Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 25 Oct 2014 15:11:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Climate Negotiators “Sleepwalking” in Bonnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 21:44:14 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137327 Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, will only increase without aggressive mitigation actions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, will only increase without aggressive mitigation actions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The 410,000 people who took to the streets for climate action in New York City during the U.N. Climate Summit would have been outraged by the 90-minute delay and same-old political posturing at the first day of a crucial round of climate treaty negotiations in Bonn at the World Congress Center.

Countries blatantly ignored organisers’pleas to keep their opening statements short in order to get to work during the last week of talks before COP 20 in Lima, Peru Dec. 1-12. “Only a global social movement will force nations to act.” -- Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

COP 20 is where a draft climate treaty intended to prevent catastrophic overheating of the planet will take form. One year later, the leaders of nearly 200 countries are to sign a new climate treaty in Paris. If the treaty is not strong enough to ensure that countries rapidly abandon fossil fuels, then hundreds of millions will suffer and nations will collapse.

The current draft treaty is nowhere near strong enough, and country negotiators are “sleepwalking”in Bonn while “the climate science only gets more dire,”Hilary Chiew from Third World Network, a civil society organisation, told negotiators here.

Delegates are used to one or two official “interventions”by the public which are strictly time-limited and often no more than 90 seconds. Despite the passion and eloquence of many of these, few officials are moved and most can do little but follow instructions given them weeks ago by their governments.

“Sticking to positions is not negotiating,”meeting co-chair Kishan Kumarsingh of Trinidad and Tobago reminded negotiators.

There are very few members of the public and civil society in Bonn to witness how many countries’stuck to their short-term, self-interested positions than in facing humanity’s greatest ever challenge. After 20 years, these negotiations have become ‘business as usual’ themselves and seem set to continue another 20 years.

“Only a global social movement will force nations to act,”said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber,  director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Schellnhuber, a leading climate expert and former science advisor to the German government, is not in Bonn but participated in September’s U.N. Climate Summit in New York along with leaders from 120 nations. The Summit was all rhetoric and no commitments to action, yet again, he told IPS.

Without the People’s Climate March, the U.N. Summit was a failure, while the march – with 410,000 people on the streets of Manhattan – was “awesome”and “inspiring”, he said.

The two-degree C target is the only thing all nations have agreed on. Although a two-degree C rise in global temperatures is “unprecedented in human history”, it is far better than three C or worse, he said.

Achieving the two C target is still possible, according to a report by leading climate and energy experts. The Tackling the Challenge of Climate Change report outlines various steps, including increased energy efficiency in all sectors — building retrofits, for example, can achieve 70-90 percent reductions.

An effective price on carbon is also needed, one that reflects the enormous health and environmental costs of burning fossil fuels. Massive increases in wind and solar PV and closing down all ineffecient coal plants is also crucial.

Most important of all, governments need to make climate a priority. Germany and Denmark are well along this path to creating low-carbon economies and benefiting from less pollution and creation of a new economic sector, the report notes.

Making climate a top priority for all governments will take a global social movement involving tens of millions of people. Once the business sector realises the transition to a low-carbon world is underway, they will push governments to create policies needed for a low-carbon societies.

“Solutions to climate change are the biggest business opportunity in history,” Schellnhuber said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Nagoya Protocol: A Treaty Waiting to Happenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:13:10 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137324 Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For over 20 years, Mote Bahadur Pun of Nepal’s western Myagdi district has been growing ‘Paris polyphylla’ – a Himalayan herb used to cure pain, burns and fevers.

Once every six months, a group of traders from China arrive at Pun’s house and buys several kilos of the herb. In return, Pun gets “a lump sum of 5,000 to 6,000 Nepalese rupees [about 50 dollars],” he tells IPS.

But ask Pun who these traders are and what they plan to do with bulk quantities of Paris polyphylla, listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and he stares blankly.

“This is a medicinal herb, so I assume they use it to make medicines,” is his only explanation.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help [states] bring down the cost of biological conservation." -- CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza
In fact, trade in Paris polyphylla has been banned since it falls under the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area in Nepal covering over 7,600 square kilometres in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.

From ancient times local communities have utilised the herb to cure a range of ills, but traders like those who come knocking at Pun’s door are either unaware or unconcerned that Paris polyphylla represents centuries of indigenous knowledge, and is thus protected under a little-known international treaty called the Nagoya Protocol.

Adopted in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in Japan, the agreement “provides a transparent legal framework for […] the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.”

Designed to prevent exploitation of people like Pun by traders who buy traditional medicinal resources for a paltry sum before turning huge profits from the sale of cosmetics or medicines derived from these species, the treaty covers all genetic resources including plants, herbs, animals and microorganisms.

Impressive in its scope, the protocol has hitherto largely been confined to paper. This year, however, at the recently concluded COP 12, which ran from Oct. 6-17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, scores of experts agreed to put the provisions of the treaty front and center in efforts to preserve biological diversity worldwide.

With support from 54 countries – four more than the mandatory 50 ratifications required to bring the treaty into effect – the Nagoya Protocol will now form a crucial component of the post-2015 development agenda, as the world charts a more sustainable path forward for humanity and the planet.

‘Biopiracy’

According to environmentalists and scientists, the Nagoya Protocol could help curb ‘biopiracy’, broadly defined as the misappropriation of traditional or indigenous knowledge through the system of international patents that primarily benefit large multinationals in developed countries.

For instance, a pharmaceutical company that develops and sells herbal-based medicines will now – under the terms of the protocol – be required to share a portion of its profits with the country from which the resources, or the traditional knowledge governing the resources, originate.

In turn, these earnings are expected to help low-income countries finance conservation efforts.

A clause on access also provides mechanisms for local communities or countries to limit or restrict the use or extraction of a particular resource.

These clauses guard against biopiracy of the kind that was witnessed in the 1870s when the British explorer Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds from Brazil, which were subsequently dispatched as seedlings to plantations across South and Southeast Asia, thus breaking the Brazilian monopoly over the rubber trade.

Nearly a century later, in the 1970s, Brazil again fell victim to biopiracy when the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Squibb used venom from the fangs of the jararaca, a pit viper endemic to Brazil, in the creation of captopril, a medication used to treat hypertension.

The New York Times reported that the drug earned the company revenues of 1.6 billion dollars in 1991, but Brazil itself did not see a cent of these profits.

The potential success of the treaty hangs on the support it receives in the international arena. So far, two-thirds of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have failed to ratify the protocol, representing what some have referred to as a “missed opportunity”.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help the parties bring down the cost of biological conservation,” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza told IPS, adding, however, that nothing will be possible until nations make the agreement legally binding.

Brazil, home to the world’s largest rainforest that is considered a mine of genetic resources, is yet to throw its weight behind the Nagoya agreement, a move experts say would benefit over three million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon.

Roberto Cavalcanti, secretary for biodiversity in the Brazilian environment ministry, informed IPS that President Dilma Rousseff has submitted the legislation under an urgency provision, so it’s now in the top three pieces of legislation pending approval by Congress.

“We anticipate that with the approval of Brazil’s new domestic Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) legislation, there will be a good environment for the ratification of the Protocol,” he added.

The government has already begun the task of informing local communities about the merits of the Nagoya Protocol and its economic benefits for generations to come.

The work is being done in collaboration with the environmental conservation organisation Grupo de Trabalho Amazonico, which is helping to educate communities around the country.

Since January this year, the organisation has helped over 10,000 locals put together a set of rules called Protocolo Communitaro (Community Protocols), which promotes preservation and sustainable use of forests and water sources, including medicinal plants and fish.

Missing skills

Unlike Brazil, several other countries are struggling to pave the way for ratification of the Protocol, largely due to a lack of technical and economic capacity.

This past June, the CBD organised a workshop in Uganda where several African states could learn more about the treaty and its ABS mechanism.

Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to a huge reserve of genetic resources and biological diversity including the world’s second largest rainforest, attended the workshop and admitted to being constrained by financial and technical limitations in implementing international agreements.

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Nayoko Ishii told IPS her office stands ready to increase financial support to developing countries that lack capacity.

The GEF’s 15-million-dollar Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) has already begun to support global initiatives, including a 4.4-million-dollar project to help Panama operationalise the ABS mechanism.

However, Ishii added, demand for the support has to come from within.

“Every country has a different degree of capacity. People come to us with a plan to build a particular skill in a particular area and there are of course specific programs for that.

“But I would encourage them to look at the entire strategy as one big capacity building investment [and] use that money wisely, to better manage their protected area systems [and] their administrative structures,” she concluded. 

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: The Politics of Biodiversity Losshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:43:50 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137321 Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), coastal birds in Sonora, Mexico. Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), coastal birds in Sonora, Mexico. Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

To mainstream biodiversity concerns into development planning, we must offer a compelling rationale and demonstrate biodiversity’s relevance to wealth generation, job creation and general human wellbeing. Only a persuasive “why” resonating throughout society will successfully get us to urgently needed negotiations of who, what, where, when and how to halt disastrous biodiversity loss.

Experts in a broad span of disciplines — taxonomists, agronomists, social scientists, climate scientists, economists and others — are working together to arm the public and their policymakers with relevant evidence on which to base decisions.A need quickly became apparent for a sustained, ongoing mechanism to bridge the gap between policymaking and the scientific world’s ever-accumulating insights.

Scientists have authoritatively established links between biodiversity and climate change, food security, water security, energy security and human security.

In 2005, with input from more than 1,000 experts worldwide, we published the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, elevating the issues to policymakers and decision-makers as never before. It was hailed for its success as a platform to deliver clear, valuable, policy-relevant consensus on the state, trends and outlooks of biodiversity.

A need quickly became apparent for a sustained, ongoing mechanism to bridge the gap between policymaking and the scientific world’s ever-accumulating insights. In response, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in 2012.

IPBES’ initial deliverables included a policy-support tool based on the economic values of biodiversity, a fast-track assessment on pollination services and food production, insights into the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, and a global assessment of the overall state of biodiversity and ecosystem services. IPBES also aims to integrate indigenous and local knowledge systems in its work.

The dollar values of biodiversity and ecosystem services are difficult but not impossible to quantify. In 1997, experts estimated the global value of ecosystem services at an average of 33 trillion dollars per year. An update this year of that study nearly quadrupled the estimated annual value of those services to 125 trillion dollars.

Within that number, for example, is the 2010 estimate by economists that the planet’s 63 million hectares of wetlands provide some 3.4 billion dollars in storm protection, food and other services to humans each year. And, a large portion of the 640-billion-dollar pharmaceutical market relies on genetic resources found in nature, with anti-cancer agents from marine organisms alone valued at up to one billion dollars annually.

The loss of biodiversity through deforestation, meanwhile, is estimated to cost the global economy up to 4.5 trillion dollars every year.

The fast-track assessment on pollination services will address profoundly worrisome changes in the health of bees and other pollinator populations, the services of which underpin extremely valuable — some might say invaluable — food production.

The assessment of the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity will address the ecological, economic, social and cultural importance of mainly harvested and traded biodiversity-related products and wild species.

The IPBES global assessment of biodiversity and its many benefits will build on Global Biodiversity Outlook reports, the latest of which this month urged the world to step up efforts to meet agreed-upon biodiversity targets for 2020.

We have generated much knowledge and continue to add to it. Achieving our sustainable development goals, however, depends on the successful application and sharing of that knowledge.

A workshop last November concluded most nations, unanimously committed to protecting biodiversity, nevertheless lack capacity to measure and assess their genetic and biological resources, or to value key ecosystem services. Helping remedy that capacity shortfall is a core function of IPBES.

Communicating our findings will also be critical in mainstreaming this agenda, using both conventional and new social media platforms, framing the issue as one of development rather than of strictly conservation.

All stakeholders — the business community, in particular — must be engaged, and we must incorporate biodiversity studies at every educational level.

Speaking of his admiration of Malaysia’s towering Cengal tree, his nation’s equivalent to the magnificent California Redwood, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently noted: “Such giants may take centuries to reach their awe-inspiring height and girth, but can be felled in less than a few hours by an unscrupulous timber contractor with a chainsaw.”

Such outstanding monuments of nature are, indeed, so much more valuable than their wood fibre — they engender a sense of pride in our natural heritage.

This appreciation will, I believe and hope, ultimately draw the interest of our most brilliant minds and drive the innovative, nature-based solutions to global challenges on which future generations will depend.

The promising U.N. discussions of post-2015 global development goals should help put biodiversity where it belongs at the heart of the agenda — recognised as a prerequisite for poverty alleviation, good health, food and water security, and more. As we design an age of sustainable development, let us recognise that maintaining a biodiverse world is not a hindrance to development, it is fundamental to development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Panama’s Indigenous People Want to Harness the Riches of Their Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:58 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137302 Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

By Emilio Godoy
PANAMA CITY, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For indigenous people in Panama, the rainforest where they live is not only their habitat but also their spiritual home, and their link to nature and their ancestors. The forest holds part of their essence and their identity.

“Forests are valuable to us because they bring us benefits, but not just oxygen,” Emberá chief Cándido Mezúa, the president of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP), told Tierramérica.

“It is organic matter, minerals in the forest floor, forms of life related to the customs of indigenous peoples,” added Mezúa, the seniormost chief of one of Panama’s seven native communities, who live in five collectively-owned indigenous territories or “comarcas”.

In this tropical Central American country, indigenous people manage the forests in their territories through community forestry companies (EFCs). But Mezúa complained about the difficulties in setting up the EFCs, which ends up hurting the forests and the welfare of their guardians, the country’s indigenous communities.

Of Panama’s 3.8 million people, 417,000 are indigenous, and they live on 16,634 sq km – 20 percent of the national territory.

According to a map published in April by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), drawn up with the support of United Nations agencies, 62 percent of the national territory – 46,800 sq km – is covered in forest.

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

And this Central American country has 104 protected areas that cover 35 percent of the national territory of 75,517 sq km.

But each year 200 sq km of forests are lost, warns ANAM.

The EFCs “are an effort that has not been well-developed. They merely extract wood; the value chain has not been developed, and the added value ends up outside the comarca,” said Mezúa, the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan comarca on the border with Colombia, where his ethnic group also lives, as well as in Ecuador.

The indigenous leader said the EFCs help keep the forests standing in the long term, with rotation systems based on the value of the different kinds of wood in the management areas. “But it is the big companies that reap the benefits. The comarcas do not receive credit and can’t put their land up as collateral; they depend on development aid,” he complained.

Only five EFCs are currently operating, whose main activity is processing wood.

In 2010, two indigenous comarcas signed a 10-year trade agreement with the Panamanian company Green Life Investment to supply it with raw materials. But they only extract 2,755 cubic metres a year of wood.

The average yield in the comarcas is 25 cubic metres of wood per sq km and a total of around 8,000 cubic metres of wood are extracted annually in the indigenous comarcas, bringing in some 275,000 dollars in revenue.

In five years, the plan is to have 2,000 sq km of managed forests, the indigenous leader explained.

The government’s Programme for Indigenous Business Development (PRODEI) has provided these projects with just over 900,000 dollars.

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

But only a small proportion of forests in indigenous territories is managed. Of the 9,944 forest permits issued by ANAM in 2013, only 732 went to the comarcas.

Looking to U.N. REDD

In Mezúa’s view, the hope for indigenous people is that the EFCs will be bolstered by the U.N. climate change mitigation action plan, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

“We want to pay for the conservation and sustainable use of forests,” the coordinator of REDD+ in Panama, Gabriel Labbate, told Tierramérica. “It is of critical importance to find a balance between conservation and development. But REDD+ will not resolve the forest crisis by itself.”

REDD+ Panama is currently preparing the country for the 2014-2017 period and designing the platform for making the initiative public, the grievance and redress mechanism, the review of the governance structures, and the first steps for the operational phase, which should start in June 2015.

UN-REDD was launched in 2007 and has 56 developing country partners. Twenty-one of them are drawing up national plans, for which they received a combined total of 67.8 million dollars. The Latin American countries included in this group are Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay.

Because forests trap carbon from the atmosphere and store it in tree trunks and the soil, it is essential to curb deforestation in order to reduce the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

Panama’s indigenous people believe that because of the position that trees occupy in their worldview, they are in a unique position to participate in REDD+, which incorporates elements like conservation, improvement of carbon storage and the sustainable management of forests.

But in February 2013, their representatives withdrew from the pilot programme, arguing that it failed to respect their right to free, prior and informed consultation, undermined their collective right to land, and violated the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

They only returned in December, after the government promised to correct the problems they had protested about.

In REDD+ there should be a debate on “the safeguards, the benefits, the price of carbon, regulations on carbon management, and legal guarantees in indigenous territories,” Mazúa said.

“We want an indigenous territory climate fund to be established, which would make it possible for indigenous people to decide how to put a value on it from our point of view and how it translates into economic value,” the chief said.

“The idea is for the money to go to the communities, but it is a question of volume and financing,” said Labbate, who is also in charge of the Poverty-Environment Initiative of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.N. Development Programme.

Poverty and the environment are inextricably linked to Panama’s indigenous people. According to statistics published Sept. 28 by the government and the U.N., Panama’s overall poverty rate is 27.6 percent, but between 70 and 90 percent of indigenous families are poor.

Indigenous representatives are asking to be included in the distribution of the international financing that Panama will receive for preserving the country’s forests.

They also argue that the compensation should not only be linked to the protection of forests and carbon capture in the indigenous comarcas, but that it should be part of an environmental policy that would make it possible for them to engage in economic activities and fight poverty.

Indigenous leaders believe that their forests are the tool for reducing the inequality gap between them and the rest of Panamanian society. “But they have to support us for that to happen, REDD is just part of the aid strategy, but the most important thing is the adoption of legislation to guarantee our territorial rights in practice,” Mazúa said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Protecting Biodiversity in Costa Rica’s Thermal Convection Dome in the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:14:11 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137280 The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

The vast habitat known as the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome in the eastern Pacific Ocean will finally become a protected zone, over 50 years after it was first identified as one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

At the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12), held Oct. 6–17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Dome was declared an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA), at Costa Rica’s request.

The measure will boost conservation of and research on the area, which is a key migration and feeding zone for species like the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis).

“Making the ocean healthy guarantees an improvement in the living standards of the people who depend in one way or another on the country’s marine resources,” the deputy minister of water, oceans, coasts and wetlands, Fernando Mora, told Tierramérica shortly after the Dome was declared an EBSA at COP12.

“It is one of the richest areas on the planet with a food chain that starts with krill (Euphausiacea), which attracts other species, including blue whales and dolphins,” Jorge Jiménez, the director general of the MarViva Foundation, told Tierramérica.

“In that area is one of the greatest concentrations of dolphins in the American Pacific, that come from the west coast of California, to feed and breed,” he said.

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is an area 300 to 500 km wide where ocean and wind currents bring the mineral- and nutrient-rich cold deeper water to the surface, creating the perfect ecosystem for a vast variety of marine life.

The nutrients give rise to a highly developed food chain, ranging from phytoplankton and zooplankton – the productive base of the marine food web – to mammals like dolphins and blue whales, which migrate from the waters off the coast of California.

Because the dome is a mobile phenomenon caused by wind and sea currents, for half of the year it is just off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast (in the area of Papagayo, in the northwest of the country) and during the other half of the year it is blown further out to sea. The centre of the dome is 300 km from the coast of this Central American nation.

“It is one of the six biodiversity-rich domes of this kind in the world,” Omar Lizano, a physicist and oceanographer, told Tierramérica. “The Costa Rican dome is the only one that is produced by the force of the wind that comes from the Caribbean and picks up speed over the Pacific, and makes the deeper water rise to the surface, which brings up a lot of rich nutrients.”

In an initiative backed by MarViva and other organisations, the Costa Rican government decided that the “upwelling system of Papagayo and adjacent areas” will be an EBSA in the tropical eastern Pacific.

Some civil society organisations have proposed regional initiatives involving the area, which they sometimes refer to as the Central American dome. But deputy minister Mora said the dome is a Costa Rican phenomenon.

He pointed out that the scientific term for the area is the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome, the name it was given by U.S. physical oceanographer Klaus Wyrtki. In 1948 he began to study marine mammal sightings made from boats navigating from California to Panama.

For the local authorities, conservation of the dome and the Papagayo upwelling system is among the priorities in the waters of the Pacific, because protecting the ecosystem brings economic benefits. Approval of the declaration of the dome as an EBSA by the 194 CBD signatory countries now makes protection of the area obligatory, said the deputy minister.

In the case of exploitable species like tuna, the ministry of the environment and energy (MINAE) has drawn up a zoning decree that would make it possible to regulate tuna fishing in the dome. The tourism industry, a pillar of the Costa Rican economy, would also benefit from protection of the dome, because it is a migration route for blue and humpback whales, which draws whale watchers.

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

In September, the sixth annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins, dedicated to whale watching in southeast Costa Rica, brought in 40,000 dollars the first day alone, according to deputy minister Mora, whose office forms part of the MINAE.

Government officials, scientists and members of civil society hope this will make it possible to generate more information on one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

“From our scientific point of view, the first thing that should be done is to carry out research, and it is the last thing that is being done,” said Lizano, an oceanographer with the Marine Science and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) of the University of Costa Rica.

The area has been explored on several occasions. The last time was in January 2014, with the participation of MarViva and Mission Blue, an international organisation focused on the protection of the seas, which is one of the activist groups that pushed for special protection of the dome.

They studied the role played by the protection of the leatherback sea turtle out at sea.

Although the dome is in Costa Rican territorial waters, the fact that it is mobile means it has an influence on the exclusive economic zones of other Central American countries, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as on international waters.

MarViva estimates that 70 percent of the dome is outside of the jurisdiction of any country, and the organisation’s director general, Jiménez, argues that what is needed is a joint effort and shared responsibility. Mission Blue and other organisations concur.

“It is a regional matter, and all Central American countries should work together, because part of the dome is on the high seas, outside of their jurisdictions. This is like the Wild West. It’s disturbing because there are no controls or protection out there,” Kip Evans, Mission Blue’s director of expeditions and photography, told Tierramérica.

But the government stressed that the nucleus of the dome is under its jurisdiction. “Historically it has been called the Costa Rican Dome and the nucleus is in Costa Rican waters. What we know as the Thermal Convection Dome is off the coast of the north of the country, not Central America,” Mora told Tierramérica.

But the deputy minister and his team do agree with MarViva and other non-governmental organisations on the need for regional cooperation. Costa Rica forms part of the Organisation of Fisheries and Aquaculture for the Isthmus of Central America (OSPESCA), where it works together with bodies like the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Belize Fights to Save a Crucial Barrier Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:19:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137275 The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Home to the second longest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which provides jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries which feed the lifeblood of the economy, Belize has long been acutely aware of the need to protect its marine resources from both human and natural activities.

However, there has been a recent decline in the production and export of marine products including conch, lobster, and fish, even as tourism figures continue to increase.“What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers." -- Dr. Kenrick Leslie

The decline is not helped by overfishing and the harvest of immature conch and lobster outside of the standard fishing season. But the primary reason for less conch and lobster in Belize’s waters, according to local experts, is excess ocean acidity which is making it difficult for popular crustacean species such as conch and lobster, which depend on their hard, spiny shells to survive, to grow and mature.

According to the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie, acidification is as important and as detrimental to the sustainability of the Barrier Reef and the ocean generally as warming of the atmosphere and other factors generally associated with climate change.

Carbon dioxide which is emitted in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases is absorbed into the ocean as carbonic acid, which interacts with the calcium present in the shells of conch and lobster to form calcium carbonate, dissolving those shells and reducing their numbers. Belize also faces continuous difficulties with coral bleaching, which has attacked several key sections of the reef in recent years.

Dr. Leslie told IPS that activities on Belize’s terrestrial land mass are also contributing to the problems under Belize’s waters. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers,” he noted.

To fight these new problems, there is need for more research and accurate, up to the minute data.

Last month, the European Union (EU), as part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project handed over to the government of Belize and specifically the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development for its continued usage a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy based at South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District in southern Belize.

Developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it has been adopted by the CCCCC as a centrepiece of the effort to obtain reliable data as a basis for strategies for fighting climate change.

Dr. Leslie says the CREWS system represents a leap forward in research technology on climate change. The humble buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. The data collected on atmospheric and oceanic conditions such as oceanic turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements and others are monitored from the Centre’s office in Belmopan and the data sent along to international scientists who can more concretely analyse it.

The South Water Caye CREWS station is one of two in Belize; the other is located at the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye in the Turneffe Atoll range. Other stations are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, with more planned in other key areas.

According to the CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), Vincent Gillet, this is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done to keep the coastal zone healthy and safeguard resources for Belize’s future generations.

A report released at the start of Coastal Awareness Week in Belize City urges greater awareness of the effects of climate change and the participation of the local managers of the coastal zone in a policy to combat those effects. Several recommendations were made, including empowering the Authority with more legislative heft, revising the land distribution policy and bringing more people into the discussion.

“We need to be a little more…conscious of climate change and the impacts that it has,” Gillett said. He added further that the Authority expects and has the government’s support in terms of facilitation, if not necessarily in needed finance.

The report was the work of over 30 local and international scientists who contributed to and prepared it.

In receiving the CREWS equipment, the Ministry’s CEO, Dr. Adele Catzim-Sanchez, sought to remind that the problem of climate change is real and unless it is addressed, Belizeans may be contributing to their own demise.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, reported that the Union may soon be able to offer even more help with the planned negotiations in Paris, France, in 2015 for a global initiative on climate change, with emphasis on smaller states. Belize already benefits from separate but concurrent projects, the latter of which aims to give Belize a sustainable development plan and specific strategy to address climate change.

In addition, Dr. Leslie is pushing for even more monitoring equipment, including current metres to study the effect of terrestrial activity such as mining and construction material gathering as well as deforestation on the sea, where the residue of such activities inevitably ends up.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Bamboo Could Be a Savior for Climate Change, Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 17:37:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137221 The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Bamboo Avenue is a two-and-a-half mile stretch of road in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth parish. It is lined with giant bamboo plants which tower above the road and cross in the middle to form a shady tunnel. The avenue was established in the 17th century by the owners of the Holland Estate to provide shade for travelers and to protect the road from erosion.

Bamboo has been part of Jamaica’s culture for thousands of years, but it has never really taken off as a tool or an option to resolve some of the challenges the country faces."The evidence shows that [bamboo] is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment." -- Dr. Hans Friederich

That’s until recently.

Last month, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) announced the country would embark on the large-scale production of bamboo for the construction of low-cost houses and value-added products such as furniture and charcoal for the export market.

It is still in the early stages, but Jamaica is being hailed for the project which the director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich, said has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity and mitigating against climate change.

“The plant bamboo, and there are about 1,250 different species, has a very important role to play in environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Bamboos have very strong and very extensive root systems and are therefore amazing tools to combat soil erosion and to help with land degradation restoration,” Friederich told IPS.

“More bamboo will absorb more CO2 and therefore help you with your REDD+ targets, but once you cut that bamboo and you use it, you lock the carbon up, and bamboo as a grass grows so fast you can actually cut it after about four or five years, unlike trees that you have to leave for a long time.

“So by cutting bamboo you have a much faster return on investment, you avoid cutting trees and you provide the raw material for a whole range of uses,” he explained.

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The BSJ is conducting training until the end of November for people to be employed in the industry and is setting up three bamboo factories across the island.

The agency is also ensuring that local people can grow, preserve and harvest the bamboo for its various uses.

“It can be planted just like planting cane for sugar. The potential for export is great, and you can get jobs created, and be assured of the creation of industries,” said the special projects director at the BSJ, Gladstone Rose.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friederich told IPS bamboos can contribute directly to Aichi Biodiversity Targets 14 and 15.

Target 14 speaks to the restoration, by 2020, of ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Target 15 speaks to ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks being enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

“We are here to encourage the parties to the convention who are bamboo growers to consider bamboo as one of the tools in achieving some of the Aichi targets and incorporate bamboo in their national biodiversity strategy where appropriate,” Friederich said.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant said bamboo “is an industry whose time has come,” while Acting Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Derrick Kellier has admonished islanders to desist from cutting down bamboo to be used as yam sticks.

“We are collaborating to spread the word: stop destroying the existing bamboo reserves, so that we will have them for use,” he said.

Kellier said bamboo offers enormous potential for farmers and others.

“It is a very fast-growing plant, and as soon as the industry gets going, when persons see the economic value, they will start putting in their own acreages. It grows on marginal lands as we have seen across the country, so we are well poised to take full advantage of the industry,” Kellier said.

On the issue of conservation of biodiversity, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ibrahim Thiaw said there is a lack of understanding among developing countries that biodiversity is the foundation for the development.

As a result, he said, they are not investing enough in biodiversity from their domestic resources, because it is considered a luxury.

“If the Caribbean countries are to continue to benefit from tourism as an activity they will have to invest in protecting biodiversity because tourists are not coming just to see the nice people of the Caribbean, they are coming to see nature,” Thiaw told IPS.

“It is important that developing countries invest their own resources first and foremost to conserve biodiversity. They have the resources. It’s just a matter of priority. If you understand that biodiversity is the foundation for your development, you invest in your capital, you keep your capital. Countries in the Caribbean have a lot of resources that are critical for their economy.”

Jamaica’s Bureau of Standards said it is aiming to tap into the lucrative global market for bamboo products, which is estimated at 10 billion dollars, with the potential to reach 20 billion by next year.

Friederich said while some countries have not yet realised the potential for bamboo, others have taken it forward.

“I was in Vietnam just last week and found that there is a prime ministerial decree to promote the use of bamboo. In Rwanda, there is a law that actually recommends using bamboo on the slopes of rivers and on the banks of lakes for protection against erosion; in the Philippines there is a presidential decree that 25 percent of all school furniture should be made from bamboo,” he explained.

“So there are real policy instruments already in place to promote bamboos, what we are trying to do is to encourage other countries to follow suit and to look at the various options that are available.

“Bamboo has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity. The evidence shows that this is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Panama’s Coral Reefs Ringed with Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 15:28:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137217 The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

By Emilio Godoy
TABOGA, Panama, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Fermín Gómez, a 53-year-old Panamanian fisherman, pushes off in his boat, the “Tres Hermanas,” every morning at 06:00 hours to fish in the waters off Taboga island. Five hours later he returns to shore.

Skilfully he removes the heads and scales of his catch of sea bass, snapper, marlin and sawfish. He delivers the cleaned fish to restaurants and hotels, where he is paid four dollars a kilo, a good price for the local area.

“I use baited hooks, because trammel nets drag in everything. That’s why the fishing isn’t so good any more: the nets catch even the young fry,” said this father of three daughters, who spent years working on tuna-fishing vessels.

Gómez lives 200 metres from Taboga island’s only beach, in a town of 1,629 people where the brightly painted houses are roofed with galvanised iron sheets. Located 11.3 nautical miles (21 kilometres) from Panama City, the mainstay of the island is tourism, especially on weekends when dozens of visitors board the ferry that plies between the island and the capital twice a day.

Gómez, who comes from a long line of fishermen, tends to go out fishing at midnight, the best time to catch sea bass. On a good day he might take some 30 kilograms.

“The fishing here is good, but we are dependent on what people on the other islands leave for us,” said Gómez, tanned by the sun and salt water.

The island of Taboga, just 12 square kilometres in area, lies in the Gulf of Panama and is the gateway to the Las Perlas archipelago, one of the most important nodes of coral islands in this Central American country of 3.8 million people.

From the air, they appear as mounds emerging from the turquoise backdrop of the sea, surrounded by what look like dozens of steel sharks, the ships waiting their turn to pass through the Panama Canal.

The isthmus of Panama possesses 290 square kilometres of coral reefs, mostly located on the Atlantic Caribbean coast, which harbour some 70 species. Coral reefs in the Pacific ocean host some 25 different species.

What the fisherfolk do not know is that their future livelihood depends on the health of the coral reefs, which is threatened by rising sea temperatures, maritime traffic, pollution and illegal fishing.

(2)Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

 Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

In Coiba National Park, in western Panama, and in the Las Perlas islands, “the diversity of the coral and associated species has been sustained in recent years. We have not detected any bleaching, but a troublesome alga has appeared,” academic José Casas, of the state International Maritime University of Panama (UMIP), told IPS.

“It’s threatening the reef,” said the expert, who is taking part in a project for the study and monitoring of reef communities and key fisheries species in Coiba National Park and the marine-coastal Special Management Zone comprising the Las Perlas Archipelago. The study’s final report is due to be published in November.

Algal growth blocks sunlight and smothers the coral, which cannot survive. Experts have also detected the appearance of algae in Colombia and Mexico.

The project is being carried out by UMIP together with Fundación Natura, Conservation International, the Autonomous University of Baja California, in Mexico, and the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP).

Researchers are monitoring the coral in Coiba and Las Perlas in Panama. They took measurements in March and August, and they will repeat their survey in November.

There are differences between the two study zones. Coiba is little disturbed by human activity; it is a designated natural heritage area and a protection plan is in place, although according to the experts it is not enforced. Moreover, Coiba Park is administered by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM).

A protection programme for Las Perlas, to be managed by ARAP, is currently in the pipeline.

Reefs are essential for the development and feeding of large predators like sharks, whales, pelagic fish such as anchovy and herring, and sea turtles, the experts said.

In Panama’s coral reefs, ARAP has identified species of algae, mangroves, sponges, crustaceans, molluscs, conches, starfish, sea cucumber, sea urchin, as well as groupers, snappers, angelfish and butterflyfish.

Fishing generates some 15,000 jobs in Panama and annual production is 131,000 tonnes, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census.

An Environmental Agenda for Panama 2014-2019 (Agenda Ambiental Panamá 2014-2019), published by the National Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON),

Fundación MarViva, Fundación Natura and the Panama Audubon Society, proposes the passage of a law for wetlands protection, emphasising mangroves, mudflats, marshes, swamps, peat bogs, rivers, coral reefs and others.

On the Caribbean coast, coral reefs around the nine islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, 324 nautical miles (600 kilometres) west of Panama City, are experiencing bleaching caused by high water temperatures.

This was a finding of a study titled “Forecasting decadal changes in sea surface temperatures and coral bleaching within a Caribbean coral reef,” published in May by the U.S. journal Coral Reefs.
Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach, of the U.S. University of Virginia, predict that by 2084 nearly all the coral reefs they studied will be vulnerable to bleaching-induced mortality.

They simulated water flow patterns and water surface heating scenarios for the present day and projections for 2020, 2050 and 2080. They concluded that reefs bathed by cooler waters will have the greatest chances of future survival.

Bocas del Toro adjoins the Isla Bastimentos National Park, one of 104 protected areas in Panama covering a total of 36,000 square kilometres, equivalent to 39 percent of the national territory.

“Local communities need education in resource management, sustainable use, fisheries zoning and fisherfolk organisation,” Casas said.

The next phase of the corals project, financed with 48,000 dollars this year and requiring about 70,000 dollars for 2015, will involve quantifying the value of ecosystem services provided by coral reefs.

Gómez has no plans to change his trade, but he can see that his grandchildren will no longer follow the same occupation. “Fishing is going to be more complicated in future. They will have to think of other ways of earning a living,” he told IPS, gazing nostalgically out to sea.

Edited byEstrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Vanishing Species: Local Communities Count their Losseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:08:40 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137211 Over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared. Credit: gkrishna63/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared. Credit: gkrishna63/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

The Mountain Chicken isn’t a fowl, as its name suggests, but a frog. Kimisha Thomas, hailing from the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, remembers a time when she could find these amphibians or ‘crapaud’ as locals call them “just in the backyard”.

Known also as the Giant Ditch Frog, these creatures form a crucial part of Dominica’s national identity, with locals consuming them on special occasions like Independence Day. Today, hunting mountain chicken is banned, as the frogs are fighting for their survival. In fact, scientists estimate that their numbers have dwindled down to just 8,000 individuals.

Locals first started noticing that the frogs were behaving abnormally about a decade ago, showing signs of lethargy as well as abrasions on their skin. “Then they began to die,” explained Thomas, an officer with Dominica’s environment ministry.

“People also started to get scared, fearing that eating crapauds would make them ill,” she adds. In fact, this fear was not far from the truth; preliminary research has found that Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease that affects amphibians, was the culprit for the wave of deaths.

Some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered -- International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Besides the mountain chicken, there has been a sharp decline in the population of the sisserou parrot, which is found only in Dominica, primarily in the country’s mountainous rainforests. Thomas says large-scale destruction of the bird’s habitat is responsible for its gradual disappearance from the island.

Dominica is not alone in grappling with such a rapid loss of species. According to the Red List of Threatened Species, one of the most comprehensive inventories on the conservation status of various creatures, some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered.

Compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Red List aims to increase the number of species assessed to 160,000 by 2020. But even with only half the world’s biological species included in the index, the forecast is bleak.

While the extinction or threat of extinction of thousands of species poses huge challenges across the board, tribal and indigenous communities are generally first to feel the impacts, and will likely bear the economic and cultural brunt of such losses.

As Thomas points out, “The crapaud was our national dish. The sisserou parrot [also known as the Imperial Amazon] sits right in the middle of our national flag. Their loss means the loss of our very cultural identity.”

A similar refrain can be heard among the Parsi community of India, whose culture dictates that the dead be placed in high structures, called ‘towers of silence’, that they may be consumed by birds of prey: kites, vultures and crows. The unique funeral rites are an integral part of the Zoroastrian faith, which stipulates that bodies be returned to nature.

But over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared, making it impossibly difficult for the Parsi community to keep up with a centuries-old tradition.

Rising economic burden

Besides severely affecting ancient cultural and spiritual practices, the disappearance of various species is also taking an economic toll on indigenous communities according to 65-year-old Anil Kumar Singh, who was born and raised in the village of Chirakuti in India’s northeastern hill districts.

Singh says that as a child, he never saw a doctor for minor ailments like the common cold or an upset stomach.

“We used Vishalyakarni [a herb] for pains and cuts. We drank the juice of basak leaves (adhatoda vasica) for a cough and used the extract from lotus flowers for dysentery,” he tells IPS.

“But today, these plants don’t grow here anymore. Even when we try, they die out soon and we don’t know the reason. We now have to buy medicines from a chemist’s shop for everything,” he asserts.

Sometimes, the cost is much higher. Northern Indian states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have experienced an explosion in the population of stray dogs, giving rise to health risks among locals.

By way of explanation, Neha Sinha, advocacy and policy officer of the Bombay Natural History Society in India (BNHS), a Mumbai-based conservation charity, tells IPS that the phenomenon of increasingly feral dogs can be traced to Indian farmers’ practice of leaving dead cattle out in the open to be consumed by birds of prey.

With no vultures to pick the beasts clean, dogs are now getting to the carcasses, growing more and more vicious and resorting to attacks on humans. BNHS is currently breeding vultures in captivity in order to prevent their complete extinction, but it is unlikely the birds will regain their numbers from 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, according to a study by Birdlife International, the population of feral dogs in India has grown by 5.5 million due to the disappearance of vultures.

The report says there have been “roughly 38.5 million additional dog bites and more than 47,300 extra deaths from rabies, [which] may have cost the Indian economy an additional 34 billion dollars.”

Legal and knowledge gaps

The near extinction of vultures in India is attributed to diclofenac, a painkiller that is often given to cows and buffalos to which vultures are allergic. Intense campaigning against use of the drug led to a government ban in 2004, but implementation of the law has been poor, and diclofenac is still widely used, according to Singh of BNHS.

“The farmers know [the drug] is banned but they continue to use it because the law is not being enforced,” she said.

In several other cases, communities are left confused as to the reasons behind species loss, making it increasingly hard to settle on a solution. For instance, even after a decade of seeing their unique creatures vanish, Dominica still does not know what brought the Chytridiomycosis fungus to their soil, or how to deal with it.

This knowledge gap is a double whammy for indigenous communities, whose lives and livelihoods depend heavily on the species they have lived side by side with for millennia.

Lucy Mulenekei, executive director of the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), tells IPS on the sidelines of the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that the decline in the livestock population in Kenya has affected the Maasai people, a pastoral tribe that has always relied on their herds for sustenance.

Now forced to live off the land, the tribe is faltering.

“The Maasai people don’t know what kind of farming tools they need, or how to use them. They don’t know what seeds to use and how to access them. There is a huge gap in knowledge and technology,” explains Mulenekei, who is Maasai herself.

In response to the growing crisis, governments and U.N. agencies are pushing out initiatives to tackle the problem at its root.

Carlos Potiara Castro, a technical advisor with the Brazilian environment ministry, is leading one such project in the Bailique Archipelago, 160 km from the Macapa municipality in northern Brazil, where local fisher communities are taught to conserve biodiversity. Already, community members have learned the properties of 154 medicinal plants.

The annual cost of the project is about 50,000 dollars, but Potiara says a lot more funding will be needed in order to scale up the work and replicate such efforts around the country.

This might soon be possible under a new initiative launched by the government of Germany together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which offers 12.3 million euros over a period of five years to indigenous communities in over 130 countries to help them conserve protected areas.

Yoko Watanabe, a senior biodiversity specialist at the natural resources team of the GEF Secretariat, tells IPS the grants will also cover the cost of trainings, to pass on necessary skills to indigenous communities who are recognised as “indispensable to biodiversity conservation.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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High-Tech, High Yields: Caribbean Farmers Reap Benefits of ICThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:21:49 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137194 Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Farmers in the Caribbean are being encouraged to make more use of farm apps and other forms of ICT in an effort to increase the knowledge available for making sound, profitable farming decisions.

Peter Thompson of Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) said Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is being increasingly used to track “localised conditions, pests and disease prevalence. The technology will not only add value to us but to the farmers in giving information that they need.”“The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death." -- Peter Thompson

Thompson spoke to IPS at the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), held Oct. 6-12 in Paramaribo, Suriname.

A great deal of attention was given to “scaling up” the integration of technology into day-to-day farming practices at CWA 2014, co-sponsored by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, showcased apps that students in the Department of Computing and Information Technology had developed as part of the AgriNeTT project, a collaborative effort between the Department, the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, and farmers’ representatives.

AgriNeTT’s project leader/coordinator, Dr. Margaret Bernard, said “the main focus…is developing intelligent systems within agriculture. There is a lack of data [and] many of the models being built did not have real data from the field.”

The apps are intended to support agriculture, she told IPS. “A big part of the AgriNeTT project is the development of an Open Data repository, particularly to house agriculture data on a national level… The repository will house different data sets, including farm level production data, commodity prices and volumes, farm land spatial data, soils, weather, and pest and diseases tracking data.”

Dr. Bernard said the aim of the Open Data repository was to build a platform that would be accessible throughout the Caribbean. The project seeks to encourage all in the Caribbean farming community to share in uploading data so that “developer teams can use that data creatively and build apps [for agriculture].”

She added that the creation of apps and tools based on the data would help to modernise Caribbean agriculture. “The collection, aggregation, analysis, visualisation and dissemination of data are key to Caribbean competitiveness,” Dr. Bernard said.

Dr. Bernard holds high hopes for a new app, called AgriExpenseTT, which her team developed for farm record-keeping. The app, now available for download at Google Play, allows farmers to track expenses of more than one crop at a time, track purchases of agricultural products they use on their farms, as well as track how much of the products purchased are actually used for each crop.

She said farmers who opted for the subscription service for this app would then have their data stored which would allow researchers “to verify some of the models for cost production, so we know this is what it costs to produce X amount of [any crop].”

Another reason for encouraging the use of ICT in agriculture is the need to make farming a more attractive career option for young people, CTA’s Director Michael Hailu explained. He said an important dimension to family farming, the theme of this year’s CWA, was the significant role that young people should and could play in the development of the region’s agriculture.

Since the region’s farming population is aging, “we at CTA are making a special effort to encourage young people to engage in agriculture—in ways that they can relate to, using new technologies that are far removed from the old image of farming,” he said.

To this end, CTA offered a prize to young app developers in the region who would develop innovative ICT applications to address key Caribbean agricultural challenges and foster agri-enterprise among young people.

Winners of this year's AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Winners of this year’s AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Photo Courtesy of CTA

Many of the apps developed for the CWA 2014 AgriHack Talent competition focused on providing farmers with useful information that is not always readily available.

Jason Scott, part of the Jamaican team that won the agricultural hackathon with their app named Node 420, said, “Collecting the information they need can be a real problem for farmers.” He said he and his colleague Orane Edwards “decided to design some hardware that could gather all sorts of data to help them with their cultivation, including planting, sowing and harvesting.”

RADA’s Thompson said, “The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death…We have these young guys coming in who are just hungry to do things in terms of technology. We have to help them.”

However, Faumuina Tatunai, a media specialist who works with Women and Business Development, an NGO that supports 600 farmers in Samoa, told IPS that excessive focus on attracting youth to farming through ICT may be short-sighted.

“The reality of farming is that we need young people on the farms as part of the family. To do that we need to attract them in quite holistic ways…and ICT is just part of the solution but it is not the only solution.”

She said her organisation seeks to encourage interest in farming among youth by taking a family-centred approach and encouraging all members of the family to learn about agriculture and grow together as farmers through the use of training and other opportunities.

“Everyone in the family is a farmer, whether they are six or 70 years old…our approach is to build capacity with mother, father, and child,” Tatunai said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Curbing Biodiversity Loss Needs Giant Leap Forwardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 17:32:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137185 Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet they are on the frontline of destruction. At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet they are on the frontline of destruction. At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

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

When political leaders from climate-threatened Small Island Developing States (SIDS) addressed the U.N. General Assembly last month, there was one recurring theme: the urgent need to protect the high seas and preserve the world’s marine biodiversity.

“I have come to the United Nations compelled by the dictates of my conscience,” pleaded President Emanuel Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia."In the long-term, there are no winners on this planet if we lose the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss." -- Nathalie Rey of Greenpeace International

“We are all stewards of God’s creation here on earth. The bounties of Mother Nature are priceless. We all bear the obligation to sustainably manage them.”

An equally poignant appeal came from President Christopher Loeak of the Marshall Islands: “The Pacific Ocean and its rich resources are our lifeline. We are the custodians of our own vast resources on behalf of future generations.”

“Our suffering could have been prevented by the United Nations – if only you had listened,” he told delegates, pointing an accusing finger at the world body for dereliction of duty.

A two-week long Conference of the State Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), currently underway in South Korea and continuing through Oct. 17, will finalise a road map to protect and preserve biodiversity, including oceans, forests, genetic resources, wildlife, agricultural land and ecosystems.

A report titled ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4‘ (GBO-4) released last week provides an assessment of the progress made towards achieving biodiversity targets set at a meeting in Nagoya, in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, back in October 2010.

Nathalie Rey, deputy political director of Greenpeace International, told IPS the U.N. report monitoring “the miserable progress to date of implementation of the world’s government’s 10-year plan to save life on Earth shows that sustainable development is still a distant dream.”

Whilst small steps have been made, she said, it is going to require a giant leap forward to get the world on track to slow down and curb biodiversity loss altogether.

Rey pointed out that healthy and productive oceans are the backbone of the planet, and essential in the fight against poverty and ensuring food security. Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet the report highlights that they are on the frontline of destruction, she added.

“We continue to plunder them of fish, choke them with pollution and alter them forever with the impacts of human-induced climate change,” she said.

The acidification of oceans from the increased absorption of carbon dioxide in particular is having widespread effects on these coral ecosystems.

Reflecting another perspective, Alice Martin-Prevel, policy analyst at the Oakland Institute, a progressive think tank based in San Francisco, told IPS biodiversity preservation targets will never be achieved without secured access to land for farmers and safeguarding small holders’ ability to invest sustainably in their production activity.

She said the World Bank continues to produce business indicators, such as ‘Doing Business’ and the new ‘Benchmarking the Business Agriculture Project’, to encourage governments to create private land markets and open up to imported hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers.

“This is why we launched the ‘Our Land Our Business’ campaign to protest the Bank’s business-friendly agenda and selling of countries’ ecosystems and land to foreign investors,” Martin-Prevel said.

She added that this jeopardises equal and environmentally-sustainable development.

Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS resource mobilisation remains elusive.

She said the second report of the High Level Panel presented to the ongoing COP12 reiterates that estimates at global, regional and national levels all point to a substantial gap between the investments needed to deliver biodiversity targets and the resources currently allocated.

This is true for all of the 2010 Aichi Targets, she added.

The report referred to a 2012 review that estimated current levels of global funding for biodiversity at between 51 and 53 billion dollars annually, compared to estimated needs of 300 to 400 billion dollars annually.

“Although the developed country parties have legally committed to provide new and additional financial resources to meet the full incremental cost of implementing the CBD, this commitment, as with other environmental treaties, has not been honoured,” Ling said.

She said a regular excuse used now is about the current economic condition of developed countries which has restrained development funding.

Rey of Greenpeace International told IPS that without concerted efforts to keep climate change under control, “we will see irreversible damage to coral reefs and other vulnerable habitats, with devastating consequences for marine life and those people that directly depend on them for work and protein.”

Building resilience through the establishment of an extensive network of marine reserves – ocean sanctuaries free of industrial activities – will be an essential tool to help the marine world adapt to climate change and protect against other stressors such as overfishing and destructive fishing practices.

This is a target that governments are still lagging way behind on, she said.

In 2012, world governments committed to double funding towards addressing biodiversity loss. Still, shrinking state budgets are negatively affecting funding for environmental conservation. This points to a continued lack of understanding of the huge economic returns from investing in biodiversity protection, said Rey.

Furthermore, the cost of not acting now far outweighs the costs of acting in the future. There are sufficient sources of money, but it is often a case of redirecting these sources towards sustainable activities, she noted.

Rey also said a clear starting point identified by the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) will be to reallocate harmful subsidies to conservation.

It has been estimated, said Rey, that a staggering one trillion dollars or more of public money is spent by governments every year on subsidies harmful to the environment, including the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.

Yet whilst the report notes there is an increasing recognition of harmful subsidies, very little action has been taken.

The current U.N. report hopefully acts as a half-time reality check that forces a major game change in the second half of this decade. Green groups say governments and companies should stop defending destructive activities, like oil drilling in the Arctic, ancient deforestation and agricultural activities that promote industrial, chemical- dependent monocultures.

“Because in the long-term there are no winners on this planet if we lose the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” Rey declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Facing Storms Without the Mangrove Wallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/facing-storms-without-the-mangrove-wall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=facing-storms-without-the-mangrove-wall http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/facing-storms-without-the-mangrove-wall/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 13:42:41 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137186 The loss of mangroves affects the poorest among India’s coastal population. These traditional fishermen steer their boat and belongings to safer areas after the 2013 Cyclone Phailin brought heavy floods in it wake. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The loss of mangroves affects the poorest among India’s coastal population. These traditional fishermen steer their boat and belongings to safer areas after the 2013 Cyclone Phailin brought heavy floods in it wake. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

As the cyclonic storm Hudhud ripped through India’s eastern state of Andhra Pradesh, home to two million people, at a land speed of over 190 kilometres per hour on Sunday, it destroyed electricity and telephone infrastructure, damaged the airport, and laid waste to thousands of thatched houses, as well as rice fields, banana plantations and sugarcane crops throughout the state.

It is typhoon season here in Asia.

In Japan, still reeling from the impact of Typhoon Phanfone, Typhoon Vongfong brought another round of torrential rainfall and vicious winds this past weekend, continuing into Monday, and adding to the long list of damages that countries in this part of the world are now calculating.

In India alone, the government has pledged 163 million dollars in disaster relief, but officials say even this tidy sum may not be sufficient to get the state back on its feet. And for the families of the 24 deceased in Andhra Pradesh and and the eastern state of Odissa, no amount of money can compensate for their loss.

"If all the carbon stock held by mangroves were to be released into the atmosphere as CO2, the resulting emissions would be the equivalent of travelling 26 million km by car, 650 times around the world." -- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The ongoing calamity stirs memories of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan that claimed 6,000 lives in the Philippines almost exactly a year ago.

While these tropical storms cannot be stopped in their tracks, there is a natural defense system against their more savage impacts: mangroves. And experts fear their tremendous value is being woefully under-appreciated, to tragic effect, all around the world.

For those currently gathered in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), this very issue has been a topic of discussion, as delegates assess progress on the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and its 20 Aichi Targets, agreed upon at a meeting in Nagoya, Japan, three years ago.

One of the goals accepted by the international community was to improve and restore resilience of ecosystems important for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. On this front, according to the recently released Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4), efforts have been lacking, with “trends […] moving in the wrong direction”, and the state of marine ecosystems falling “far short of their potential to provide for human needs through a wide variety of services including food provision, recreation, coastal protection and carbon storage.”

Nowhere is this more visible than in the preservation of mangrove forests, with a single hectare storing up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon on average, the highest per unit of area of any land or marine ecosystem, according to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Their ability to store vast stocks of CO2 makes mangroves a crucial component of national and global efforts to combat climate change and protect against climate-induced disasters. Yet, experts say, they are not getting the attention and care they deserve.

A complex ecosystem

Mangroves, a generic term for trees and shrubs of varying heights that thrive in saline coastal sediment habitats, are found in 123 countries and cover 152,000 square kilometers the world over.

Over 100 million people live within 10 km of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

Mangroves provide ecosystem services worth 33,000 to 57,000 dollars per hectare per year, says a UNEP study entitled ‘The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action’ launched recently at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1.

The report found that mangroves “are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss”. Emissions resulting from such losses make up approximately a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report added, causing economic losses of between six and 42 billion dollars per year.

Besides human activity, climate change poses a serious threat to these complex ecosystems, with predicted losses of mangrove forests of between 10 and 20 percent by 2100, according to the UNEP.

The situation is particularly grave in South Asia, which by 2050 could lose 35 percent of the mangroves that existed in 2000. In the period running from 2000-2050, ecosystem service losses from the destruction of mangroves will average two billion dollars a year.

With their complex root system acting as a kind of natural wall against storm surges, seawater intrusion, floods and typhoons, mangroves act as a buffer for vulnerable communities, and also guard against excessive damage caused by natural disasters.

This time last year, for instance, Cyclone Phailin – one of the strongest tropical storms ever to make landfall in India – damaged 364,000 houses, affected eight million people and killed 53.

In October 1999, the devastating Odisha Cyclone touched landfall wind speeds of 260 kilometer per hour, and took the lives of no fewer than 8,500 people, while wrecking two million homes and leaving behind damages to the tune of two billion dollars according to official figures.

A mangrove impact study conducted in the aftermath of this storm, the strongest ever recorded in the Indian Ocean, found that the village to incur the lowest loss per household was protected by mangroves.

Scientists have found that mangroves can reduce wave height and energy by 13 to 66 percent, and surges by 50 cm for every kilometre, as they pass through the trees and exposed roots.

Mangroves crucial to regulating global warming

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of the recently concluded RSCAP meeting, Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the UNEP’s Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, explained that a recent cost-benefit analysis in the South Pacific Island state of Fiji found a much higher financial success rate for planting mangroves than building a six-foot-high seawall.

Having worked in countries with high mangrove cover – from India and the Philippines, to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – Alder believes that “many policy makers are not aware of mangroves’ multiple benefits. They better understand the commercial value of timber from traditional forests, and hence accord it more importance.”

With high costs and low success rates associated with regeneration, mangrove protection is falling short of the Aichi Targets, experts say.

“Regenerating a hectare of mangroves costs a high 7,500 dollars and is a dicey undertaking,” Jagannath Chatterjee of the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC), currently working closely with coastal communities to regenerate mangroves in Odisha, one of India’s most cyclone-prone states, told IPS.

He blamed the destruction of the remaining mangrove forests on the “timber mafia”, alleging that cash crops are being planted in mangrove land.

With global warming rising at an alarming rate, the importance of mangroves in climate regulation cannot be ignored much longer.

If all the carbon stock held by mangroves were to be released into the atmosphere as CO2, the resulting emissions would be the equivalent of travelling 26 million km by car, 650 times around the world, according to calculations by the UNEP.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Biodiversity, Climate Change Solutions Inextricably Linkedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:34:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137165 Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

The remarkable biodiversity of the countries of the Caribbean, already under stress from human impacts like land use, pollution, invasive species, and over-harvesting of commercially valuable species, now faces an additional threat from climate change.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17, Saint Lucia’s Biodiversity Coordinator Terrence Gilliard told IPS that his government understands that biodiversity and ecosystem services underpin sustainable development."Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come." -- Helena Brown

But he said climate change is having an impact on biodiversity of the island nation.

“There have been reports of coral bleaching occasioned by higher sea temperatures and there has been a lengthening in the productive season of some agricultural crops,” said Gilliard, who also serves as sustainable development and environment officer.

“The extreme weather events such as Hurricane Tomas [in 2010] and the [2013] Christmas Eve trough resulted in major landslides within forested areas and there is…loss of animal life during these events. Long periods of droughts limit water availability and affect agricultural production.”

Though less than 616 square kms in area, Saint Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. More than 200 species occur nowhere else, including seven percent of the resident birds and an incredible 53 percent of the reptiles.

The nation’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Saint Lucia amazon parrot. Other species of conservation concern include the pencil cedar, staghorn coral and Saint Lucia racer. The racer, confined to the 12-hectare Maria Major Island, is arguably the world’s most threatened snake following recent increases in numbers of its distant relative in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Antiguan racer, a small, harmless, lizard-eating snake, was once widespread throughout Antigua, but became almost extinct early this century, hunted relentlessly by predators such as mongooses and rats. As of 2013, the population size was 1,020.

Helena Brown, technical coordinator in the Environment Division of the Ministry of Health and the Environment, said there are at least two conservation programmes in Antigua where the racer and another critically endangered species, the hawksbill turtle, are being conserved.

“There is a lot of work being done there but that’s just two species out of many. Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come,” Brown told IPS.

According to Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), ecosystems on that island most vulnerable to climate change impacts include coral reefs, highland forests, and coastal wetlands (mangroves).

With more than 8,000 species recorded, Jamaica is ranked fifth globally for endemic species. The Caribbean island has 98.2 percent of the 514 indigenous species of land snails and 100 percent of the 22 indigenous species of amphibians.

Jamaica’s rich marine species diversity include species of fish, sea anemones, black and stony corals, mollusks, turtles, whales, dolphin, and manatee. In addition, nearly 30.1 percent of the country is covered with forests and there are 10 hydrological basins containing over 100 streams and rivers, in addition to several subterranean waterways, ponds, springs, and blue holes.

For Saint Kitts and Nevis, where biodiversity is described as “very important to sustainable development,” the effects of climate change are not highly visible at this point.

“More time will be needed to observe some of the subtle changes that are observed. For instance, in some cases there seems to be longer periods of drought which are impacting on the natural cycles of some plants and also on agricultural crops,” the director of Physical Planning and Environment in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Randolph Edmead, told IPS.

“The rainy season appears to be getting shorter and when there is rain the episodes are more intense thus leading to flash floods.”

Saint Kitts and Nevis is pursuing tourism development as its main economic activity, and many of the country’s tourism-related activities and attractions are based on biodiversity. These include marine biodiversity where coral reefs represent an important component.

Edmead said coral reefs also support fisheries which is an important source of food.

“The income generated from these activities not only supports development but also is important for sustaining livelihoods,” he explained.

Forest biodiversity also forms an important part of the tourism product of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Ecotourism activities which are based on organised hikes along established trails are engaged in regularly by tourists.

“Biodiversity also helps to protect soils from erosion which is not only important for agriculture but also in the protection of vital infrastructure,” he added.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias told IPS climate change is a main threat to biodiversity and he urged progress at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP scheduled for Dec. 1-12 in Peru.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“The threats to biodiversity continue. But where do these threats come from? They come from public policies, corporate policies and other factors that come from the socio-economic sector. These are population increase, consumption increase, more pollution, climate change. These are some of the big drivers of loss of biodiversity,” said de Souza Dias.

“So unless we see progress in the negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the loss of biodiversity will probably continue.”

But de Souza Dias is also putting forward biodiversity as part of the solution to the climate change problem. He suggested that better management of forests, wetlands, mangroves and other systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We can also enhance adaptation because adaptation is not just about building walls to avoid the sea level rise impacting coastal zones. It is about having more resilient ecosystems that can resist more the different scenarios of climate change,” he told IPS.

“We need to conserve better the ecosystems in our landscape…having more diverse landscape with some forest, some wetlands, some protected catchment areas. Currently we are moving to more simplified landscapes, just big monocultures of crops, large cities, so we are going in the wrong direction.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Curbing the Illegal Wildlife Trade Crucial to Preserving Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 12:00:18 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137138 South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

For over five years, 33-year-old Maheshwar Basumatary, a member of the indigenous Bodo community, made a living by killing wild animals in the protected forests of the Manas National Park, a tiger reserve, elephant sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site that lies on the India-Bhutan border.

Then one morning in 2005, Basumatary walked into a police check-post and surrendered his gun. Since then, the young man has been spending his time taking care of abandoned and orphaned rhino and leopard cubs.

Employed by a local conservation organisation called the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), part of the Wildlife Trust of India, Basumatary is today a symbol of wildlife conservation.

Engaging locals like Basumatary into wildlife protection and conservation is an effective way to curb wildlife crimes such as poaching, smuggling and the illegal sale of animal parts, according to Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation.

“[Law enforcement personnel] must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence." -- Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation
On the sidelines of the ongoing 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Dhakal told IPS that poverty and the prospect of higher earnings often drive locals to commit or abet wildlife crime.

Thus efforts should be made to combine conservation with income generation, so locals can be gainfully employed in efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity.

“Conservation efforts must also create livelihood opportunities within the local community,” he added.

“Everyone wants to earn more and live well. If you just tell people, ‘Go save the animals’, it’s not going to work. But if you find a way to incentivize protecting [of] wildlife, they will certainly join the force,” said Dhakal, adding that his own country is moving rapidly towards a ‘zero poaching’ status.

Poaching – a global problem

Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are a universal menace that has been causing severe threats including possible extinction of species, economic losses, as well as loss of livelihood across the world.

According to the recently released Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4), the latest progress report of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the current annual illegal wildlife trade stands at some 200 billion dollars annually.

The illicit enterprise is also thriving in Asia, touching some 19 billion dollars per year according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s Wildlife Enforcement Network.

Law enforcements agencies regularly confiscate smuggled products and consignments of skins and other body parts of animals including crocodiles, snakes, tigers, elephants and rhinos. The killing of tigers and rhinos is a specific concern in the region, with both creatures facing the impending risk of extinction.

One of the biggest killing fields for poachers is the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in India’s northeastern Assam state, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to two-thirds of the world’s remaining Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. In addition, the park boasts the highest density of tigers globally, and was officially designated as a tiger reserve in 2006.

The 185-square-mile park had 2,553 rhinos in 2013. However, 126 rhinos have been killed here in the past 13 years, with 21 slaughtered in 2013 alone, according to the state’s Environment and Forest Minister Rakibul Hussain.

Illegal trade spawns conflict, disease

There is also a direct link between the illegal wildlife trade and political conflicts across the world, says a joint report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL, which puts the exact volume of the illegal trade at 213 billion dollars annually.

Much of this money “is helping finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations,” the report states.

According to the report, several militia groups in central and western Africa are involved in the illegal trade of animals and timber. These groups profit hugely from the trade, including through the sale of ivory, making between four and 12.2 million dollars each year.

Another report published this past February by Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in UK, also pointed to the example of the extremist Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has been reported to harvest tusks from elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and barter with Sudanese soldiers or poachers for guns and ammunition.

But the trouble does not end there.

Maadjou Bah is part of a COP-12 delegation from the West African country of Guinea, where an Ebola outbreak in December 2013 has since spread to the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing at least 4,300 people to date.

Bah told IPS that illegal hunting and trade in wildlife species increases the possibility of the Ebola virus spreading to other countries. Though the government of Guinea has designated 30 percent of its forests as ‘protected’, the borders are porous, with trafficking and trade posing a continuous threat.

Besides primates, fruit bats are known to be natural carriers of the Ebola virus, and since trade in bats forms part of the illegal global chain of wildlife trade, it is possible that Ebola could travel outside the borders where it is current wreaking havoc, according to Anne-Helene Prieur Richard, executive director of the Paris-based biodiversity research institute ‘Diversitas’.

“We don’t know this for sure since there is a knowledge gap. But certainly the risk is there,” she told IPS.

Using the law

Continued poaching is largely the result of slow law enforcement, according to Braullio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Enforcement has to be a priority for government[s],” he told IPS.

This can be accomplished by, among other methods, providing law enforcement personnel with the skills and equipment they need to crack down on illegal activity. Forest guards, for instance, should be properly equipped – technically and financially – to prevent crime.”

“There is a need for capacity building in the law enforcement units,” Dhakal explained. “But that doesn’t just mean attending workshops and trainings. It means weapons, tools and technologies.

“They must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence,” he said.

This is especially crucial in trans-boundary forests, where a lack of proper fencing allows poachers to move freely between countries.

Sometimes, the solutions are simpler.

“For example,” Dias stated, “Nepal has forged partnerships between the government and local communities. But what motivated the [people] to go out [of their way] to find time to prevent poaching? It’s that 50 percent of all earnings in Nepal’s national parks are directed towards local communities. [Officials] convinced them that if the poaching doesn’t stop then it would mean fewer visitors and lesser earnings,” he asserted.

A look at the country’s recent increase in the number of tigers and rhinos are proof of its successful conservation efforts: in the 1970s, Nepal had only a hundred tigers left in the wild. Today there are 200 and the country is aiming to double the number by 2020.

Similarly, the number of rhinos, which was a paltry 100 in the 1960s, is now 535. “We have recruited local youths as intelligence units who collect information on the movement of poachers. It works,” reveals Dhakal.

Experts say that ending demand globally is crucial to halting poaching and illegal trade. For this, collective action at the international level must be given top priority.

Dhakal, who is also the main spokesperson for the South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), told IPS that the network has roped in several governments in the region, along with organisations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and INTERPOL.

Gaurav Gogoi, a member of the Indian parliament, says that governments can also cooperate at a bilateral level. “In the markets of Vietnam a single gram of rhino horn powder fetches up to [approximately 3,000 dollars],” he explained, adding that he is involved in lobbying events to push Vietnam to ban all products made of rhino horns in order to curb poaching elsewhere, including the Indian state of Assam.

“If you have poaching, it’s because there is someone out there who wants to buy those products. We have to address that,” Dias said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Marine Litter: Plunging Deep, Spreading Widehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 08:26:17 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137098 There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Imagine a black-footed albatross feeding its chick plastic pellets, a baby seal in the North Pole helplessly struggling with an open-ended plastic bag wrapped tight around its neck, or a fishing vessel stranded mid-sea, a length of discarded nylon net entangled in its propeller. Multiply these scenarios a thousand-fold, and you get a glimpse of the state of the world’s oceans.

With an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter estimated to be afloat every single square kilometer of ocean globally, and 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter reaching the oceans every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), researchers and scientists predict a bleak future for the great bodies of water that are vital to our planet’s existence.

A conservative estimate of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stands at 13 billion dollars each year, according to a press release from UNEP released on Oct. 1.

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time." -- Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).
With the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12) currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the issue of marine health and ocean ecosystems is in the spotlight.

Of the 20 Aichi Bioiversity Targets agreed upon at a conference in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, the preservation of marine biodiversity emerged as a crucial goal, with Target 11 laying out the importance of designating ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of protecting marine ecosystems, particularly from the harmful effects of human activity.

Speaking to IPS on sidelines of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1, Tatjana Hema, programme officer of the marine pollution assessment and control component of the Mediterranean Action Plan, told IPS that marine debris results from humane behaviour, particularly land-based activities.

The meeting drew scientists and policymakers from around the globe to chart a new roadmap to stop the rapid degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and set policies for their sustainable use and integration into the post‐2015 development agenda.

There was a near unanimous consensus that marine littler posed a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development in every region of the world.

The issue has been given top priority since the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and Goal 14 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals – which will replace the MDGs as the U.N.’s main blueprint for action at the end of this year – set the target of significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.

“We did not have any difficulty pushing for the explicit inclusion of this goal in the proposed SDGs,” Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation for the UNEP told IPS. “After all, oceans are everyone’s problem, and we all generate waste.”

Wastes released from dump-sites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities, ship-breaking yards, legal and illegal dumping, and floods that flush waste into the sea all pose major challenges, experts say.

Similarly, plastics, microplastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, fishing nets, traps, textiles, timber and hazardous materials such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste, as well as oil spills and shipwrecks are all defined as marine debris.

“Organic waste is the main component of marine litter, amounting to 40-80 percent of municipal waste in developing countries compared to 20-25 percent in developed countries,” Hema said.

Microplastics, however, emerged as one of the most damaging pollutants currently choking the seas. This killer substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles with an upper size limit of five millimeters in diameter (the size range most readily ingested by ocean-dwelling organisms), down to particles that measure just one mm in diameter.

“Micro- and nano-plastics have been found [to have been] transferred to the micro-wall of algae. How this will affect the food chain of sea creatures and how human health is going to be affected by ingesting these through fish, we still do not know,” UNEP’s Vincent Sweeney, who coordinates the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), told IPS.

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

“The extent of the microplastic problem till now is somewhat speculative; we still do not have a sense of how much of the oceans are affected,” he added.

Ocean SDG targets have to stand up to four criteria: whether they are ‘actionable’, ‘feasible’, ‘measureable’ and ‘achievable’.

Unlike, for example, the target of reducing ocean acidification (whose only driver is carbon dioxide), which easily meets all four criteria, the issue of marine debris is not as simple, partly because “what shows up on the beach is not necessarily an [indication] of what is inside the ocean,” Sweeney asserted.

“Marine litter can move long distances, becoming international. Ownership is difficult to establish,” he added. Litter also accumulates in mid-ocean ‘gyres’, natural water-circulation phenomenon that tends to trap floating material.

“The risk in not knowing the exact magnitude of marine litter is that we may tend to think it is too big to handle,” Sweeney said, adding, however that “momentum is building up with awareness and it is now getting priority at different levels.”

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time,” Sweeney asserted.

“Though there are different drivers for marine pollution in each country, the common factor is that we are consuming more and also generating more waste and much of this is plastic,” he concluded.

Aside from insufficient data and the high cost of cleaning up marine litter, the Means of Implementation (MoI) or funding of the SDG ocean targets is yet another challenge for most regions.

Northwest Pacific countries like China, Japan, Russia and Korea, however, have established replicable practices, according to Alexander Tkalin, coordinator of the UNEP Northwest Pacific Action Plan.

“Korea and Japan are major donors and both have introduced legislation specifically on marine litter,” Tkalin told IPS on the sidelines of the meeting.

“Japan has changed legislation to incentivise marine debris cleaning, tweaking its law under which, normally, one pays for littering, but the government now pays municipalities for beach-cleaning after typhoons, when roots and debris from the sea-floor are strewn on beaches,” Tkalin explained.

The Dutch and the U.S. also have strong on-going programmes on marine debris, as does Haiti, according to Sweeney.

The extent of the crisis was brought home when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometres from Athens, told visiting regional journalists about his experience of finding a sewing machine at a depth of 4,000 feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Even though man-made marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation are most pressing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, they are not getting the deserved attention,” he added.

If the new development era is to be a successful one, experts conclude, we terrestrial beings must urgently turn our attention to the seas, which are crying out for urgent assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Family Farmers Don’t Need Climate-Smart Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 23:36:57 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137092 The 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature has drawn journalists, academics and experts from some 50 countries to Naples, Italy Oc. 8-11 to discuss food, agriculture and the environment in the world. Credit: Emanuele Caposciutti/Greenaccord

The 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature has drawn journalists, academics and experts from some 50 countries to Naples, Italy Oc. 8-11 to discuss food, agriculture and the environment in the world. Credit: Emanuele Caposciutti/Greenaccord

By Emilio Godoy
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

Small farmers can look to options like agroecological intensification and innovation, without necessarily turning to climate-smart agriculture, which is promoted by the United Nations but has awakened doubts among global experts meeting in this Italian city.

Alison Power, a professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Cornell University in New York state, said the concept is an umbrella that can encompass too many different factors.

“There are two approaches to grow production, intensification of conventional agriculture and agroecology. In the last 20 years food production has doubled, but problems like poverty aren’t solved only with that,” Power told IPS.“There are two approaches to grow production, intensification of conventional agriculture and agroecology. In the last 20 years food production has doubled, but problems like poverty aren't solved only with that.” -- Alison Power

“So what is needed then is adaptation by small farmers with innovations based on agroecology,” said the expert, one of the participants in the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature organised Oct. 8-11 by the Italian NGO Greenaccord in the southwestern Italian city of Naples.

Family farmers produce nearly 80 percent of the world’s food. And although more food is being produced worldwide than at any other time in history, the United Nations estimates that over 800 million people are hungry.

The United Nations launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture on Sept. 24 in New York, during the U.N. Climate Summit. The alliance brings together governments, non-governmental organisations and large corporations.

The initiative includes techniques such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, intercropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, improved extreme weather forecasting, integrated crop-livestock management and improved water management. The aim is to increase the ecological production of food in order to reduce carbon emissions.

The issue forms part of the agenda of this week’s forum, whose theme is: “People Building the Future; Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment”. Other topics are the fight against hunger, the role of transnational corporations and adapting agriculture to climate change.

Some 200 reporters, academics, activists and students from 47 countries are taking part in the event organised by Greenaccord, an Italian network of experts dedicated to training in environmental questions.

Worldwatch Institute researcher Gary Gardner at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples, Italy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Worldwatch Institute researcher Gary Gardner at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples, Italy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Family farmers don’t need climate-smart agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture has been questioned by academics and civil society organisations who say it could foment the use of genetically modified seeds, which they see as a threat to sustainable production.

Stefano Padulosi, with the Nutrition and Marketing Programme of Bioversity International, said the changing climate and loss of natural wealth requires a cocktail of actions.

“It is necessary to strengthen the resilience of food and production systems and adaptation to climate change. It’s urgent to intervene in local farms and strengthen community seed banks,” the expert, who took part in this week’s global meeting, told IPS.

“It’s possible to build local capital, to confront and resolve problems from the communities and improve local stakeholder networks,” he added.

Bioversity International is a global research-for-development organisation that delivers scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural biodiversity to attain global food and nutrition security, based on the assumption that agricultural biodiversity can contribute to improved nutrition, resilience, productivity and climate change adaptation in developing nations.

Climate change, Padulosi said, can affect agriculture because of the reduction of the availability of water, rising global temperatures, the flooding of agricultural areas, or an increase in pests.

By the year 2050, demand for food will grow 65 percent, while the global population will reach nine billion.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that net agricultural yields could shrink by between 0.2 and two percent per decade, as demand grows 14 percent per decade.

Gary Gardner, a researcher with the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, said the measures to be adopted must take peasant farmers into account, because a failure to do so would not make sense.

“Major efforts are needed for conservation of resources and becoming more efficient in their use. But huge gains in efficiency are available for producers, processors, business and consumers,” he told IPS.

Gardner is preparing a chapter on hidden threats to sustainability for Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2015 report.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that 11 percent of the world’s land is highly degraded and 25 percent is moderately degraded.

The U.N. agency estimates that global emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land uses have surpassed 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

At the same time, some two billion tons of CO2 per year were removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon sequestration in forest sinks.
FAO projects that CO2 emissions could increase 30 percent by 2050.

Agriculture provides ecosystem services such as food, fiber, forage, bioenergy and natural habitats, while it benefits from them at the same time – another reason to promote sustainable practices.

“The services have the potential of growing production and sustainability. Practices like improving genetics of crops, integrated management of plagues and nutrients, development of precision agriculture and the management of soil and water can be optimised,” Power said.

For his part, Gardner calls for preserving the extension and quality of farmland and faster progress in promoting the conservation of farming techniques, as well as incentives to remove marginal land from cultivation.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Acid Oceans Could Deal Heavy Blow to Fishing-Dependant Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:05:36 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137080 The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

Scientists here are warning Caribbean countries, where the fisheries sector is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance, that they should pay close attention to a new international report released Wednesday on ocean acidification.

The report, published by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), coincides with the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.” -- Dr. Carol Turley

“Ocean acidification can have quite specific impacts on certain fisheries, and so actually ocean acidification is especially important for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and people that rely on specific types of fishery or some type of organism,” Dr. S. J. Hennige, the lead editor of the report, told IPS.

“There are variable responses with organisms with regard to ocean acidification, but for the ones which are negatively affected by it, if you are reliant on just that one type of fish then it could have very large impacts and you may have to actually switch to a different organism or something like that.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In the report, an international team of 30 experts, led by UK scientists, has concluded that ocean acidification is already underway, and it is now nearly inevitable that it will worsen, causing widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and on the goods and services they provide.

David Obura, director of Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, said food security, in the Caribbean and other regions of the world where there is heavy reliance on the fisheries sector, is threatened.

“Ocean acidification changes the chemistry of the sea water which means that how fish grow is affected and usually negatively,” Obura told IPS. “So productivity will go down or the certainty of knowing what the output is going to be, how much food is produced, is less certain so it undermines the production system.”

Ten years ago, only a handful of researchers were investigating the biological impacts of ocean acidification. Whilst their results gave cause for concern, it was clear that a lot more measurements and experiments were needed.

Around a thousand published studies later, it has now been established that many marine species will suffer in a high CO2 world, with consequences for human society.

Hennige said there are already examples, in the U.S., where an oyster fishery is being impacted by ocean acidification. He said the underlying cause of the problem is carbon dioxide.

“The more carbon dioxide is released from all our fossil fuels into the atmosphere, the more will dissolve in the ocean,” he explained.

“There are practices which can be put in place to offset it on a temporary basis, but the underlying problem is there is still more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and this problem is only going to get worse if we continue.

“It’s not a problem that is being caused by the Caribbean, this is a global problem and it’s a global solution that’s needed,” Hennige added.

Dr. Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), told IPS that everything in the report applies to the Caribbean situation.

“Ocean acidification is a worrying phenomenon because it means that seawater, as a supporting medium for life, is changing in a very fundamental manner. Since the ocean ecosystem is so complex, it is not possible to predict the impacts with certainty, but it is certain that the impacts will be significant for tropical islands, especially those which have built their economies based on the health and beauty of their local coral reef ecosystems,” she said.

“As coral reefs begin to decline, this will affect many traditional Caribbean fisheries targeting reef fishes, such as snapper, grouper, parrot fish, etc. that depend on the coral reefs for their food, shelter and survival.

“Also, there would likely be declines in the health and survival of animals that grow carbonate shells such as queen conch, which support very important multi-million-dollar commercial fisheries in the Caribbean. With so fundamental a change in seawater chemistry, it is also possible that other forms of ocean life, as we know them today, could be affected ultimately and irreversibly,” Singh-Renton noted.

The report’s authors said the exact magnitude of the ecological and financial costs is still uncertain, due to complex interactions with other human-driven environmental changes.

They said risks to coral reefs are highlighted in the CBD, due in part to the crucial role they have in helping support the livelihoods of around 400 million people.

Hennige said that the by the end of this century, the economic loss caused by ocean acidification would be “a trillion dollars”.

His colleague, Dr. Carol Turley, a contributing author to the report, said the downward spiral could be reversed but urgent action and funding are needed.

“Who can measure acidification? It’s really developed countries that can measure it so we need to start exporting that knowledge to countries like the Caribbean, to countries like the small island developing states,” she told IPS.

“And that’s where financing comes in because as scientists we can collaborate and give you knowledge but we need financing so that we can help you set up monitoring.

“I am worried that we are too slow. We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.”

In 2013, experts warned that the acidity of the world’s oceans may increase by 170 percent by the end of the century, bringing significant economic losses. The scientists said then that marine ecosystems and biodiversity are likely to change as a result of ocean acidification, with far-reaching consequences for humans.

They also warned that economic losses from declines in shellfish aquaculture and the degradation of tropical coral reefs may be substantial owing to the sensitivity of molluscs and corals to ocean acidification.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Synthetic Biology Could Open a Whole New Can of Wormshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:48:42 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137042 In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is the world’s leading producer of vetiver. In the southwest of the country, vetiver production is hard to ignore.

Driving into Les Cayes, the largest town in the south, one is greeted by fields of vetiver on either side of the road. The same is true if driving from Les Cayes to Port Salut. Steep hillsides of the green grass line many of the ridges between the two towns.Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Haitian vetiver is highly regarded among perfumers, and it is a key ingredient in some of the finest and most expensive perfumes in the world.

However, struggling Haitians who farm this product could be dealt another harsh blow with the introduction of a new industry – synthetic biology. Although still undefined, synthetic biology can be described as ‘extreme genetic engineering,’ and refers broadly to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems, and to redesign existing biological organisms.

“In countries like Haiti there are high-value agricultural exports that form a significant part of the economy, and those high-value low-volume goods are slated to be created by companies like Evolva and could replace the truly natural products,” Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner with the civil society group Friends of the Earth U.S., told IPS.

“Evolva is creating synthetic biology flavours and fragrances which could be offered at a much cheaper price and would ultimately remove the need for different farmers of flavours and fragrances.”

Haiti’s vetiver crop is processed by 10 distillers, but it provides jobs for some 27,000 farming families in the southwest. For these farmers, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion, and helping maintain water quality.

The global value of the synthetic biology market reached 1.6 billion dollars in 2011and it will further grow to 10.8 billion by 2016, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.8 percent.

Haiti’s share of worldwide vetiver exports grew from 40 percent in 2001 to over 60 percent in 2007. But in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis, Haiti has seen a sharp reduction in vetiver exports. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, produces about 50 to 60 tonnes of vetiver annually, about 50 percent of the world’s supply.

An estimated 60,000 people in Haiti’s Les Cayes region depend on vetiver as their primary income source. The crop is grown on 10,000 hectares.

Before 2009, Haiti’s vetiver crop was valued at approximately 15-18 million dollars per year. In recent years, Haiti’s export earnings from vetiver have declined to around 10 million per year.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Friends of the Earth International is urging caution and has made several recommendations to the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.

“We are recommending a moratorium on the environmental release and the commercial use of synthetic biology, specifically because of the lack of international regulations and virtual lack of environmental and safety assessments anywhere in the world. We are encouraging the CBD to stand behind the precautionary approach which countries have already agreed to by being signatories to the CBD,” Perls said.

“This is a new and emerging issue and needs to be treated as such. Many of the concerns have to do with the environmental, cultural, social impacts of this new technology, including what would happen if a product like ginseng here in Korea were to be produced using synthetic biology. The impact that it would have on small famers across this country could be immense.

“It would also have a large impact on countries like Brazil where the feed stock would be grown in order to produce these synthetic biology organisms, which will churn out whatever you’ve designed it to churn out,” she added.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, Friends of the Earth said the claims that genetically engineered plants and microbes can sequester more carbon in the soil and produce more fuels when processed than conventional methods have yet to be proven.

The group noted that “in the wake of these unfulfilled promises” emerges synthetic biology, a more extreme form of genetic engineering, which has also been touted as the solution to the climate crisis.

But the group said synthetic biology is not a sustainable solution to the climate crisis and has the potential to create an entirely new set of problems.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of coconut oil. Twenty-five million people in a population of 100 million are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry for their livelihoods and domestic food security.

Neth Dano, programme manager with the ETC Group, told IPS, “There is a lot at stake for the Philippines” on this issue because synthetic biology could potentially replace coconut oil in the global market.

“In the Philippines, coconut production is not done in a plantation way, it’s small scale. And in the structure of rural economies, in most cases the coconut producers are among the poorest ones,” Dano explained.

Dano said the CBD as the United Nations body responsible for looking at potential impacts of development on biodiversity and also primarily for conservation of biodiversity can do a lot to address the concerns over synthetic biology.

“The CBD is the only body in the United Nations that had taken up synthetic biology so far and addressed the concerns on its potential impacts on biodiversity,” Dano said.

Dano noted also that most of the commercial beginnings of synthetic biology were related to climate change.

“The earlier research and development efforts were focusing on algae that actually would produce biofuels. And biofuels were seen as a solution to address this problem of massive greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. So it was actually presented as a solution to climate change as a mitigation strategy,” she said.

“The big oil companies invested so much in the development of biofuels from synthetically modified algae but the investments did not deliver, so now they’ve shifted their attention to low-volume high-value and this is where the lauric oils come in,” Dano added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Financing for Biodiversity: A Simple Matter of Keeping Promiseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 12:02:27 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137037 The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

With governments, activists and scientists tearing their hair out over the world’s impending crisis in biodiversity, the outgoing president of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) delivered a simple message to participants at the 12th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP12) currently underway in the Republic of Korea’s northern Pyeongchang county: honour the promises you made last year.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of the meeting, running from Oct. 6-12, Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India, which has held the presidency of the Conference of the Parties for a year, said finance continues to be a weak link in global efforts to safeguard the earth’s fragile ecosystems, with parties failing to deliver on their pledges.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk." -- Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India
Pande recalled that at the 11th meeting of the parties (COP11), held in the South Indian city of Hyderabad in October 2012, states had promised to double funding for conservation by 2015.

However, after two years, this promise remains largely undelivered. Unless countries keep their word, it will be difficult to make significant progress in achieving the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed upon at a meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in 2011, the official added.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk,” Pande told IPS.

Countless issues are calling out for an injection of monetary resources: from coastal clean-up projects and scientific research to public awareness campaigns and livelihood alternatives, conservation is a costly undertaking.

According to an estimate by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an annual expenditure of 200 billion dollars would be required to meet all 20 of the CBD goals for 2020, including eliminating harmful subsidies, halving the rate of ecosystem destruction, sustainably managing fisheries, increasing protected areas, restoring 15 percent of the world’s degraded ecosystems, and conserving known endangered species.

Thus the agreement to boost funding was one of the most celebrated outcomes of COP11. Using a baseline figure of the average annual national spending on biodiversity between 2006 and 2010, developed countries had said they would double their giving by 2015.

Although no numbers were put on the table, observers expected that a doubling of the resources then would mean around 10-12 billion dollars a year.

Now, as the convention does its mid-term review, it appears that figure is far from becoming a reality.

Paul Leadly, lead author of ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4’ (GBO-4), a progress report on global efforts towards the Aichi Targets released here Monday, acknowledges that finance is “definitely insufficient.”

“The good news is there is a slight increase in the funding. The bad news is, it’s not anywhere near doubling the amount,” he told IPS.

According to him, given the current slowdown in the global economy, it is difficult to say how nations will fulfill their promises in another two years.

“It doesn’t help that a lot of countries are not [doing] very well financially. For example, in Brazil, there is economic stagnation,” Leadly added.

Others believe the global financial climate should not act as a deterrent to swift action on conservation and environmental protection.

Countries like India have allocated substantial amounts of state funding to the conservation effort, in the hopes of leading by example.

“Since 2012, we have been spending two billion rupees [about 32.5 million dollars] each year just on managing and maintaining our biodiversity hubs such as our national parks and sanctuaries […]. We have reported this to the CBD as well,” Pande claimed, adding that all 191 parties to the convention are bound to do the same.

Although the budget allocation to India’s ministry of environment and forests has seen a decline from 24 billion rupees (391 million dollars) in 2012-13 to 20.4 billion rupees (325 million dollars) this year, Pande says the combined total budgets of all ministries involved in the conservation effort – including departments that oversee land restoration, soil conservation, water, fishers and ecological development – represent a sum that is higher than previous years.

Still, India is just one country out of nearly 200. Given that international agreements on biodiversity are not legally binding, no country can be “forced to pay”, so holding parties accountable to their financial commitments is no easy task.

Pande also said that a large number of governments had not submitted their national reports to the CBD in time, resulting in inadequate data in the GBO-4 regarding finances and financial commitments.

Mobilising resources will be a major topic at the meeting currently underway in Korea. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, told IPS that an expected outcome of COP12 was a clear resource mobilisation strategy to tackle the dearth of funds.

Another factor to keep in mind is that state parties can increase allocations for biodiversity conservation efforts without necessarily making huge investments.

One of these “non-economic” ways of generating the necessary resources, according to Leadly, is to end subsidies.

“Governments are spending so much money on providing subsidies: in agriculture, fuels, fisheries, fertiliser. Ending those subsidies doesn’t cost money. In fact, [governments] could use that money for other things, like channeling it into conservation of biodiversity,” he asserted.

Leadly pointed to India’s on-going efforts to phase out subsidies of synthetic fertilisers as an example others could follow, adding, “If you look at China, their fertiliser is massively subsidised, which is not matching the needs of their crop plants. But political will is needed.”

Some states do appear to be prioritising the issue: Thailand this year added 150,000 dollars to its annual budget in order to jumpstart forest conservation; Guatemala has earmarked some 291 million dollars for biodiversity efforts, Namibia spends about 100 million dollars a year on similar endeavours, while Bangladesh and Nepal have allocated 360 and 86 million dollars respectively.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Investigation into Illegal Timber Imports a “Sea Change”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-investigation-into-illegal-timber-imports-a-sea-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-investigation-into-illegal-timber-imports-a-sea-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-investigation-into-illegal-timber-imports-a-sea-change/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 00:35:03 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137022 Illegally logged timber seized by the Ayun villagers in Pakistan's Chitral district. A ban on trade in illegally harvested timber, wildlife and fish is omitted from the current fast-track legislation in the U.S. Congress. Credit: Imran Schah/IPS

Illegally logged timber seized by the Ayun villagers in Pakistan's Chitral district. A ban on trade in illegally harvested timber, wildlife and fish is omitted from the current fast-track legislation in the U.S. Congress. Credit: Imran Schah/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

A year after a U.S. company was accused of engaging in the systematic importing of flooring made from illegally harvested timber, pressure is mounting on federal agencies currently investigating the allegations.

In September 2013, federal authorities executed search warrants of two of the offices of Lumber Liquidators, the largest specialty flooring company in the United States. The company was suspected of importing illegally logged hardwood from far eastern Russia, in contravention of U.S. law.“Illegal wood can’t hide and these products can’t be laundered as easily as they have been in the past." -- Alexander von Bismarck

Around the same time, a civil society group, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), published a detailed report on the accusations, including extensive evidence suggesting that Lumber Liquidators was able to trade in this illicit hardwood through a Chinese supplier. In May, Greenpeace again questioned the company for doing business with suppliers reportedly linked to illegal logging in the Amazon.

Lumber Liquidators is currently being investigated by three U.S. agencies, and these probes are ongoing. While observers say that the complexities of such an international investigation would typically require timeframes of a year or more, in recent days green groups and others have stepped up pressure on the U.S. government to ensure accountability in the Lumber Liquidators case.

“There’s real reason to believe that Lumber Liquidators broke the law, and we’re particularly interested in this case being fully investigated and enforced,” Jesse Prentice-Dunn, with the trade programme at the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“We’ve been educating our members about U.S. law on this issue, and they have been very enthusiastic. A huge number of our members are now asking President Obama to fully enforce these laws.”

On Friday, the Sierra Club announced that more than 100,000 of its members had submitted petitions warning that “many companies will not move to make their supply chain sustainable until they see strong enforcement of the law.” Similar concerns were voiced in a letter sent last week by environment and organised labour groups to the three U.S. officials in charge of the Lumber Liquidators probes.

Meanwhile, Lumber Liquidators also took fresh action last week, announcing a new sustainability policy and website. In a release, the company noted that the new policy includes DNA testing of harvested timber, internal and external lumber audits, as well as a move towards sourcing within North America and “away from regions considered to have lower oversight”.

Yet in making the announcement, the company, which has maintained its innocence throughout the past year, outraged watchdog groups by suggesting that its past missteps had been more about communications than systemic problems.

“Admittedly, we’ve been more focused on our sustainability efforts than communicating broadly about them,” Ray Cotton, a Lumber Liquidators vice president, said in a statement unveiling the new website.

Asked by Canadian reporters whether it had ever sold wood “sourced illegally in the Russian Far East”, the company says “No,” in an official statement provided by EIA. It also claims both that the EIA investigation “contained fundamental inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims” and that the report never alleged that Lumber Liquidators had violated U.S. law.

“Lumber Liquidators’ statement is extremely disturbing,” Alexander von Bismarck, the executive director of EIA’s U.S. office, told IPS.

“Certainly that doesn’t give folks confidence in the company’s sustainability plan, if the overall focus is simply on improving communications. Rather, the first step towards substantive action would need to be taking a sober view on what has actually happened.”

In the balance

The U.S. law at the heart of the federal investigations is known as the Lacey Act, passed in 2008. It is widely seen as a pioneering piece of legislation, and one that some say is already having a global impact, including in China.

As in the allegations surrounding Lumber Liquidators, China has emerged in recent years as a major intermediary for the global wood industry, both licit and illicit. Over the past decade, Chinese exports of wood products have increased by upward of 30 percent per year.

Today, the country is the world’s largest exporter of wood products, with more than 12 percent of the global market, valued at almost 12 billion dollars in 2012. Yet that sector is also said to be one of the most opaque of any commercial market with which the United States trades.

Still, EIA’s von Bismarck says that some changes have started to take place in how the Chinese authorities are approaching the issue of illegal wood laundering. He also notes that this is what makes the Lumber Liquidators case – and the potential response by U.S. authorities, following the current investigations – so important.

While the Chinese authorities, for the first time, have started discussing illegal logging in international fora, the response has been incomplete, von Bismarck warns. This is largely because of the extent to which companies are still able to ignore laws like the Lacey Act.

“That allows Chinese industry to make the assessment that they don’t need to change their practices – because the wood is still getting in,” he says.

“So the whole situation is hanging in the balance, and the Lumber Liquidators case is a critical signal to the Chinese industry associations that are currently deciding which way they are going to go. That will decide whether, in a few years, we will have a new law of the land for the wood trade.”

While some environmentalists have started to criticise the Lacey Act, von Bismarck says the current investigation is proof that the legislation is working.

“The fact that the U.S. government is investigating a case that involves illegal logging in one country and manufacturing in another before it gets to the United States is a very positive sign for the overall efficacy of the law,” he says.

“Illegal wood can’t hide and these products can’t be laundered as easily as they have been in the past, and that could bring about a sea change in the industry. That probably hasn’t yet been digested by all corners of the global wood industry, but it will be.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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