberia amid an unusually warm summer, as well as the worst floods on record last autumn, an exceptionally mild winter just passed, as well as a record warm spring and the recent floods.

Mikhail Gunykin from the Moscow-based pan-Russian Ecodelo ecological network, told IPS: “In Russia, as in the rest of the world, what we have seen in recent years is increasingly frequent natural disasters as a result of the way humans treat ecosystems.”

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Nicaragua’s Mayagna People and Their Rainforest Could Vanishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/nicaraguas-mayagna-people-and-their-rainforest-could-vanish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-mayagna-people-and-their-rainforest-could-vanish http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/nicaraguas-mayagna-people-and-their-rainforest-could-vanish/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 21:51:33 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135089 Troops from the special military battalion set up to protect Nicaragua’s forests confiscate an ilegal shipment of logs in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. Credit: José Garth Medina/IPS

Troops from the special military battalion set up to protect Nicaragua’s forests confiscate an ilegal shipment of logs in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. Credit: José Garth Medina/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 19 2014 (IPS)

More than 30,000 members of the Mayagna indigenous community are in danger of disappearing, along with the rainforest which is their home in Nicaragua, if the state fails to take immediate action to curb the destruction of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, the largest forest reserve in Central America and the third-largest in the world.

Arisio Genaro, president of the Mayagna nation, travelled over 300 km from his community on the outskirts of the reserve in May to protest in Managua that the area where his people have lived for centuries is being invaded and destroyed by settlers from the country’s Pacific coastal and central regions.

In early June, Genaro returned to the capital to participate in several academic activities aimed at raising awareness on the environment among university students in Managua and to protest to whoever would listen that their ancestral territory is being destroyed by farmers determined to expand the agricultural frontier by invading the protected area, which covers 21,000 sq km.

The Mayagna chief told Tierramérica that in 1987 the nucleus of what is now the biosphere reserve had a total area of 1,170,210 hectares of virgin forest and an estimated population of fewer than 7,000 indigenous people.

In 1997, when it was declared a Word Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the reserve covered more than two million hectares of tropical rainforest, including the buffer zone.

By 2010, when the indigenous people living in the reserve numbered around 25,000, the jungle area had been reduced to 832,237 hectares, according to figures cited by Genaro. The presence of non-indigenous settlers within the borders of the reserve had climbed from an estimated 5,000 in 1990 to over 40,000 in 2013.

“The y are burning everything, to plant crops. They cut down forests to raise cattle, they log the big trees to sell the wood, they shoot the animals and dry up riverbeds to put in roads,” Genaro told Tierramérica.

Antonia Gámez, a 66-year-old Mayagna chief, also made the trek from her community to speak out in towns and cities along the Pacific coast about the situation faced by her people in Bosawas, whose name comes from the first syllables of the main geographical features that delimit the reserve: the Bocay river, the Salaya mountain, and the Waspuk river.

“All of our families used to live on what nature provides; the forest is our home and our father, it has given us food, water and shelter,” she told Tierramérica in her native tongue, with the help of an interpreter. “Now the youngest ones are looking for work on the new farms created where there was once forest, and the oldest of us don’t have anywhere to go, because everything is disappearing.”

Gámez said that in the forest, her people planted grains and grew and harvested fruit, and hunted what they needed for food with bows and arrows. She added that there were abundant crabs and fish in the rivers and wild boars, tapirs and deer in the forests.

“Now the animals have gone. With each bang from a gun or mountain that is cleared, they either die or move deeper into the jungle. There aren’t many left to hunt,” she complained on her visit to Managua.

Part of the reserve is also inhabited by Miskitos, the largest indigenous group in this Central American country, where by law native people have the right to collectively own and use the lands where they live.

The complaints by the indigenous people were corroborated by Tierramérica in conversations with independent academics and activists as well as government officials.

Anthropologist Esther Melba McLean with the Atlantic Coast Centre for Research and Development at the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University has led studies that warn that if the invasion by outsiders and destruction of the forest are not brought to a halt, both the Mayagna people and the native flora and fauna of Bosawas could disappear in two decades.

“The destruction of the forest would mean more than the end of an ethnic group; it would mean the end of the site where 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity is found,” she told Tierramérica.

The reserve is home to endemic species like the Nototriton saslaya salamander and the crested eagle, which are listed as endangered by local environmental organisations that point out that there are still many species that have not even been documented.

According to environmentalist Jaime Incer, an adviser on environmental affairs to the office of the president, if the destruction of the indigenous territory continues, “in less than 25 years the jungle will have completely disappeared.”

A study published in 2012 by the German development cooperation agency, GIZ, Nicaragua’s National Union of Agricultural and Livestock Producers (UNAG), the European Union and the international development organisation Oxfam warned that it would take 24 years to lose the forest in Bosawas and 13 years to lose the buffer zone around the reserve, at the current rate of deforestation.

Incer told Tierramérica that in response to the indigenous community’s complaints and the backing they have received from environmentalists, the administration of President Daniel Ortega, who has governed since 2007, has begun to take measures against the destruction of the forest. “But they have been insufficient,” he acknowledged.

Ortega ordered the creation of a military battalion of more than 700 troops to guard the country’s forests and nature reserves. The government also organised a committee of national authorities aimed at coordinating actions and applying a zero tolerance approach towards people and organisations accused of destroying the environment.

Alberto Mercado, the technical coordinator of Bosawas in the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, said at the Central American University in Managua on Jun. 10 that the government has been carrying out actions to curb the destruction of the reserve.

He said the authorities had removed dozens of non-indigenous families from the nucleus of the reserve, and that they had brought people to trial who were dedicated to illegally selling land in Bosawas.

Mercado said dozens of lawyers have been investigated and suspended for allowing sales transactions involving indigenous property. In addition, he said, the authorities have been combating trafficking in local fauna and flora.

“But the struggle is huge…traffickers identify the ‘blind spots’ and that’s where they make their incursions into indigenous territory, fence it in, claim it is theirs, and that’s how the trafficking of land starts,” the official said, sounding discouraged.

The complaints of the indigenous community have gone beyond national borders, and have reached international human rights organisations. The non-governmental Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre also filed a complaint with the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Vilma Núñez, director of the Human Rights Centre, told Tierramérica that she had denounced the situation faced by the Mayagna people during the 44th OAS General Assembly, whose main theme was “development with social inclusion”, held Jun. 3-5 in Asunción, Paraguay.

“The state and the government should guarantee the right of the Mayagna and all indigenous people in this country to live on their own land, and defend them from extermination,” Núñez said.

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U.S. Turns Attention to Ocean Conservation, Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-turns-attention-to-ocean-conservation-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-turns-attention-to-ocean-conservation-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-turns-attention-to-ocean-conservation-food-security/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 01:28:33 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135070 The administration of President Barack Obama pledged to massively expand U.S.-protected parts of the southern Pacific Ocean. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The administration of President Barack Obama pledged to massively expand U.S.-protected parts of the southern Pacific Ocean. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Jun 19 2014 (IPS)

A first-time U.S.-hosted summit on protecting the oceans has resulted in pledges worth some 800 million dollars to be used for conservation efforts.

During the summit, held here in Washington, the administration of President Barack Obama pledged to massively expand U.S.-protected parts of the southern Pacific Ocean. In an effort to strengthen global food security, the president has also announced a major push against illegal fishing and to create a national strategic plan for aquaculture.

“If we drain our resources, we won’t just be squandering one of humanity’s greatest treasures, we’ll be cutting off one of the world’s leading sources of food and economic growth, including for the United States,” President Obama said via video Tuesday morning.

The “Our Ocean” conference, held Monday and Tuesday at the U.S. State Department, brought together ministers, heads of state, as well as civil society and private sector representatives from almost 90 countries. The summit, hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, focused on overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification, all of which threaten global food security.

In his opening remarks, Kerry noted that ocean conservation constitutes a “great necessity” for food security. “More than three billion people, 50 percent of the people on this planet, in every corner of the world depend on fish as a significant source of protein,” he said.

Proponents hope that many of the solutions being used by U.S. scientists, policymakers and fishermen could serve to help international communities.

“There is increasing demand for seafood with diminished supply … We need to find ways to make seafood sustainable to rich and poor countries alike,” Danielle Nierenberg, the president of FoodTank, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“For instance, oyster harvesters in the Gambia have really depleted the oyster population, but a U.S.-sponsored project has been able to re-establish the oyster beds – by leaving them alone for a while. The same strategy – to step back a bit – worked with lobster fishers in New England.”

Nierenberg predicted that with diminishing wild fish, the future of seafood will be in aquaculture.

“What aquaculture projects need to do now is learn from the mistakes made from crop and livestock agriculture,” she said. “It doesn’t always work – for instance, maize and soybeans create opportunities for pest and disease. Overcrowding animals creates manure.”

*Seafood fraud*

The Obama administration also hopes to jumpstart the United States’ own seafood production capabilities. According to a White House fact sheet, the United States today imports most of its seafood, though highly regulated U.S. aquaculture is widely seen as particularly safe.

Early on in his first administration, President Obama created a new national ocean stewardship policy which also sought to streamline more than 100 U.S. laws governing the oceans and coordinating the country’s approach to these resources.

This week’s actions will further simplify aquaculture production, while aiming to ensure that U.S. aquaculture does not exceed the population size an environment can naturally support.

“The U.S. is really good at innovating, but not at producing, largely because of the amount of regulatory hurdles,” Michael Tlusty, director of research at the New England Aquarium, told IPS. “Roughly 17 different agencies have roles in aquaculture regulation, so streamlining the process will put all of them together at the same table to efficiently provide permits.”

Tlusty also applauded the administration’s announcement to create a comprehensive programme to deter illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

“We can’t turn a switch and fix the ocean – we need lots of different strategies,” Tlusty said. “Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is very important … as is cutting illegal, underreported and underegistered fishing.”

Advocacy groups have likewise applauded the initiatives.

“President Obama’s announcement is a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide. This initiative is a practical solution to an ugly problem and will forever change the way we think about our seafood,” Beth Lowell, campaign director for Oceana, a watchdog group, said Tuesday.

“Because our seafood travels through an increasingly long, complex and non-transparent supply chain, there are numerous opportunities for seafood fraud to occur and illegally caught fish to enter the U.S. market.”

Oceana points to recent research noting that nearly a third of wild-caught seafood coming into the United States comes from pirate fishing.

The World Wildlife Fund, a major conservation group, called Obama’s announcements “a turning point” for the world’s oceans.

*Breakneck acidification*

Ocean acidification constitutes a particularly broad and worrisome danger to marine life, shellfish production and ocean-based food security, and received prominent attention at this week’s summit. This process has come about particularly from carbon dioxide emissions resulting from air pollution, which changes the delicate acidity level of the oceans.

“The entire ocean is acidifying, and at an incredibly rapid pace … more in the last 15 years than it has in the whole last 50,000 years,” Catherine Novelli, under-secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment at the U.S State Department, told IPS.

“If you’ve ever had a fish tank, you’ll know that it is an incredibly delicate balance. And once it gets out of balance, things can’t survive.”

Novelli pointed to innovate projects such as one undertaken by the Prince of Monaco, which aims to determine where acidification is taking place and to offer early warning systems for fish farmers.

“It absolutely affects shellfish farmers, as shellfish are very sensitive to these acidity levels,” said Novelli.

“There’s been some pioneering work done off the coast of Oregon, where shellfish farmers have worked with the state government to monitor the acidification. If the acidity level is changing, they can shut off their water intake from the ocean and preserve their shellfish until waves pass and go in a different direction.”

While the conference looked at a variety of short- and medium-term possibilities for monitoring and adapting to such problems, the discussions also recognised that the issue will likely be subsumed under broader climate change negotiations.

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