Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 08 Dec 2016 23:10:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Climate-Resistant Beans Could Save Millionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-resistant-beans-could-save-millions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-resistant-beans-could-save-millions http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-resistant-beans-could-save-millions/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:54:56 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148110 Heat-tolerant beans at CIAT. Beans and other pulses are called superfoods of the future due to their vast geographical range, high nutritional value and low water requirements. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Heat-tolerant beans at CIAT. Beans and other pulses are called superfoods of the future due to their vast geographical range, high nutritional value and low water requirements. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

By Ida Karlsson
CALI, Colombia, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

A global food watchdog works around the clock to preserve crop biodiversity, with a seed bank deep in the Colombian countryside holding the largest collection of beans and cassava in the world and storing crops that could avert devastating problems.

On a mission in Peru in the 1980s, Debouck narrowly escaped capture by guerillas.
Plants are the vital elements in our ecosystem that clothe us, feed us, give us the oxygen that we breathe and the medicines that cure us. But one in five of world’s plant species are at risk of extinction.

According to a report launched by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in May, the biggest threats are the destruction of habitats for farming – such as palm oil production, deforestation for timber and construction of buildings and infrastructure. Global warming is also expected to reduce the areas suitable for growing crops.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 75 percent of the world’s crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000.

“We do not [even] know what we have, and we are losing what we have. Why not try to correct that a bit?” Daniel Debouck of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia told IPS.

Seed bank head Daniel Debouck at CIAT, Colombia. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Seed bank head Daniel Debouck at CIAT, Colombia. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Only about 30 crops provide 95 percent of human food energy needs, according to FAO. Dependency on a few staple crops magnifies the consequences of crop failure.

Botanists are already taking extreme measures to save those plant species deemed useful. Some 7.4 million samples are in seed banks around the world, but huge gaps exist.

Way up north, in the permafrost, 1,300 kilometers beyond the Arctic Circle, sits the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a so-called doomsday bank buried in the side of a mountain. Within the enclosure sit more than 860,000 samples, representing 5,100 different crops and their relatives.

And located among green sugarcane plantations near Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, a seed bank with the largest collection of beans in the world is housed in a former meat quality lab. The seed bank preserves some of humanity’s most important staple crops and contains over 38,000 samples of beans in all shapes colors, and sizes. Varieties developed at CIAT feed 30 million people in Africa. Every September there is a major shipment to Svalbard to keep copies at the seed bank there.

Beans can grow despite very tough conditions. They are cultivated everywhere except for the poles and infertile deserts. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Beans can grow despite very tough conditions. They are cultivated everywhere except for the poles and infertile deserts. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

The 300 scientists and support staff at CIAT have a mandate from the UN to protect, research and distribute beans and cassava, staple foods for 900 million people around the world. Altogether 500,000 materials have been distributed so far. After the war in Rwanda, CIAT put seeds back in the hands of farmers.

“The seeds from the Americas are absolutely critical for food security in Africa. Without cassava and beans, people would not manage,” Debouck told IPS.

The researchers have garnered seeds from around the world for their seed bank. On a mission in Peru in the 1980s, Debouck narrowly escaped capture by guerillas.

“But we came back with 300 varieties of popping bean and increased the CIAT collection significantly,” he said.

The popping beans can be prepared without cooking. It is enough if they are heated on a hot surface. This could be important in areas where fuel and kitchen facilities are lacking.

The seed bank also stores beans that can offer climate-friendly options for farmers struggling to cope with rising temperatures.

In the basement of an old lab near Cali, Colombia, there are 38,000 samples of beans stored in minus 20 degrees Celsius. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

In the basement of an old lab near Cali, Colombia, there are 38,000 samples of beans stored in minus 20 degrees Celsius. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

The heat-tolerant beans developed by conventional breeding by scientists at CIAT are crosses between the modern kind and the tepary bean, a hardy survivor cultivated since pre-Columbian times. Beans that can beat the heat could be essential to survival in many regions.

“The heat-tolerant beans may be able to handle a worst-case scenario of a temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius. Northern Uganda, southeast Congo, Malawi, and the eastern Kenya are not bean producing areas now because of the heat there. But what we have at present at CIAT could expand the bean production there,” Steve Beebe, a senior bean researcher at CIAT, told IPS.

The new findings would not have been possible without CIAT’s seed bank containing wild varieties and related species of the common bean.

Only 5 percent of the wild relatives of the world’s most important crops are properly stored and managed in the world’s seed banks, according a study published in March by the online journal Nature Plants.

Debouck says there is lack of education around food.

“We think we have food security but we are tremendously vulnerable. If the U.S. would experience drought and Europe would have excessive rains, we would all be in trouble,” Debouck said.

Agronomists used to act as a liaison between farmers and agricultural scientists. But during the last 20 years, many agronomists have disappeared and today mostly for-profit agribusiness firms reach out to farmers, according to Debouck. The companies are often interested in selling agrochemicals, he said.

Bean researcher Beebe pointed out that beans and other legumes are self-pollinated plants and seed need only be sold once.

“That is why the industry is not that interested in promoting them,” he told IPS.

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Coal Mine Threatens Ecological Paradise in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/coal-mine-threatens-ecological-paradise-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 12:50:18 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147877 Humpback whales and dolphins are part of the rich habitat of the Otway gulf, in the Magellan Strait, near the Invierno mine on Riesco Island in the southern Chilean wilderness region of Patagonia. Credit: José Antonio de Pablo/ Riesco Island Alert

Humpback whales and dolphins are part of the rich habitat of the Otway gulf, in the Magellan Strait, near the Invierno mine on Riesco Island in the southern Chilean wilderness region of Patagonia. Credit: José Antonio de Pablo/ Riesco Island Alert

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

An open-pit coal mine in the southern island of Riesco, a paradise of biological diversity in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness region, is a reflection of the weakness of the country’s environmental laws, which are criticised by local residents, activists, scientists and lawmakers.

Riesco, the country’s fourth-largest island, at the southern tip of South America, and the waters around it, is home to many species, such as the humpback whale, four kinds of dolphins, elephant seals and penguins, 24 species of land mammals and 136 birds.

“I will not leave. But I see the drastic changes,” a worried Gregor Stipicic, one of the island’s 150 inhabitants, told IPS by telephone from Riesco.

Gregor, 36, is the youngest of three Stipicic siblings who own a 750-hectare farm where they raise about 6,000 sheep, which are now threatened by dynamite explosions.

Gregor, a surgeon by profession, has been living on the farm since 2006, when he took charge after the death of his father. His grandfather, a Croatian immigrant, arrived to the island in 1956, drawn by its fertile soils.

Riesco Island is 5,000-sq-km in size and is 3,000 km south of Santiago, in Magallanes, the country’s southernmost province.

The local inhabitants live and work on 30 farms, which mainly raise sheep.

One-third of the island’s territory is within the Alacalufes National Reserve, one of the largest in Chile, covering 2.6 million hectares of wilderness that forms part of the country’s protected areas.

The “mina invierno” or winter mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in the country, belongs to the Riesco Island Mining Company, owned by the Chilean companies Copec and Ultramar, which invested 600 million dollars in the mine, and have four other deposits on the island, so far inactive.

The aim is to exploit, for 12 years, reserves of 73 million tons of sub-bituminous coal, of low calorific value and high heavy metal content. The coal is sold to the Huasco, Tocopilla, Mejillones and Ventanas thermoelectric plants in north and central Chile, and exported to China, India, Brazil and other countries.

The steady decline in international coal prices affected the company’s plans, which temporarily decreased production and cut its payroll.

Lengas (Nothofagus pumilio) and Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus antarctica) seen on Riesco Island, in Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region, which is threatened by coal mining. Credit: Claudio Magallanes Velazco/Riesco Island Alert

Lengas (Nothofagus pumilio) and Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus antarctica) seen on Riesco Island, in Chile’s Patagonia wilderness region, which is threatened by coal mining. Credit: Claudio Magallanes Velazco/Riesco Island Alert

To open the Invierno mine, 400 hectares of native woodland were cut, a lake was dried up, and the functioning of the water in the surrounding area was modified. It currently has three sterile waste dumps, each one 60 mts high.

“Everything is becoming polluted. Some 1,500 hectares of land will be directly affected, including 500 metres of open pit which has already reached 100 of the projected 180 metres in depth,” said Ana Stipicic, spokesperson for the social and ecological movement Riesco Island Alert.

“The last report on pollution we made was on the impact on the Chorrillo Invierno Dos River. Now we learned that the Cañadón and Chorrillo Los Coipos Rivers were also polluted. There are settling ponds to remove matter from wastewater, but they don’t work,” the activist, who is Gregor’s sister, told IPS in Santiago.

She said that the rivers affected a wetland and “along the shore there are enormous pieces of coal. The mining port and the crushers that crush the mineral throw charcoal into the sea. Nobody has studied this.”

Ana Stipicic said particles in the air “fall on the surrounding grazing lands, woods and water bodies where there is rich fauna.” She added that the mining activity “has caused huge movements of wildlife, from woodpeckers to huemul deer and capybara.”

Biologist Juan Capella, from the Yubarta Foundation, complained that the shipping of coal through the Otway gulf, the Gerónimo channel and the Magellan Strait has affected humpback whales and dolphins that live in this area, where the Francisco Coloane Marine Park is located.

“There are reported cases of collisions of cargo ships with whales. The more coal that is transported and the heavier the ship traffic in such a narrow channel, the higher the chances of collisions and deaths of whales. The latest recorded case occurred in March, when a ship ran into a whale and killed it,” he told IPS from Punta Arenas, capital of Magallanes province.

Map of the location of coal mines on Riesco Island at the southern tip of Chile. Credit: Riesco Island Alert

Map of the location of coal mines on Riesco Island at the southern tip of Chile. Credit: Riesco Island Alert

Climate specialist Nicolás Butorovic said that during the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Invierno mine, “we proved that the modelling was wrong with respect to settleable particulate matter. They predicted 60 micrograms per day while the stations measured up to 158.”

The company had stated that it would not use dynamite explosions since they sought sustainable mining. It also claimed that winds in the area averaged 39 kilometres per hour when in fact they can reach up to more than 180 kilometres per hour.

Fernando Dougnac, head of the organisation of environmentalist lawyers FIMA, filed legal action which brought the explosions to a halt.

Dougnac told IPS in Santiago that in his legal presentation he included veterinary records from the year 1998, showing that during breeding season, sheep are highly susceptible to noise, to the point that workers are asked to stay out of the areas where the sheep are mating or raising young.

“We expect the explosions to be stopped during those months. The Invierno mine needs to cut operating costs, so they will insist on making detonations the four times a week that they are allowed,” said Ana Stipicic.

The national director of Greenpeace Chile, Matías Asún, told IPS that the mining company “deceived the population and disregarded the regulations to later be allowed to use dynamite explosions.”

In his opinion “Chile’s environmental authority operates on the basis of economic and commercial criteria. Their official discourse is not the protection of the environment but the protection of investment and the environment.”

He said “it is anachronistic that in a country where renewable energies are experiencing remarkable growth at a global scale and coal is in decline, on top of the many territorial conflicts generated, a subsidy is granted violating de facto environmental regulations and the commitments that the own company made to the community.”

“Riesco Island is not sustainable without cutting costs with environmental impacts,” he stressed.

Independent legislator for Magallanes province Gabriel Boric told IPS that the company presented the coal mining project in a fragmented manner to obtain approval.

“That a project be allowed to be presented by parts, so that its environmental impact cannot be assessed integrally, is one of the main weaknesses of our environmental protection system, which must be remedied by means of reforms,” he said.

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Battle of the Desert (II): A ‘Great Green Wall for Africa’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-ii-a-great-green-wall-for-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-of-the-desert-ii-a-great-green-wall-for-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-ii-a-great-green-wall-for-africa/#comments Sun, 20 Nov 2016 07:39:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147849 Tera, Bajirga, Niger - Women at work for preparing the field for the next rainy season by escaving mid-moon dams to save water. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Tera, Bajirga, Niger - Women at work for preparing the field for the next rainy season by escaving mid-moon dams to save water. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 20 2016 (IPS)

Desertification, land degradation, drought, climate change, food insecurity, poverty, loss of biodiversity, forced migration and conflicts, are some of the key challenges facing Africa—a giant continent home to 1,2 billion people living in 54 countries.

And they are huge challenges indeed, in particular affecting Africa’s vulnerable drylands. Just think that the drylands of North Africa, Sahel and Horn of Africa extend over 1.6 billion hectares home to about 500 million people, i.e. slightly less than half of the entire population of the continent.

Nora Berrahmouni

Nora Berrahmouni

Such rapidly deteriorating situation, which has been exacerbated by climate change and its growing impact, has mobilised more than 20 African countries around the Sahara (North, East and West), international organisations, research institutes, civil society and grassroots organisations, to build together what has been called: The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI) or simply Africa’s Great Green Wall (GGW).

On this, Nora Berrahmouni, Forestry Officer (Drylands) at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), tells IPS in an interview that the GGW core area (focus area for intervention identified) is about 780 million hectares.

What is this Wall all about? “Africa’s Great Green Wall, the so-called “Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI)” is a Pan African initiative, established and endorsed by the African Union in 2007 and it is Africa’s flagship initiative to combat the effects of climate change, desertification, food insecurity and poverty.”"Drylands of North Africa, Sahel and Horn of Africa extend over 1.6 billion hectares home to about 500 million people"-- FAO

Here, Berrahmouni clarifies that the so-called Great Green Wall initiative “is not a line or a wall of trees across the desert. The “Wall” is a metaphor to express solidarity between countries and partners, a mosaic of sustainable land management and restoration interventions.”

Regardless of its name, the plan aims at promoting:

• Long-term solutions to the pressing challenges of desertification, land degradation, drought and climate change,

• Integrated interventions tackling the multiple challenges affecting the lives of millions of people in the Sahel and Sahara, including restoration of production systems, development of rural production and sustainable development hubs,

• And an urgent call to development actors and policy makers to invest more on long term solutions for the sustainable development of drylands in the Sahel and Sahara.

Asked about specific examples, these are “sustainable management of natural resources, including soils, water, forests, rangelands; promotion of sustainable rural production systems in agriculture, pastoralism and forestry, as well as sustainable production, processing and marketing of agricultural products and forest goods and services, says Berrahmouni.

Other examples include the diversification of economic activities through rural production centres, to stimulate job creation and offer income generation activities, in particular for youth and women, and to spread knowledge exchange about the causes of desertification and the best ways to combat and prevent it.

FAO is a key partner of the African Union and of its member states in implementing this initiative. Indeed, for FAO, this is a “game changer in addressing poverty eradication, ending hunger and boosting food and nutrition security in the continent,” the Algerian expert explains.

Djibo, Burkina Faso - Planting seeds and seedlings. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Djibo, Burkina Faso – Planting seeds and seedlings. Credit: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

From 2010 to 2013, FAO focused on supporting the African Union Commission and 13 member countries to put in place an enabling environment for the implementation of the GGWSSI. These countries are: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan.

With funding from the FAO Technical Cooperation Programme and the European Union (EU), this leading UN body in the field of food and agriculture has developed and implemented successfully two complementary projects.

These projects have lead to: the preparation and validation of national action plans and strategies for the implementation of the initiative in 13 countries; the development and validation of Regional Harmonized Strategy, ensuring that all stakeholders involved in the implementation of work towards a common and shared vision, objectives and results, and to put in place a community of practice for the effective implementation of Africa’s Great Green Wall.

Berrahmouni tells IPS that since July 2014 and with the support of European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) Secretariat, FAO is implementing with partners a project called “Action Against Desertification” in support of the implementation of the Great Green Wall in 6 countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal) and South-South Cooperation in ACP countries.

On November 16, FAO presented to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco (7-18 November), a groundbreaking map of restoration opportunities along Africa’s Great Green Wall. at the UN climate change conference.

Announcing that there are 10 million hectares a year in need of restoration along the Great Green Wall, it informs that restoration needs along Africa’s drylands have been mapped and quantified for the first time.

The map is based on collection and analysis of crucial land-use information to boost action in Africa’s Great Green Wall to increase the resilience of people and landscapes to climate change.

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New Fund Aims to Help Build Resilience to Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/new-fund-aims-to-help-build-resilience-to-climate-change/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2016 17:15:59 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147844 Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Mary Robinson, the U.N. special envoy on El Niño and Climate. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
MARRAKECH, Nov 18 2016 (IPS)

The world has been too slow in responding to climate events such as El Niño and La Niña, and those who are the “least responsible are the ones suffering most”, Mary Robinson, the special envoy on El Niño and Climate, told IPS at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (COP22).

The first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), Robinson was appointed earlier this year by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the new mandate involving climate change and El Niño."I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious." -- Mary Robinson

During the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Robinson strongly advocated for engaging community-led solutions and for incorporating gender equality and women’s participation in the climate talks.

“Global warming is accelerating too much and it is being aggravated by El Niño and La Niña. They do not have to become a humanitarian disaster, but people have now been left to cope for themselves…I think we were too slow in many instances and this has become a humanitarian disaster for the 60 million people who are food insecure and suffering from droughts,” she said.

El Niño has been directly associated with droughts and floods in many parts of the world that have severely impacted millions of livelihoods. A warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific waters, the phenomenon occurs on average every three to seven years and sea surface temperatures across the Pacific can warm more than 1 degree C.

El Niño is a natural occurrence, but scientists believe it is becoming more intense as a result of global warming.

How El Niño interacts with climate change is not 100 percent clear, but many of the countries that are now experiencing El Niño are also vulnerable to climate variations. According to Robinson, El Niño and its climate-linked emergencies are a threat to human security and, therefore, a threat to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) announced in September 2015 as the 2030 Agenda replacing the Millennium Development Goals.

“I have gone to Central America to the dry corridor in Honduras and have seen women crying because there is no water and they feel very neglected. They feel they are left behind and that nobody seems to know about them. I saw in Ethiopia severely malnourished children, it could affect them for life in terms of being stunted. The same thing in southern Africa. I feel I’ve seen a window into a ‘new normal’ and it is very serious. We need to understand the urgency of taking the necessary steps,” Robinson said.

Drought and flooding associated with El Niño created enormous problems across East Africa, Southern Africa, Central America and the Pacific. Ethiopia, where Robinson has visited earlier this year, is experiencing its worst drought in half a century. One million children in Eastern and Southern Africa alone are acutely malnourished.

It is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015, according to an assessment released at the COP22 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures spiked in the early months of the year because of the powerful El Niño event.

These long-term changes in the climate have exacerbated social, humanitarian and environmental pressures. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees pointed that in 2015, more than 19 million new displacements were associated with weather, water, climate and geophysical hazards in 113 countries, more than twice as many as for conflict and violence.

“We need a much more concerted response and fund preparedness. If we have a very strategic early warning system, we can deal with the problem much more effectively. Building resilience in communities is the absolute key. We need to invest in support for building resilience now rather than having a huge humanitarian disaster,” stressed Robinson.

On Nov. 17, during the COP22 in Marrakech, the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) – a coalition led by France, Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Japan and Canada launched at the Paris climate change negotiations in 2015 – announced a new goal to mobilise more than 30 million dollars by July 2017 and 100 million by 2020.

The international partnership aims to strengthen risk information and early warning systems in vulnerable countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and small island developing states in the Pacific. The idea is to leverage financing to protect populations exposed to extreme climate events.

There will be a special focus on women, who are particularly vulnerable to climate menaces but are the protagonists in building resilience. “Now we’ve moved from the Paris negotiations to implementation on the ground. Building resilience is key and it must be done in a way that is gender sensitive with full account of gender equality and also human rights. We must recognize the role of women as agents for change in their communities,” Robinson emphasised.

The number of climate-related disasters has more than doubled over the past 40 years, said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“This initiative will help reduce the impact of these events on low and middle-income countries which suffer the most,” he said.

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told IPS, “We can see already in Africa the impact of climate change that is undermining our efforts to bring food security for all. Take the example of El Niño that has affected all of Africa in the last two years. Countries that had made fantastic progress like Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania and Madagascar are now suffering hunger again. Countries that have eradicated hunger are back to face it again. We need to adapt.”

Climate change has different impacts on men and women, girls and boys, told IPS Edith Ofwona, the senior program specialist at International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

“Gender is critical. We must recognise it is not about women alone,” she said. “[But] women are important because they provide the largest labour force, mainly in the agricultural sector. It is important to appreciate the differences in the impacts, the needs in terms of response. There is need for balance, affirmative action and ensuring all social groups are taken into consideration.”

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Phosphate Mining Firms Set Sights on Southern Africa’s Sea Floorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/phosphate-mining-firms-set-sights-on-southern-africas-sea-floor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=phosphate-mining-firms-set-sights-on-southern-africas-sea-floor http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/phosphate-mining-firms-set-sights-on-southern-africas-sea-floor/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 11:23:49 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147811 President Jacob Zuma answers questions at the National Council of Provinces on Oct. 25, 2016. During the session, he said Operation Phakisa helped drive investments worth R17 billion toward ocean-based aspects of the economy since 2014. Courtesy: Republic of South Africa

President Jacob Zuma answers questions at the National Council of Provinces on Oct. 25, 2016. During the session, he said Operation Phakisa helped drive investments worth R17 billion toward ocean-based aspects of the economy since 2014. Courtesy: Republic of South Africa

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

A persistent fear of diminishing phosphorus reserves has pushed mining companies to search far and wide for new sources. Companies identified phosphate deposits on the ocean floor and are fighting for mining rights around the world.

Countries in southern Africa have the potential to set an international precedent by allowing the first offshore mining operations. South Africa specifically is one of the first countries on the continent to begin legislating its marine economy to promote sustainable development, and questions surround mining’s place in this new economy.While the fishing and coastal tourism industries account for slightly more than 1.4 billion dollars of GDP, the potential economic benefits from marine mining remain unclear.

From April 2007 to August 2008, the price of phosphate, a necessary ingredient in fertilizer, increased nearly 950 percent, in part due to the idea that phosphate production had peaked and would begin diminishing. Before prices came back down, prospectors had already begun looking for deep sea phosphate reserves around the world.

Since then, the fledgling seabed phosphate industry has found minimal success. While several operations are proposed in the Pacific islands, New Zealand and Mexico rejected attempts at offshore phosphate mining in their territory.

This means southern African reserves – created in part by currents carrying phosphate-rich water from Antarctica – are the new center of debate.

Namibia owns identified seabed phosphate deposits, and the country has recently flip-flopped about whether to allow mining. A moratorium was in place since 2013, but in September the environmental minister made the controversial decision to grant the necessary licenses. Since then, public outcry forced him to set those aside.

Most attempts at seabed phosphate mining have sputtered in the face of moratoriums and other roadblocks. Graphic courtesy of Centre for Environmental Rights

Most attempts at seabed phosphate mining have sputtered in the face of moratoriums and other roadblocks. Graphic courtesy of Centre for Environmental Rights

The former general project manager of Namibian Marine Phosphate (Pty) Ltd, a company that applied to mine in Namibia, told IPS that environmental groups and fisheries proved to be a loud and organised opposition. He predicted the debate in South Africa would be just as difficult for mining companies to win with no precedent for such mining.

Adnan Awad, director of the non-profit International Ocean Institute’s African region, said, “There is generally this anticipation that South African processes for mining and for the policy around some of these activities are setting a bit of a precedent and a bit of a model for how it can be pursued in other areas.”

Three companies, Green Flash Trading 251 (Pty) Ltd, Green Flash 257 (Pty) Ltd and Diamond Fields International Ltd., hold prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, roughly 10 percent, of the country’s marine exclusive economic zone.

Diamond Fields International’s prospecting right along 47,468 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean shares space with areas of oil exploration and production. Source: Diamond Fields International Ltd. background information document

Diamond Fields International’s prospecting right along 47,468 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean shares space with areas of oil exploration and production. Source: Diamond Fields International Ltd. background information document

The law firm Steyn Kinnear Inc. represents both Green Flash 251 and Green Flash 257. “Currently it does not seem as if there is going to be any progress, and there is definitely not going to be any mining right application,” Wynand Venter, an attorney at the firm, said, calling the project “uneconomical.”

Venter said the Green Flash companies received drill samples, which showed current prices could not sustain seabed phosphate mining.

This leaves Diamond Fields as the only remaining player in South African waters. The company announced in a January 2014 press release that it received a 47,468 square kilometer prospecting right to search for phosphate.

According to information the company published summarising its environmental management plan, prospecting would use seismic testing to determine the benthic, or seafloor, geology. If mining commenced, it would take place on the seafloor between 180 and 500 meters below the surface.

“A vital and indisputable link exists between phosphate rock and world food supply,” the company stated, citing dwindling phosphate reserves.

Diamond Fields did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Environmentalists argue that not only would phosphate mining destroy marine ecosystems, but it would also lead to continued overuse of fertilizers and associated pollution. They call for increased research into phosphate recapture technology instead of mining.

“We could actually be solving the problem of too much phosphates in our water and recapturing it. Instead we’re going to destroy our ocean ecosystems,” John Duncan of WWF-SA said.

The act of offshore mining requires a vessel called a trailing suction hopper dredger, which takes up seafloor sediment and sends waste back into the water column.

A southern right whale swims off the coast of the Western Cape province near Hermanus, a town renowned for its whale watching. South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources granted three prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent, of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A southern right whale swims off the coast of the Western Cape province near Hermanus, a town renowned for its whale watching. South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources granted three prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, or 10 percent, of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

“It amounts to a kind of bulldozer that operates on the seabed and excavates sediment down to a depth of two or three meters. Where it operates, it’s like opencast mining on land. It removes the entire substrate. That substrate become unavailable to fisheries for many years, if not forever,” Johann Augustyn, secretary of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association, said.

In addition to direct habitat destruction, environmentalists argue the plume of sediment released into the ocean could spread out to smother additional areas and harm wildlife.

Mining opponents also worry offshore mining would negatively impact food production and economic growth.

Several thousand subsistence farmers live along South Africa’s coast, and the country’s large-scale fishing industry produces around 600,000 metric tonnes of catch per year.

“[Mining] may lead to large areas becoming deserts for the fish populations that were there. If they don’t die off, they won’t find food there, and they’ll probably migrate out of those areas,” Augustyn said.

While the fishing and coastal tourism industries account for slightly more than 1.4 billion dollars of GDP, the potential economic benefits from marine mining remain unclear. There are no published estimates for job creation, but Namibian Marine Phosphate’s proposal said it would lead to 176 new jobs, not all of them local.

“The benefits are not coming back to the greater South African community,” Awad said. “African countries generally have been quite poor at negotiating the benefits through multinational companies’ exploitation of coastal resources.”

South Africa is one of only three African nations – along with Namibia and Seychelles – implementing marine spatial planning. This growing movement toward organised marine economies balances competing uses such as oil exploration, marine protected areas and fisheries. Earlier this year, the Department of Environmental Affairs, DEA, published a draft Marine Spatial Planning Bill, the first step toward creating marine-specific legislation.

According to government predictions, a properly managed marine economy could add more than 12.5 billion dollars to South Africa’s GDP by 2033. What part mining will play in that remains to be seen.

“Internationally the off-shore exploration for hard minerals is on the increase and it is to be expected that the exploitation of South Africa’s non-living marine resources will also increase,” the DEA’s draft framework said.

Neither the Department of Mineral Resources nor the DEA responded to repeated requests for comment.

Mark Olalde’s mining investigations are financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Additional support for this story was provided by #MineAlert and Code for Africa.

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Funding Lags to Combat Land Degradationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/funding-lags-to-combat-land-degradation/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 22:44:42 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147529 Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

Land degradation already affects millions of people, bringing biodiversity loss, reduced availability of clean water, food insecurity and greater vulnerability to the harsh impacts of climate change.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two billion hectares of productive land are currently degraded worldwide. An additional 12 million hectares are degraded every year.

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20 all agreed that urgent action is needed to address the problem.

But for efforts to combat land degradation to succeed, huge financial resources must be mobilised.

UNCCD has proposed creation of the Impact Investment Fund for Land Degradation Neutrality (Land Degradation Neutrality Fund). Although not yet operationalsed, the fund is intended to bring together institutions committed to addressing the global challenge of land degradation.

It will support large-scale rehabilitation of degraded land, for sustainable and productive use, with long-term private sector financing. The fund also aims to contribute to the achievement of global and local food and water security, and to mitigate climate change by sequestering up to 20 percent of CO2 emissions by 2050.

The fund hopes to mobilise 50 billion dollars to rehabilitate 300 million hectares of land worldwide in the next 20 years, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 20 billion tonnes.

The Global Mechanism is spearheading the establishment of the Fund. The Fund plans to provide a structured framework in which private and public actors will be able to engage with the aim of achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). The private-public partnership will include provision of funds and technical assistance.

The LDN concept was introduced at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. According to UNCCD, attaining LDN means ensuring that the amount of land resources that every household, region or country depends on for ecosystems services such as water, remains healthy, productive and stable.

The resolve resonates with target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in September 2015 in New York. The target is to achieve LDN by 2030.

The Global Mechanism, UNCCD’s operational arm, was identified as the body to administer the fund to support initiatives that aim to reach LDN.

The vision of the LDN Fund is to combat land degradation and finance rehabilitation of 12 million hectares of degraded land a year. When in place, it will also complement and leverage existing initiatives by creating a link between the bottom up approach (projects developed on the ground) and the top down initiatives (government targets, institutional initiatives).

Markus Repnik, managing director of the Global Mechanism, said that 450 billion dollars is required annually to combat land degradation and desertification. He noted that climate funding is growing but more resources are needed. Repnik added that states have spent 200 billion dollars but total financing is less than 400 billion dollars.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), a financial mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is aiming to provide half of its funds for climate change adaptation measures. He noted that the African Development Bank (ADB) wants to triple climate financing by 2020.

Repnik said that there is abundance of funding initiatives and systems but there is no single measure to show how finances are being mobilised.

“In-depth data on global financing is required. It should be known how much has been spent, where it came and who provided it in addition to ensuring data compatibility and reliability,” said Markus.

He called upon parties to consider how they will mobilise resources to implement the convention. The EU delegation to the UNCCD’s CRIC 15 urged parties to explore more funding mechanisms instead of relying on multilateral partnerships. They said innovative measures to source funds from the private sector should be explored.

During the conference it was revealed that developing countries and their partners have contributed five billion dollars towards efforts to curb desertification and land degradation. However, delegates insisted that more money is urgently needed and the developed countries should provide more funds.

Representatives of community-based organisations (CSOs) noted that the cost per unit (hectare) in combating land degradation also varies from country to country.

“More precise and comprehensive information is required,” they noted in a statement.

They emphasized that financing of programmes to combat land degradation should incorporate human resources development. They also noted that the financing mechanism should involve the 500 million smallholder farmers across the world whose rights require protection.

“Vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and pastoralists should be targeted for support,” read the CSOs statement.

At the same time, parties recognised the need to mobilise additional financial resources for voluntary LDN target setting and implementation from multiple sources such the GEF, Green Climate Fund, LDN Fund (once operational), national budget allocations and the private sector.

They called upon the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent financial entity that works with countries and international institutions, CSOs and the private sector to address global environmental issues, and the Global Mechanism to provide the required support.

Richard Mwendandu, director of Multilateral Environment Agreements at Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, said that although money can be mobilised to finance efforts towards meeting SDG 15.3, there is no specific global fund in place to support efforts to fight land degradation.

“Just a paltry 30,000 dollars has been issued by the Global Mechanism to assist countries on a pilot basis in the area of target setting as envisaged in the LDN concept,” he told IPS.

Mwendandu added that individual countries are trying to mobilise resources to combat land degradation. Citing the case of Kenya, he noted the government is mobilising funds in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to fund projects aimed at fighting land degradation.

CRIC 15 was aimed enabling parties to UNCCD to agree to a post-2018 strategy.

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World Must Tackle the Biggest Killer of Whales – and it’s not Whalinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/world-must-tackle-the-biggest-killer-of-whales-and-its-not-whaling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-must-tackle-the-biggest-killer-of-whales-and-its-not-whaling http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/world-must-tackle-the-biggest-killer-of-whales-and-its-not-whaling/#comments Mon, 24 Oct 2016 05:20:27 +0000 Leigh Henry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147484 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/world-must-tackle-the-biggest-killer-of-whales-and-its-not-whaling/feed/ 1 Indigenous Land Rights Bring Economic, not just Environmental Benefitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/indigenous-land-rights-bring-economic-not-just-environmental-benefits/#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2016 03:46:52 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147377 Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Secure indigenous land rights not only bring environmental benefits, they can also foster economic development, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute.

The report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights, describes how local communities can sustainably manage forests and generate economic growth when given tenure rights to their land.

In Guatemala, Indigenous communities have successfully created sustainable income from the forest, while treating it as a renewable resource, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Advisor of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) told IPS.

Indigenous communities in Guatemala export forest products including highly nutritious berries which are popular in Korea and Japan, said Jintiach.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin

Their careful management of the forests has also made their wood products popular with guitar manufactures such as Gibson and Fender, he added.

“In Guatemala the community-based industry is very well organized.” They have a land rotation system for their timber activities and they monitor the timber products up to the point they reach the consumer.

“They have a sophisticated way of managing their forests – you can almost trace a product from the tree it came from on a particular patch of land.”

“They use this revenue to improve local development, healthcare and education in their communities and that’s where the economic impact comes into the picture,” said Jintiach.

The world’s 370 million Indigenous people have only limited land rights and are much more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-Indigenous peoples.

Although they make up just five percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s extreme poor, according the World Bank.

Therefore, inclusive economic growth which benefits indigenous peoples is one of the ways that countries can tackle extreme poverty, and achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty.

However, economic benefits are not the only reason why Indigenous Land Rights are important, the report argues.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin, Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance said at the launch of the report.

“Other than the oceans there are no other carbon capture and storage technologies that are nearly as cost effective as forests and are proven on a large scale,” said Zarin.

“Deforestation rates on legally recognised Indigenous lands are two to three times lower registered to Indigenous peoples,” the report found.

Yet far too often government overlook local communities and allocate the rights to exploit a forest and other natural resources to multinational corporations with few if any links to the land.

“Indigenous Peoples and other communities hold and manage 50 to 65 percent of the world’s land, yet governments recognise only 10 percent as legally belonging to these groups, with another 8 percent designated by governments for communities,” the report found.

The report argues that allocating land rights to indigenous groups is relatively inexpensive for governments especially considering the measurable benefits.

“Secure indigenous forestlands provide significant global carbon and other ecosystem service benefits in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, estimated at between $679 and $1,530 billion for the next 20 years,” said the report.

“Meanwhile, the costs of securing indigenous forestlands amount to less than one percent of these benefits.”

However without secure land rights, indigenous communities are often unable to protect the forest, Helen Ding, Environmental Economist and report author World Resources Institute, told IPS.

“We have seen that the REDD+ program has been there for more than 10 years now and there is still deforestation happening in Brazil and Indonesia. The reason for that is partly because many of these lands are held by indigenous people are not recognised and they are not protected,” said Ding.

In practical terms, she points out, land tenure rights allow local communities to access credit, which will enable them to generate economic benefits.

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Amid South Africa’s Drought, Proposed Mine Raises Fears of Wetlands Impacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/amid-south-africas-drought-proposed-mine-raises-fears-of-wetlands-impact/#comments Tue, 04 Oct 2016 20:06:46 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147212 A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A stream meanders through a wetland in Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga. The region is a Strategic Water Source Area, the segments of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that make up 8 percent of land area but account for 50 percent of water supply. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 4 2016 (IPS)

The dam supplying Johannesburg’s water sits less than 30 percent full. Water restrictions have been in place since November and taxes on high water use since August. Food prices across South Africa have risen about 10 percent from last year, in large part due to water shortages.

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” -- Melissa Fourie
In the midst of one of the country’s worst droughts in recorded history, the government continues to permit new coal mines and coal-fired power plants. One mine in particular is gaining increased scrutiny, as it has been given nearly all the permits necessary to mine in a high yield water area called the Mabola Protected Environment in the Mpumalanga province.

Indian mining company Atha-Africa Ventures (Pty) Ltd’s proposed Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine would sit 160 miles southwest of Johannesburg in the catchments of three major rivers: the Vaal, the Tugela and the Pongola. The surrounding area also falls within a Strategic Water Source Area, the eight percent of land in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland that accounts for 50 percent of water supply.

The proposed mine site is in the midst of numerous other protected and high importance demarcations such as the endangered Wakkerstroom Montane Grassland and the South Eastern Escarpment National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment Priority Area. The Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan labels the habitat of the proposed site as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.”

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A southern masked weaver sits on a branch in the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve and Crane Sanctuary, a local tourist destination. The area is known for several endemic crane species, and the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan identifies it as “Irreplaceable and Optimal Critical Biodiversity Areas.” Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Because the mine would tunnel underneath Mabola, the Protected Areas Act prohibits mining unless a company obtains written permission from the directors of both the Department of Mineral Resources, DMR, and Department of Environmental Affairs, DEA.

The DMR signed off on the project when it granted a mining right in September 2014, just eight months after Mabola was declared protected. However, at a September hearing of the South African Human Rights Commission, a representative of the DMR falsely asserted under oath that the department would not allow mining in the area. The DEA has given no indication of Minister Edna Molewa’s plans regarding the mine.

Neither the DMR nor the DEA responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Melissa Fourie is the director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, which is spearheading litigation to slow the mine’s progress through the permitting procedure. She said the whole process has been “slight of hand” and “a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

“If you’re going to have a large coal mine in [a protected area], what’s the point really?” Fourie told IPS. “It affects not just that area, but it affects the whole country’s water resources and a whole lot of downstream users.”

The Vaal River System ultimately provides water for most of the country’s coal-fired electricity generation, as well as the country’s most populous province of Gauteng, and Fourie fears pollution from the mine would impact the system.

The underground Yzermyn mine would cover about 2,500 hectares of Atha-Africa’s 8,360 hectare mining right. Surface infrastructure would be kept to a minimum, although plans indicate a pollution control dam is to be built on a wetland.

Atha-Africa’s senior vice president Praveer Tripathi said, “The evidence that mining in that area is going to disturb the functionality of the wetland as well as any apprehensions about acid mine drainage were very, very scant.” According to Tripathi and the environmental authorisation, mitigation will include recharging wetlands, onsite water treatment and sealing of the shafts post-closure.

Tripathi argued that a nearby abandoned mine is dry, which would suggest Yzermyn might not flood and cause acid mine drainage. However, it took several iterations of consultants’ reports to reach the conclusion that the mine would have minimal environmental impacts. “There was concerns raised by our own specialists about some of the negative effects of some activities,” Tripathi said.

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Farmer and chairman of the Mabola Protected Environment Oubaas Malan points out his farm from the proposed mine site. Because the mine would tunnel under a legally protected environment, it requires the written approval of the ministers of both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Angus Burns, senior manager for the Land and Biodiversity Stewardship Programme at WWF-SA, was active in the movement to demarcate protected areas. “The precedent that can be set by the allowance of this kind of activity within a protected environment opens up, I believe, a floodgate of opportunities for any mining company to challenge protected environments,” he said.

The water use license granted to Atha-Africa allows the company to use 22 Olympic size swimming pools-worth of water annually, dewater the underground area it would mine and pump a limited amount of treated effluent into wetlands.

In a statement, Tsunduka Khosa, the director of water use licensing at the Department of Water and Sanitation said: “The water use licence granted contains a set of conditions aimed at mitigating the possible impacts…South Africa is water scarce country. Therefore all activities that have a potential to impact water resources are considered serious to the Department and all available water resources are sensitive.”

Mining opponents also claim political ties helped push this mine through a stringent permitting process. One of Atha-Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment partners called Bashubile Trust has several trustees with connections to President Jacob Zuma. Sizwe Zuma, one of the trustees, is alleged to be the president’s relative – although Atha-Africa denies this – and in court documents Sizwe Zuma listed his residential address as the presidential estate in Pretoria.

Bashubile did not respond to requests for comment. Mpumalanga’s Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, which acknowledged all the protected areas yet still granted the environmental authorization, also did not respond.

Regardless of permits, much of the population in nearby Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, is afraid that mining would severely impact the current economy, which is reliant on livestock farming and ecotourism.

Johan Uys works on his family’s farm near Wakkerstroom and said his children will be the sixth generation to farm there. “Most of the people that are from Wakkerstroom are against mining, but there are the people that don’t have jobs that are for the mining because there are these promises that are made,” he said, citing the racial disparity between wealthy white landowners and poor black communities in town.

Wakkerstroom residents from the black community said they would only want mining if Atha-Africa pledged environmental protection and sustainable job growth. The company estimates that 500 direct jobs will be created and 2,000 indirect, although the mine is only expected to operate for 15 years.

“We know from very bitter experience that this hardly ever transpires,” Fourie said of the job creation estimates. “So often those jobs are not local jobs.”

Mark Olalde’s mining investigations are financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Additional support was provided by #MineAlert and Code for Africa.

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Microsensor-Fitted Locust Swarms? Sci-fi Meets Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:23:08 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146984 The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Every November, India’s Gahirmatha beach in the Indian Ocean region develops a brownish-grey rash for 60 to 80 days. Half-a-million female Olive Ridley turtles emerge out of the waves to lay their eggs, over a hundred each. For the sheer numbers, this arrival is hard to miss.

However, knowledge about this IUCN’s endangered species’ exact migration route across oceans has remained fragmentary for conservationists seeking to protect its globally declining population owing to destruction of habitat, global warming and trawl fishing.Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses - diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza.

As pressures from climate change, ecosystem loss and wild life crime threaten biodiversity and wildlife around the globe, scientists are responding by harnessing the power of sophisticated space technologies.

Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses – diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza. Radars will help locate poachers through infrared, detect through an elephant’s agitated movements, its imminent poaching. Cameras orbiting in space can capture the presence of crop diseases and invasive species in remote locations. The realm of science fiction has already stepped into the real world.

The International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) project, whose trial phase starts in 2017, is developing solar-powered sensors weighing 1 to 5 grammes which can be attached to migratory songbirds, even dragonflies, beetles. The transmitted data will inform not simply the geo-positions and movements but provide important clues about the body functions or senses of the animal, giving significant indicators about impending natural disasters.

By 2020, ICARUS sensors could be small enough to fit into locusts, possibly even to use the micro-sensors to control the locust flight path to divert the swarm from valuable crops, say its researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Scientists working on ICARUS say battery life is a major limiting factor for tracking small animals since the miniature batteries they can carry do not last long.

However, Russian space agency Roscosmos’s International Space Station, on which ICARUS hardware will be installed, is closer to the Earth than satellites, thus decreasing the amount of power required to upload data. Saving more battery life, the Station will wake the bird-mounted mini transmitter from its energy-saving mode only when it has visual contact to the in-flight bird. It’ll take only a few seconds to transmit all data back to the Station.

The urgency to go beyond manual patrolling to advanced space-based technology to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade comes strongly from the World Wildlife Crime Report 2016.

The report builds on the data platform World WISE (The World Wildlife Seizures) that contains over 164,000 seizures related to wildlife crime involving 7,000 species from 120 countries spanning 2004 to 2015.

Trafficking of wildlife is now recognised as a specialised area of organised crime and a significant threat to many plant and animal species. The focus of the upcoming 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is set to be the illegal wildlife trade. According to a 2016 UN Environment Programme report, the wildlife trade is estimated at 7 to 23 billion dollars annually.

With poachers increasingly using more sophisticated technology, wildlife rangers need to be equipped too. When a poacher moves in for the kill, elephants and rhinos will often behave unusually. Animal sensors help detect such behavior and send alerts to law enforcement, giving them time to act.

Other high-resolution constellations (10 or more) of radar satellites, unlike optical Earth observation satellites, are powerful enough to penetrate dense forest canopies, clouds and cover of darkness that aid poachers from detection. Infrared sensors attached to drones controlled by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can also be used to detect campfires or warm bodies hiding in African bush land, say researchers.

Sophisticated satellites are already monitoring the extent of illegal logging, rate of deforestation and even soil moisture. The launch of hyperspectral imaging satellites that record detailed images in hundreds of electromagnetic wavelengths can assess the extent of disaster, crop growth and diseases, availability of water in remote locations and glacier melts, besides general biodiversity.

Development experts say the role that space tools can play for achieving the SDGs is broad and diverse, specifically Goal 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable management of ecosystems, forests, soil and biodiversity, monitor not just wildlife but assess whether management practices put in place are having the desired effect.

“There are many types of satellites flying in space,” said Werner Balogh, a programme officer at the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). “But how are they being used, is there more that can be done? Can we find joint mechanisms to share this data? It’s an exciting field and there’s still lots that needs to be explored.”

There has emerged consistent demand from developing countries who host rich biodiversity that mutual partnerships, free technical assistance, knowledge transfer, adequate resources and capacity building in space-based technologies to developing countries will significantly help achieve the 2030 Agenda.

But the high cost of technology solutions and access to the latest science and knowledge remain major constraints for the global South.

“In India, we use radio-collars to track movement for large animals like tigers and elephants. However, permits costs and taxes add to the already high cost of obtaining wildlife collars; for example, satellite collars to be used on elephants are available for 2,500 dollars each, plus annual subscription costs of 500 dollars,” Shashank Srinivasan, spatial analysis coordinator of World Wildlife Fund, India, told IPS.

The South Asia region, with 40 percent forest cover in Bhutan and Nepal and precious biodiversity, is very vulnerable to illegal traffic and wildlife crimes mainly because there exist easier traffic routes to large markets like China.

“The international community must design low-cost space-based appliances for sharing with developing countries like the solar transmitter chips (ICARUS) Germany is developing. It would be of great conservation value if we could procure it for 50 to 100 dollars,” Saroj Koirala, geospatial technologies expert with the World Wildlife Fund, Nepal, told IPS.

“Even if international commercial companies can provide us with, for example, hyperspectral images as old as of year 2010, this would still help country research. The process to access these are conditional and time-consuming,” Koirala added.

Srinivasan said except for initiatives like wildlabs.net that allow for the sharing of conservation-relevant technology, he knew of no other national, regional or international technology sharing or funding.

Experts say awareness of the importance of space-based technologies needs to be created among law makers for need-of-the-hour policies and fund allocation. Koirala said since nature conservation is linked to livelihoods, people themselves will pressurise democratic governments to set aside funds for latest technologies.

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Corruption and Wildlife Trafficking: the Elephant in the Roomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2016 04:36:35 +0000 Aled Williams and Rob Parry-Jones http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146930 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/corruption-and-wildlife-trafficking-the-elephant-in-the-room/feed/ 0 Militarised Conservation Threatens DRC’s Indigenous People – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/militarised-conservation-threatens-drcs-indigenous-people-part-1/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 13:56:53 +0000 Zahra Moloo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146904 A man from the community of Mudja holds out his arm to show where he was injured by a park ranger. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

A man from the community of Mudja holds out his arm to show where he was injured by a park ranger. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

By Zahra Moloo
MUDJA/BIGANIRO, Sep 14 2016 (IPS)

It is late afternoon when a light drizzle begins to fall over a group of young men seated together in Mudja, a village that lies approximately 20 kilometres north of Goma on the outskirts of the Virunga National Park. Mudja is home to a community of around 40 families of indigenous Bambuti, also known as ‘pygmies.’*

One of the men holds out his arm to show an injury he received from a park ranger. Others chime in.“When the colonialists left the country, the people who managed those protected areas were trained by the Belgians that conservation should be done without people, in the old-school way." -- Patrick Kipalu of the Forest People's Program

“Just the day before yesterday, they shot at me when I was looking for honey and firewood,” says Giovanni Sisiri. “I abandoned everything, took my tools, and ran.”

Armed paramilitary rangers from the Virunga National Park are tasked with protecting the park from poachers and trespassers, often at risk to their own lives. In Congolese law, human habitation and hunting within the park is forbidden, including for the Bambuti, its original inhabitants.

The Bambuti living in Mudja said that at times they defy these laws, venturing inside to collect wood, hunt small animals and gather non-timber products, but recently it has become more difficult.

“A pygmy cannot live without the park. Before, they could enter secretly,” said Felix Maroy, an agronomist and livestock farmer who works with Bambuti communities. “Since January 2015, the guards are always patrolling the area. And there are other armed groups too, like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).”

Imani Kabasele, a resident of Mudja and the head of the local branch of an NGO, Program for the Integration and Development of the Pygmy People (PDIP), said that two years ago, a Mbuti resident of a neighbouring village, Biganiro, went to look for honey and disappeared for three days. His body was later discovered, cut up by a machete. Kabasele believes it was someone from the FDLR that killed him.

Imani Kabasele, the head of the branch of a Congolese NGO, PDIP, said that the Mbuti know the forest far better than any other communities, but is it is dangerous for them to venture inside. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Imani Kabasele, the head of the branch of a Congolese NGO, PDIP, said that the Mbuti know the forest far better than any other communities, but is it is dangerous for them to venture inside. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Militarisation and colonial conservation policies

The initial demarcation of the Virunga National Park boundaries dates back to 1925 when it was first created by King Albert of Belgium.

The oldest national park in Africa, it was later expanded to include over seven thousand square kilometres of land. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, it is now managed by a private-public partnership between the National Park Authority of the DRC (ICCN) and the EU-funded Virunga Foundation, and is home to about a quarter of the world’s mountain gorillas. Congolese farmers living around the Virunga said that its colonial history creates the impression that it was “created by the Mzungu (white man), for the Mzungu.”

After independence, other national parks were established, including Maiko National Park, and Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu.  According to the Global Forest Coalition, the creation of national parks led to the eviction of thousands of indigenous people who neither gave their consent nor received compensation for their loss of land. It was, they state, “in violation of international law” and the country’s 1977 law on expropriation for public purposes.

Patrick Kipalu, the DRC Country Manager for the Forest People’s Program, said there is an active conflict between communities around the park, both indigenous Bambuti as well as agricultural Bantu, and “conservationists, park rangers and other NGOs working for conservation.”

“The old school of conservation in the colonial period was ‘people out of the forest’ and ‘it’s a protected area without anyone inside,’” said Kipalu. “When the colonialists left the country, the people who managed those protected areas were trained by the Belgians that conservation should be done without people, in the old-school way. They have kept the same strategies, though the ICCN is thinking of a conservation strategy which is supposed to include and involve communities.”

Jean Claude (18, right), poses with his friend Denis Sinzira.  Most of the youth in Biganiro, DRC go to school until they are 9 or 10 years old. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Jean Claude (18, right), poses with his friend Denis Sinzira. Most of the youth in Biganiro only go to school until they are 9 or 10 years old. Credit: Zahra Moloo/IPS

Last year, in a letter to Kipalu, a representative of the customary chiefs in Lubero on the west coast of Lake Edward said that the ICCN had expropriated land without the consent of the people living on it and without offering any compensation. The letter also accused the ICCN of destroying and setting fire to villages. A 2004 report by a consultant to the World Bank, Dr Kai Schmidt-Soltau, states that the ICCN, along with WWF, claimed to have resettled 35,000 people from an area south-east of Lake Edward through a voluntary process, but that in fact the resettlement was carried out “at gun-point.”

Aggressive conservation activities are part of a widespread trend toward what some researchers call the militarization of conservation,an approach to protecting nature in which conservationists could engage in repressive policies that are counterproductive.

Jean Claude Kyungu, who in charge of community relations for Virunga, said that the park’s relations with communities around the park are good in some areas, but not in others, and that guards only fire at people if there is “resistance” from the population, for instance when communities “recruit armed groups to secure the land.” He added that the Bambuti are only arrested when they have defied the law.

When asked about the repressive behavior of park rangers and officers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) towards civilians in and around the park, Norbert Mushenzi, the ICCN’s deputy director of the Virunga National Park, said that the officers are “undertaking legitimate defense.”

“We also try to educate communities to leave and find alternative solutions, for instance to go to the fields around the park. There were 350 families in one area that left voluntarily,” he said. “The problem is not land. It’s that people want to concentrate in the park and we don’t know why,” he said.

But leaving the park and finding other places to settle is not so simple. One problem, according to Kipalu, is that people living inside illegally have nowhere to go. “The park is so big that it takes the whole area where communities work on their traditional lands,” he said.

Compounding the issue are larger and more complex political dynamics.  According to a group of researchers, Virunga lies at the “epicenter of ongoing conflict since 1993-4” and is “strongly affected by cross-border dynamics with both Rwanda and Uganda.” It is also a hideout for numerous armed domestic and foreign groups.

Communities who enter the park often do so with the protection of armed actors, and links between them are further strengthened by politicians who take advantage of the widespread sentiment that the park expropriated people’s ancestral lands, leading these politicians, in some cases, to “finance armed groups operating in the park.”

The authors suggest that the park “adopt a more conflict sensitive approach to conservation”, and increase efforts to improve local communication. But Jean-Claude Kyungu believes that the park’s approach is not particularly repressive given the enormous challenges. “At Kibirizi, the population lives with the FDLR,” he said. “Do we let these people just go and make their own laws not just in a park, but in a country, that is not their own? People who do not respect the boundaries have to be removed.”

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation

*The word ‘pygmy’ has negative connotations and is used widely in the DRC. According to Survival International, it has been reclaimed by some communities as a term of identify.

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Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146883 A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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Conservation Congress Votes to Ban All Domestic Trade in Elephant Ivoryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-votes-to-ban-all-domestic-trade-in-elephant-ivory/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservation-congress-votes-to-ban-all-domestic-trade-in-elephant-ivory http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-votes-to-ban-all-domestic-trade-in-elephant-ivory/#comments Sun, 11 Sep 2016 13:42:03 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146875 By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 11 2016 (IPS)

The international conservation community has taken an important step towards saving African elephants from mass slaughter by voting at a major congress to call on all governments to ban their domestic trade in ivory.

A resolution at the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was passed overwhelmingly by governments and NGOs on its last day on Saturday despite fierce opposition from a minority of countries led by Japan, South Africa and Namibia.Tusks end up smuggled by criminal organisations to Asia where they are carved and sold openly -- mostly in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong -- under the guise of legal ivory imported before a ban on international trade came into force in 1989.

Motion 007 was the last and most contentious of 105 resolutions voted on at the 10-day IUCN congress in Honolulu. Delegates cheered and applauded as some 20 amendments put forward by Namibia and Japan were defeated, and the text of the resolution was approved.

The resolution, sponsored on the government side by the United States and Gabon, aims to deprive illegal poachers of market demand for elephant ivory. Results of a recently released Great Elephant Census of 18 African countries showed that poachers are killing some 27,000 savanna elephants a year, resulting in an annual population decline of 8 percent.

Activists say an elephant is being shot for its ivory every 15 minutes. Tusks end up smuggled by criminal organisations to Asia where they are carved and sold openly — mostly in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong — under the guise of legal ivory imported before a ban on international trade came into force in 1989.

“It is fantastic this was approved,” commented Susan Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, an NGO co-sponsor of the motion. “It is a great victory for elephants. We are calling on governments to say it is over, it is done — no more domestic trade in ivory.”

The IUCN does not have legal authority to force governments to adopt policies, but as the most authoritative voice on conservation issues – grouping nearly 1,400 states, government agencies and NGOs – its policy decisions carry considerable weight.

Next stop for conservationists on this issue is the meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg on September 24. CITES banned the international trade in elephant ivory in 1989 but allowed two major auctions of ivory in the late 1990s and again in 2008. These sales led to a spike in poaching in Africa and resulted in CITES declaring a 10-year moratorium which expires in 2017.

Delegates in Honolulu said the IUCN policy decision would make it virtually impossible that the CITES conference would agree to South Africa or other nations being allowed to resume limited sales of ivory. A motion will also be put to CITES to call for a ban on the domestic trade in ivory.

Lieberman highlighted the push by most African states and civil society to ban domestic trade in ivory. Speakers at the IUCN congress calling for the ban included Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Benin, Congo, Senegal and Gabon.

“The loudest voices were African from the range countries who spoke out,” Lieberman noted.

But South Africa and Namibia argued that their elephant populations were growing because of their countries’ successful conservation efforts, funded in part by domestic sales of ivory. Both countries said they should not be penalised for the failings of others and that it would be a breach of their sovereignty to be ordered how to manage their wildlife.

Similarly Japan said it had strictly controlled its internal market and prevented the smuggling of ivory, and that efforts should focus on helping other countries achieve tougher regulation. A total ban on domestic trade also contradicted the concept of sustainable development championed by IUCN, Japanese Ministry of Environment official Naohisa Okuda told the Congress.

“Conservation and sustainable use should go hand in hand,” Okuda said.

NGOs however challenge Japan’s claims to have stopped the flow of illegal ivory across its borders. Activists also suspect that the opposition coalition between Japan and the two African nations concealed an intention by Tokyo to try to persuade CITES to allow Japan to buy ivory once more.

IUCN’s proposed ban will also encourage and support China to close its booming domestic trade in ivory where smugglers can earn over $1,000 a kilogram for tusks.

China and the US announced jointly a year ago their intention to ban ivory from their respective markets. The US went ahead – with limited exceptions such as ivory used in musical instruments – while China has not set a timetable.

Chinese government delegates did not speak during the debate over motion 007 but told activists privately that China welcomed the worldwide ban. NGOs are hopeful China will set a timeframe for its domestic ban by the end of this year.

The US urged all IUCN members to support the motion. “Legal markets mask illegal markets. To think otherwise masks the truth,” a State Department official told the plenary session.

At times the debate was heated. A speaker for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, a South African provincial agency which funds much of its budget from business operations, denounced what she called the “pseudo-science theories” of “smart people” who wanted to tell South Africans how to manage their wildlife.

Safari Club International, a pro-hunting lobby group, said the proposed ban violated the sovereignty of nations.

One of the strongest statements in support of the ban came from Uganda, speaking on behalf of 29 states grouped in the African Elephant Coalition. “The people benefiting from ivory are criminals and terrorists,” said a Ugandan wildlife official, accusing the Lord’s Resistance Army which operates across four countries, of funding its operations through ivory. “I have buried 100 of my Rangers in this war,” he said.

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Conservation Congress Sets Ambitious Target to Protect Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-sets-ambitious-target-to-protect-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservation-congress-sets-ambitious-target-to-protect-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/conservation-congress-sets-ambitious-target-to-protect-oceans/#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2016 20:09:54 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146864 Clownfish on the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Jan Derk/public domain

Clownfish on the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Jan Derk/public domain

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 10 2016 (IPS)

A major environmental conference of governments and NGOs has called on nations to set aside at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans as “highly protected” areas by 2030, but delegates said opposition from China, Japan and South Africa had seriously undermined chances of success.

Ambitious and controversial, motion 53 was passed in Honolulu at the World Conservation Congress held by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its nearly 1,400 members who meet in plenary session every four years.Without consensus, and with major nations opposed, delegates said privately the vote could prove to be largely symbolic.

Only about two percent of the world’s oceans are currently designated as marine protected areas. Speaking at the congress opening ceremony on September 1, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, whose atolls are threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, said he “challenged” IUCN to follow the Pacific nation’s example and set the 30 percent target for protected areas where “no extraction activities” would be allowed.

The motion passed with 129 states and government agencies in favour, and 16 against. Among the NGOs, which make up a separate voting category, 621 were for and 37 against.

But strong opposition was raised in pre-vote statements by China, Japan and South Africa, each with substantial marine economic exclusion zones. France spoke in favour, although with reservations, while the United States did not make its position clear. A breakdown of the voting is to be released after the IUCN Congress.

China said the target of 30 percent by 2030 was “too hard for the relevant countries to achieve”. “China values the health of oceans” and wants to extend marine protected areas but the proposal should have focused on the sustainable use of marine resources, rather than the size of area to be protected, a foreign ministry official said.

“The usual interests of China are at play,” shot back a delegate from Costa Rica, noting the theme of the congress was “Planet at a crossroads”, drawing applause from the floor.

Japan said a strict prohibition on human activities was not the way forward. Not enough scientific data existed on the issue and there had not been adequate discussion, a Japanese Ministry of Environment official said. South Africa was also against, saying the “target is way too ambitious and may not be reachable”.

The US has been ambiguous over the issue. Last week Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, said the US had no position on motion 53 and that more scientific analysis was needed over how much of the oceans should be put under protection.

Asked if the US could go further with its clean energy policies and stop oil and gas extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, she told reporters that many businesses and jobs were at stake there. “The Gulf is a very important source of US energy. We can’t just pull out the rug from these companies,” she said.

IUCN resolutions do not carry the weight of law. However, approval by governments and civil society with the backing of extensive scientific expertise make the congress an important platform for formulating and implementing international treaties and domestic legislation. But without consensus, and with major nations opposed, delegates said privately the vote could prove to be largely symbolic.

Delegates said China and others were concerned that the resolution could influence further agreements under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, which calls for 10 percent of coastal and marine areas to be protected by 2020.

The IUCN resolution made clear that the goal was to establish “highly protected” areas “with the ultimate aim of creating a fully sustainable ocean at least 30% of which has no extractive activities”. However, in a gesture to some small Pacific nations heavily reliant on fishing, the resolution adds that this was “subject to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities”.

The congress also calls for the U.N Convention on the Law of the Sea to set about development of a mechanism to ensure “conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”, meaning outside nations’ economic exclusion zones.

Oceans, which make up over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, play an important role in mitigating the impact of climate change, acting as a buffer to absorb carbon emissions and slow the rise in global temperatures. The IUCN Ocean Warming Report released on September 5 said the oceans had prevented a rise of 36 degrees centigrade in global temperatures in the industrial era. Fish also help absorb carbon by depositing it on the ocean floor.

Motion 53 said marine protected areas were “important tools that help conserve the critical habitats, ecosystem services and biodiversity that support human life.” It cited scientific studies that supported “full protection of at least 30% of the ocean…to reverse existing adverse impacts, increase resilience to climate change, and sustain long-term ocean health.”

Some – including conservationists of iconic status such as Professor E.O. Wilson – say 30 percent is not enough. The 87-year-old professor from Alabama argues in his latest book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, that 50 percent of the planet’s surface area should be designated as natural reserves – as inter-connected as possible — to preserve biodiversity.

Wilson, who has a 15-foot male Great White Shark named after him, says fishing in the open seas beyond national boundaries should stop. Setting aside half of the world could save 80 to 90 percent of species, he estimates.

“Half the world is possible,” he told reporters in Honolulu this week. “For oceans it is no big problem,” he said, noting that about half of the ocean’s surface is covered by economic exclusion zones and half were “blue waters”. “That’s basically what it is all about. Do it now. Put half the world aside… And we need to eat much less meat,” he said.

Debate over the concept of “sustainable development” versus outright bans or prohibited activities was a constant theme throughout the IUCN Congress which adopted nearly 100 resolutions, some by consensus.

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Japan and South Africa Try to Block Proposed Ban on Domestic Ivory Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/japan-and-south-africa-try-to-block-proposed-ban-on-domestic-ivory-trade/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 19:02:02 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146849 Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

Ivory crush at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on November 14, 2013. Credit: Robert Segin/USFWS

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 8 2016 (IPS)

Japan and South Africa have ignited a furore at a major conservation congress by coming out against a proposed appeal to all governments to ban domestic trade in elephant ivory.

Elephants in Africa are being killed by poachers for their tusks at the rate of one every 15 minutes, according to the results of the recently released Great Elephant Census. A motion that would seek to halt the domestic trade in ivory was seen as one of the most significant and contentious to be voted by delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.

But Japan and South Africa expressed their opposition to such a ban on Wednesday when a contact group of government and NGO representatives attempted to hammer out an agreed text of a resolution sponsored by the United States and Gabon.

In a sign of the sensitivity over the motion, the media was expelled from the conference hall by the International Union for Conservation of Nature chair of the contact group. Negotiations continued into Wednesday night but the Japanese and South African delegations walked out of the talks after the session decided to stick with the original strong wording of the motion calling for a ban. A vote by the plenary session of the IUCN congress, which convenes every four years, is to be held on Friday.

Conservationists from NGOs pushing for the ban on domestic trade were livid at the attempts by Japan and South Africa, backed apparently at times by Namibia, to significantly water down the motion.

“This is atrocious,” commented Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders and the principal investigator for the Great Elephant Census carried out in 18 countries.

“Six elephants were killed while they were deliberating over one sentence,” said Chase of the first 90-minute session, checking his watch.

Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy for Wildlife Conservation Society, a co-sponsor of the motion on behalf of NGOs, commented: “There is a crisis going on here. People are in denial over the crisis. What good is IUCN if we cannot do something strong on ivory?”

Japan and South Africa say they are just as much for saving Africa’s elephants as everyone else but that the right way forward is through regulated and tightly controlled domestic trade, not a ban.

“Regulating is fiddling while Rome burns,” commented Ms Lieberman.

Naohisa Okuda, director of the Biodiversity Policy Division of Japan’s environment ministry, said a ban was “not appropriate”.

“We have to stop all the illegal trade. It is not necessary to ban legally traded ivory,” he told this reporter, giving the example of ivory imported by Japan before the 1989 ban on international trade in ivory came into force. “The problem is identifying what is legal and what is illegal,” he added. He said the international community should find an effective control system for the trade of ivory, which could be used to benefit conservation of African elephants.

“The Japanese control system is very good and highly effective, as the IUCN recognises,” Okuda said. “Other countries should follow.” However some activists dispute this and question the amount of carved ivory artefacts produced in Japan.

South Africa argues that its elephant populations are stable or even growing and that culls are needed, with the proceeds from ivory sales going to conservation efforts. The government has also held one-off sales of ivory stocks, but activists say these sales have triggered a spike in raids by poachers.

Morgan Griffiths of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa said that despite the sophisticated technology used in Kruger National Park, poachers were increasingly trying to infiltrate from Mozambique where they are driving the elephants to extinction. But South Africa’s conservation efforts are “totally stretched” protecting the endangered rhinoceros from poachers and Griffiths is among those urging the government to accept a ban on all domestic trade.

“One-off sales of ivory will trigger massive outbreaks of poaching,” he said.

Other African countries are calling for the ban on domestic trading of ivory, knowing that as much pressure as possible must be brought to bear on China and Vietnam, the main importers of illegal ivory, to stem demand.

The IUCN, whose voting members include some 1300 NGOs and governments, does not have the legal authority to impose bans on domestic trade. But such an appeal by the world’s most authoritative conservation organisation – if broadly supported — would carry considerable moral weight and put pressure on governments to act.

Motion 7 on ivory is among several contentious issues under debate at the IUCN Congress. Others include proposals to create “No Go” areas, such as indigenous peoples’ sacred sites, with stricter protection laws; to set up marine reserves for 30 percent of the world’s oceans; and policy guidelines for “biodiversity offsets” by industrial companies.

China is by far the biggest consumer of illegally smuggled ivory, much of it passing through Hong Kong and Vietnam. A year ago China and the US announced jointly that they would enact a ban on their respective domestic ivory trade. China has not given a timetable, however, and has remained silent during the debate in Honolulu. Hong Kong says it will ban its domestic trade by 2021.

“It is unconscionable that these animals are being killed for vanity and trinkets. To stop the trade in ivory we have to stop supply and the demand side,” said Tony Banbury, chief philanthropy officer of Vulcan Inc which was set up by billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen and funded the Great Elephant Census.

The Great Elephant Census, an aerial survey that took almost three years and tracked 350,000 square miles, showed that savanna elephant populations in 15 countries had declined by 30 percent – equal to some 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014. The rate of decline is accelerating and is currently running at an annual 8 percent primarily due to poaching, meaning that some 27,000 elephants a year in those countries are being slaughtered for their ivory. Comparative data did not exist for three countries. The sharpest declines were seen in Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

 

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When It Comes to Conservation, Size Mattershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:58:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146835 A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

When the communities living in the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park in the west of Colombia organised in 1996 to defend their land and preserve the ecosystem, they were fighting deforestation, soil degradation and poaching.

Twenty years later, local residents, farmers and community organisations have created four reserves, a brand of coffee and a community radio station, while making progress in conservation of this part of the Chocó-Darién conservation corridor along the border with Panama, although threats persist.

“One of the factors is sustaining the reserves in the long-term and generating benefits for local communities,” said César Franco, founder and director of the community environmental organisation Corporación Serraniagua.“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects.” -- Grethel Aguilar

The ecologist told IPS that “everything is under threat,” especially from megaprojects, like gold mining and oil prospecting, the loss of secure tenure on community-owned land, and the encroachment of agribusiness plantations, “which destroy family systems.”

Serraniagua is a collective of owners of nature reserves, associations of agrecological farmers, rural women’s networks, and local environmental groups in an area of 2,500 sq km inhabited by some 40,000 people, including indigenous and black communities.

The work of Franco and his fellow activists earned them one of the 15 prizes awarded to “Hotspot Heroes” for their outstanding conservation efforts, by the U.S. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Honolulu, Hawaii in the first 10 days of September.

The case of the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park shows the importance of small-scale protection efforts that benefit the environment and local residents, in comparison to large-scale infrastructure works and their enormous impact on ecosystems.

Local action is one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this occasion it is hosted by the U.S. state of Hawaii, and has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, which groups 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism.

Three of the resolutions address conservation and the impact of major infrastructure projects like highways, hydroelectric dams, ports, mines and oil drilling.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the northwest Mexican state of Nayarit, Heidy Orozco, executive director of the non-governmental Nuiwari Centre for Social Development and Sustainability, emphasises the advantages of allowing the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing river in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre mountains, to remain dam-free.

“The area contains sacred places, mangroves and a biosphere reserve,” the activist, who lives near the river, told IPS in Honolulu. “It is still considered an area of biological and cultural wealth.”

Small farmers produce crops along the middle stretch of the river, while fishing communities make a living on the lower parts.

But the local ecosystem and agriculture, livestock and fisheries are under threat by the government CFE power utility’s plans to build the Las Cruces hydropower dam 65 km north of the city of Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.

The plant is to have an installed capacity of 240 MW and a 188-metre-high dam with a reservoir covering 5,349 hectares.

The Náyeri Indigenous Council and the Intercommunity Council of the San Pedro River, which emerged to fight construction of the dam, complain that it would hurt the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive mangrove forest system along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

They also complain that it would destroy 14 sacred sites and ceremonial centres of the Náyeri or Cora indigenous people, the Huichol or Wixáritari people, and the Tepehuán people.

In addition, it would flood the town of San Blasito.

The dam’s environmental impact study acknowledges that subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising would be lost in the area, but says it would be replaced by new opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.

In Bolivia, small-scale community conservation initiatives coexist dangerously with the construction of megaprojects.

For example, in a mine in the Natural Integrated Management Area of San Matías, in Bolivia’s Pantanal region in the department of Santa Cruz along the border with Brazil, only one hectare has been used over the last 10 years to mine ametrine, also known as bolivianite, a kind of quartz that is a mixture of amethyst and citrine.

This small-scale mine contrasts with the large-scale gold mining in the north of the country.

“Small-scale development is a solution. A number of lessons have been learned, such as the need for benefit-sharing, the creation of effective conservation mechanisms, and respect for laws and agreements that have been reached,” Carmen Miranda, Amazon region coordinator with the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), told IPS.

In Guatemala, Q’eqchí communities near the Lachuá Lagoon National Park, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, have restored the forest, grow organic cacao which benefits 150 farmers and their families, to be expanded to 500 this year, produce honey, and make sustainable use of the forest.

“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects,” said Grethel Aguilar, the regional coordinator of the IUCN office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Citing an example for IPS, she said that next January the IUCN would launch a project in the jungle in the south of Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize, with close to nine million dollars in financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), to protect the forest and offer productive opportunities for local residents, who are mainly indigenous.

Franco said “we want to expand the areas under community management. Serraniagua proposes identifying key actions for conserving the forests, which protect the water sources of rural communities.”

Orozco, who is waging her battle a few hundred kilometres to the north, is not willing to accept any hydropower dam. “We will not benefit economically. We want development, public works that will take care of the water, but that don’t affect our culture and identity,” said the activist, whose network has brought several lawsuits against the Las Cruces dam.

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Without Indigenous People, Conservation Is a Halfway Measurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 19:18:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146793 Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

“You don’t convert your own house in a tourist site,” said Oussou Lio Appolinaire, an activist from Benin, wearing a traditional outfit in vivid yellows and greens. He was referring to opening up to tourists places that are sacred to indigenous people.

Appolinaire, who belongs to the Gun people in the West African country of Benin, heads the indigenous-led sustainable rural development NGO GRABE-Benin. He told IPS that “People suffer displacement from sacred sites. If we lose knowledge, we lose ourselves. The sacred is like life. Conservation is the respect of natural law, of every single element in nature.”“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people' rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected.” -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Thanks to the work of GRABE-Benin and other organisations, the government of Benin approved Interministerial Order No.0121 – the first law of its kind in Africa, which protects sacred forests, granting them legal recognition as protected areas that must be sustainably managed.

Benin has more than 2,900 sacred forests, only 90 of which have so far been formally protected.

Appolinaire’s demand for greater participation by indigenous groups in conservation is being voiced by indigenous representatives in the World Conservation Congress, running Sep.1-10 in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. Pacific Ocean state of Hawaii.

This year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

Indigenous representatives in Honolulu are focusing on problems related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the 20 points contained in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

An assessment carried out in May by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the CBD expressed concern over the scant progress made with respect to capacity-building and participation regarding the biodiversity targets among indigenous and local communities.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 14 states that “By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.”

Target 18 refers to respect for “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources.”

Target 11 is for “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas,” to be conserved by 2020. But indigenous people are worried that this will run counter to respect for their rights in their traditional ancestral lands.

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

“We agree with conservation, but what needs to be discussed is conservation with rights, exercised by indigenous people,” said Julio Cusurichi, the president of the Peruvian NGO Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) and representative of the Shipibo-Conibo community.

“The government has created natural areas in our territories and they are limiting our activities,” he told IPS. “It would seem that indigenous people are obstacles and have to be removed from our territories.”

In the southeastern department of Madre de Dios in Peru’s Amazon jungle region, 60 percent of the highly biodiverse territory is a natural protected area. It is also home to some 10,000 people belonging to seven of the country’s 54 indigenous groups.

One of the common problems is the tendency of governments to create protected areas in indigenous areas, without a proper consultation process.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, made up of governments and NGOs, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism. Of the 99 resolutions, only eight mention indigenous people.

“There is little participation in the implementation of conservation policies; just because an indigenous person heads up an office doesn’t mean indigenous people are participating,” complained Dolores Cabnal, a member of the Q’eqchí community who is director of policy advocacy in the Guatemalan NGO Ak’Tenamit Association.

Her NGO is active in the eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, where there are three natural protected areas that are home to both indigenous and black communities. In these areas, local residents depend on agriculture and fishing, which leads to clashes with the authorities because the law on nature reserves makes these activities illegal.

Activists and experts agree that it will be difficult to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets without the involvement of native peoples.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous people of the Philippines, complained that states are ignoring the role of native people.

In visits to Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Norway, Paraguay and Sweden, Tauli-Corpuz found violations of the rights to free, prior, and informed consultation, traditional lands, participation, natural resources, compensation for damage, and cultural rights.

“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people’ rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected,” the special rapporteur said during a meeting with indigenous people in Honolulu.

An estimated 50 percent of the world’s protected natural areas have been established on indigenous lands. The proportion is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries like the Philippines, India and Nepal in Asia, and Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania in Africa.

“The problems of indigenous peoples are not only of one country, they’re global. We have to recognise indigenous law, we can’t change laws of nature,” said Appolinaire.

FENAMAD’s Cusurichi, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, calls for co-management by governments and local communities. “We need secure land tenure and it must include resource management and food security,” he said.

In Guatemala, indigenous organisations plan to present a draft law in Congress for the regulation of their rights, natural protected areas, and extractive activities.

Cabnal said the government should study which peoples are in natural protected areas, why they are there and what they need, rather than trying to drive them out.”

The concerns expressed in Honolulu will also be presented at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

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Big Oil and Activists Unite to Protect Endangered Whaleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 15:37:00 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146790 Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

A rare case of intensive and decade-long collaboration between Big Oil, scientists and environmental activists has been hailed as a success story in protecting an endangered species of whale from extinction.

In the early 2000s, the western grey whale was thought to number about 115 off the island of Sakhalin in the Russian Far East where they would spend the ice-free summer months feeding before their winter migration. Sakhalin Energy, then majority-owned by Shell, announced plans to expand its oil and gas operations in those waters, kicking off a fierce campaign by NGOs, including WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others.We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it.” -- Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International

Protests failed to halt Sakhalin Energy but the NGOs crucially succeeded in persuading international banks to place tough conditions on their loans to the company. This included working with an independent group of scientists for the duration of the loans and projects to mitigate the impact on the whales.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature – the world’s largest environmental association of governments and NGOs – convened and administered what became known as the Western Grey Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) made up of 13 independent scientists. That was in 2004. Ten years later and the grey whale population was estimated to have grown to 175.

This week, the IUCN, holding its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, hailed the panel as a “fantastic example” of conservation and how business and environmentalists can work together. NGOs involved in the project agree.

“As an NGO it has been a journey. We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it,” Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International, told a news conference.

What could have become a catastrophe has been a success, she said, calling on other financial institutions to follow this model in imposing conditions when lending to projects that impact bio-diversity.

Stewart Maginnis, IUCN global director of the Nature-based Solutions Group that oversaw the panel, noted that 90 percent of the panel’s 539 recommendations to Sakhalin Energy had been implemented, superseded or were no longer applicable. Crucial proposals that were accepted included changing the route of a proposed pipeline and adopting recommendations for seismic surveys. However it also took another fierce campaign by NGOs in 2011 to persuade Sakhalin Energy not to start building a third platform.

During the panel’s work, monitoring of one female whale, named Varvara by the scientists, found she had migrated in November 2011 from Sakhalin Island across the Pacific to Alaska and all the way south to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula – a journey of 10,880 km, the longest recorded one-way migration of any mammal.

Maginnis stressed that the critical element in the panel’s success was its freedom and independence to draw up conclusions that were transparent – a process that involved NGO observers attending its plenary meetings with the company.

Deric Quaile, manager of Environmentally Sensitive Areas in Shell, now a minority shareholder in Sakhalin Energy, called the process “fantastic” and an important part of Shell’s “journey” to improve its environmental performance.

“This panel has brought the right balance of knowledge, credibility and authority to advise in an environmentally challenging and sensitive area,” he said. “It shows business and conservation can work together.”

He said the panel experience since 2004 had helped bring about a “shift” in Shell’s approach to environmental issues. “There was a lot of mistrust and disbelief and it took a lot of time in Shell for engineers to realise that it was very useful and made good business sense. Good environmental management is a good business proposition.”

He acknowledged it had been a slow process for the company, but argued that Shell had made strides.

“Responsible environmental management is engrained in the DNA of our corporate culture,” he said.

Such a claim, however, has been hotly challenged.

Shell came under huge pressure from environmental groups before it announced last year it would abandon its Arctic oil operations, having sunk some 7 billion dollars in exploratory drilling. Its public statement blamed a tough regulatory environment by the U.S. but analysts said it was clear other factors were at play, including widespread public opposition and falling oil prices.

And last November, Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development accused Shell of making “blatantly false” claims to have cleaned up heavily polluted areas of the Niger Delta at four oil spill sites.

“By inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades,” Amnesty International said.

A similar panel to WGWAP and also administered by IUCN is working in the Niger Delta advising on oil spill clean-up operations, involving Shell.

Maginnis said the model of WGWAP was “effective and replicable for conflict resolution, to reconcile economic development and conservation.”

However, Elliott of WWF-International warned that in the case of Sakhalin the western grey whale population remained small and that “success is very fragile”.

“There is a situation jeopardising this success,” she said, accusing U.S. oil giant Exxon of putting the western grey whale at risk with its plans to build a pier in one of the Sakhalin island lagoons where the whales feed.

“The panel expressed extensive concerns over this development but they fell on deaf ears,” she said. Experts say the pier is not necessary and an alternative exists.

NGO observers found that Exxon was disregarding its own guidelines, for example by operating boats at speed at night with the danger of hitting whales, Elliott said. She called on Exxon to drop its objections and join the panel.

Exxon did not respond to a request for comment by IPS.

WWF, in an earlier report, quoted Exxon as saying its subsidiary’s plans met Russian environmental requirements, had been approved by the authorities and had all the necessary permits. Operations would start, Exxon said.

IPS asked Maginnis if there was a danger that such panels administered by IUCN could be seen as giving the green light for energy companies to operate in areas where environmentalists would argue that no drilling at all should take place.

Maginnis replied that the IUCN would not endorse such a scientific panel for extractive operations in World Heritage Sites, which he described as “No Go” areas for development. But, in other areas, if governments gave licences and banks gave loans, then the IUCN urged pragmatism.

“There are some clear cases where we would say ‘no’. But we must be pragmatic. Without the (western grey whale) panel, there would have been a continuous decline in population numbers,” he said.

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Eastern Gorilla, Our ‘Closest Cousin’, Added to Endangered Species Listhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list/#comments Sun, 04 Sep 2016 22:26:42 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146779 Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. Photo courtesy of IUCN

Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. Photo courtesy of IUCN

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 4 2016 (IPS)

Our closest cousin in the animal world, the Eastern Gorilla, is sliding towards extinction because of illegal hunting, the IUCN announced today in the latest update of its Red List of Threatened Species.

“Today is a sad day as the Red List shows we are wiping out our closest relative,” Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, told a news conference in Honolulu where the IUCN is holding its World Conservation Congress.“We are losing species at a faster pace than ever." -- Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature

The Eastern Gorilla, the largest living primate found in the rainforests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, was moved from Endangered into the Critically Endangered category – one step away from extinction.

The Eastern Gorilla, made up of two sub-species, has suffered a devastating population decline of more than 70 percent in two years and is now estimated to number fewer than 5,000, IUCN said. Its greatest threat is illegal hunting. Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. The other two – chimpanzees and bonobo – are listed as Endangered.

The IUCN Red List, updated twice a year, now covers some 82,954 species on our planet, of which 23,928 are threatened with extinction. The target is to increase that coverage to 160,000 species by 2020. The list is seen as a “barometer of life” and is the world’s most comprehensive source of information on the global conservation status of plants, animal and fungi species. The list plays a major role in influencing government and civil society on conservation goals and policies.

“We are losing species at a faster pace than ever,” Andersen said. The latest findings made it imperative for governments, scientists and society at large to reverse the trend, she said.

The latest update did reveal some progress, however, particularly in China, thanks to the Chinese government’s efforts to stop illegal hunting and the degradation of habitats.

The Giant Panda, perhaps the conservation movement’s most iconic animal and the logo of WWF, was moved down one category to the status of Vulnerable from Endangered. The Tibetan Antelope, its hide prized in the international luxury shawl market, was classified as Near Threatened rather than Endangered.

IUCN said the Giant Panda population had grown due to effective forest protection and reforestation and a successful linking up of previously separated panda populations. Hunting was also reduced. However the IUCN warned that some scientific models predicted that climate change would eliminate more than 35 percent of the panda’s bamboo habitat over the next 80 years, reversing the gains made over the last two decades.

“The Chinese government’s plan to expand existing conservation policy for the species is a positive step and must be strongly supported to ensure its effective implementation,” IUCN said.

Developed countries with greater funding had a stronger record of protecting species and it was noteworthy that the Chinese government and people were having success, commented Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN species survival commission.

Joseph Walston of the Wildlife Conservation Society which was involved with efforts to protect the Tibetan Antelope, noted that its population – which collapsed from around one million to some 70,000 in the 1980s and 1990s – had been threatened because of demand for its products in luxury markets outside China.

“China did something about it. This is an important precursor,” he said. He expressed the hope that China would now play a positive role in saving species of other countries that were threatened because of demand inside China. Just one notable example is the pangolin – an ant-eating creature whose meat is prized on the dinner table and its scales in medicine.

“China is a net consumer of the world’s wildlife at the moment,” Walston told IPS. “We all did it,” he added, noting how Britain and the United States had been huge destroyers of species during their period of industrialisation and rapid economic growth. He said the emergence of middle classes and a consciousness about the importance of nature and environment had been a critical factor in the west. “This process is starting in China, but too slowly,” he commented.

Carlo Rondinini, a biologist at Rome’s La Sapienza University working for the IUCN Red List, warned that the trend for mammals was still downward.

“We are the only species of Great Ape not threatened with extinction,” he said.

The latest update showed that the once abundant Plains Zebra, hunted for its meat and hide, had been reduced by about a quarter over the past 14 years to just over 500,000 animals. IUCN moved it to Near Threatened from Least Concern. Three species of antelope in Africa were also added to Near Threatened.

But one other success story in the animal world was Australia’s Greater Stick-nest Rat, a unique nest-building rodent whose resin is so strong that it can last for 1000 years if not exposed to water. A successful species recovery plan, involving reintroductions and some movements to predator-free areas, took the species from Vulnerable to Near Threatened. The Bridled Nailtail Wallaby also moved down a category, from Endangered to Vulnerable, after a successful but expensive translocation conservation programme.

IUCN experts noted that such programmes involved considerable funding and effort, underscoring the need for the world to put more financing into conservation.

Hawaii, which is hosting the congress, held every four years, is seeing a rapid loss of its biodiversity, especially in plant life because of the introduction of invasive species. The Red List update assessed 38 of Hawaii’s endemic plant species as extinct, with four others listed as Extinct in the Wild, meaning they only occur in cultivation.

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