Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139443 On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”"Added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict." -- climate scientist Richard Seager

Described as the worst ever recorded in the region, the drought is said to have destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said a cautious Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who co-authored the study.

“We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine, U.S., told IPS that obviously the Syrian war is a complex situation that cannot be explained solely due to drought and the collapse of agricultural systems.

“Yet we know that agricultural production will be one of the first casualties of the climate catastrophe that is currently unfolding,” she noted.

Indeed, she said, climate change is not some far-off threat of impacts that will happen in 2050 or 2100.

“What this research shows is that climate impacts on agriculture are happening now, with devastating consequences to those whose livelihoods are based on agriculture.

“We can expect, even in the near-term, more of these types of impacts on agricultural systems that will lead to large-scale migrations – within countries and between countries – with significant human, economic, and ecological cost,” she added.

And what this research shows more than anything is that the global community should be taking the climate crisis – and its impacts on agricultural production – much more seriously than it has to date, said Stabinsky, who is also a visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Meanwhile, previous studies have also linked climate change – water shortages and drought – as triggering conflicts in Darfur, Sudan.

Asked about Syria, Dr Colin P. Kelley, lead author of the study, told IPS: “From what I’ve read , there is little evidence of climate change (precipitation or temperature) contributing to the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

“I know this has been a controversial topic, though,” he added.

According to the new Columbia University study, climate change has also resulted in the escalation of military tension in the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq.

It says a growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

Some researchers project that human-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so.

And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water.

The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

The study also points out the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago.

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10-percent reduction in wet-season precipitation.

“They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability,” according to the study.

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season.

Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch.

The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began.

The researchers conclude that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the entire Mediterranean, and attributed at least part of it to manmade warming; this includes an earlier study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the already violent Mideast will dry more in coming decades as human-induced warming proceeds.

The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including dramatic population growth— from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton, the study notes.

Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) who did the economic and social components of the research.

The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third, according to the study.

In the hard-hit northeast, it said, livestock herds were practically obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq.

In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: War on Wildlife Crime – Time to Enlist the Ordinary Citizenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 14:46:38 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139432 Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing a “wildlife crisis”, and it is a crisis exacerbated by human activities, not least criminal ones.

Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year, helping to finance criminal gangs and rebel organisations waging civil wars.“Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there with narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year”

With seven billion people on the planet, it is tempting to shrug one’s shoulders and ask “What difference can any one individual make?”  Such an attitude means that we are in danger of repeating the “tragedy of the commons” – everyone making seemingly rational decisions in their own immediate interests – but this is a short-sighted approach that undermines the common good and ultimately sows the seeds of its own downfall.

With seven billion people on the planet, it is also tempting to say that people’s need for food, shelter and well-being should take precedence over nature conservation, but the two are not necessarily irreconcilable.  In fact far from it – the two often go hand in hand and are totally compatible – non-consumptive use of wildlife, such as whale-watching and safaris, provide sustainable livelihoods for thousands of people.

Extinction has been an ever-present phenomenon, with a few species losing their specialised niche or being edged out to a more aggressive competitor or, in the case of dinosaurs, being wiped out by a meteorite strike.

The number of species going extinct is increasing fast, at a rate that cannot be attributed to natural causes and it is clear that there is a human foot pressing down heavily on the accelerator pedal.

South Africa reports record numbers of rhinos killed for their horn; demand for ivory is pushing the elephant to the brink; tiger numbers might have risen in India of late but the wild population and the range occupied by the cats are a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And we are not just losing vital pieces in the elaborate jigsaw puzzle of ecosystems; we are losing elements of our natural heritage that contribute to human culture and society, and the lifeblood of sustainable activities that create employment in the tourism sector, generating foreign exchange and significant tax revenues.

Wildlife crime is not an abstract. It affects us all and there is more that individuals can do to make a difference than they perhaps imagine.  Understanding the consequences of killing the animals and highlighting the connection between the increased poaching and organised criminal gangs and terrorists have been extremely helpful in strengthening  political messages and in persuading  the public to demand that more be done.

The gangs care little about the fate of the animals – either the individuals they kill or the survival of the species.  They think nothing of shooting the rangers who stand in their way.  They do care about their profits and high demand for ivory in East Asian markets has sent the price through the roof – not that the poacher in the field or the craftsman in the backstreet workshop receive much of a share.

If demand evaporates, the price will fall and killing elephants for their ivory will no longer be a viable business. The gangs will have to find some other source of income, but they would have to do this soon anyway, as current levels of poaching mean that there will not be any elephants left in 30 years.

The maxim “get them while they are young” applies to many things, not least the environment and junior members of the household often influence the family’s behaviour with regard to recycling, saving energy and water, food purchases and a range of other “green issues”. So raising awareness among the younger generation of the need to tackle wildlife crime is crucial.

The fight against wildlife crime has to be conducted on several fronts.  It does register on governments’ radar and pressure from civil society can help keep it high on the agenda.  The public has a vital role to play in keeping pressure on governments, either individually or through local pressure groups and NGOs. People can also modify their own behaviour by minimising their footprint on the planet.

We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime, but nor should we dismiss the potential impact of the actions of individuals as consumers, customers or voters.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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A New Forensic Weapon to Track Illegal Ivory Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:01:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139356 Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, is deploying a new forensic weapon – DNA testing – to track illegal ivory products responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of endangered elephants in Asia and Africa.

Widely used in criminal cases, forensic DNA examination (Deoxyribonucleic acid) can help identify whether the elephant tusk is from Asia or Africa.“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement." -- Adisorn Noochdumrong

Asked whether this is a first, Dr Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator at the UK-based TRAFFIC, told IPS: “It’s the first time I’m aware of when it’s been used to test ivory items for sale to prove their (illegal) provenance.”

However, he added, it’s worth noting that at the March 2013 meeting of CITES (the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), State Parties to the Convention were instructed that forensic information should routinely be gathered from all large-scale seizures of ivory (500kg).

Hence this is also an important demonstration of one technique that can be employed in the fight against the illegal trade in endangered species, he said.

The current project is a collaborative effort between Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and TRAFFIC, to battle the widespread illegal trade of ivory in Thailand.

Asked whether African countries have similar projects in collaboration with TRAFFIC, Dr. Thomas told IPS, “Not currently, although the scope of DNA and stable isotope analysis of ivory are being examined by others as means to determine the geographic origin of ivory within Africa.”

He also pointed out that any wildlife product, by definition, is associated with life and therefore open for DNA examination.

“So, in theory it could be a very widely employed technique in addressing wildlife trafficking.”

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Sri Lankan and Sumatran elephants are on a list of endangered species, along with the black rhino, mountain gorilla, Bengal tiger, the blue whale and the green turtle, among others.

WWF says the global illicit wildlife trade is estimated at over 10 billion dollars annually and is controlled by criminal networks.

Specifically on the ivory trade, Dr Thomas told IPS, “We’re very wary about speculating over black market prices – in part, because they’re black market and therefore unverifiable, but more because of anecdotal evidence that high prices quoted in the media can lead to interest from the criminal fraternity in getting involved in trafficking.”

In a report released here, TRAFFIC said 160 items of small ivory products legally acquired by researchers, primarily from retail outlets in Bangkok, were subjected to DNA analysis at the DNP’s Wildlife Forensics Crime Unit (WIFOS Laboratory).

The aim of the exercise was to determine whether the ivory products were made from African elephant or Asian elephant tusks.

The African elephant Loxodonta africana is found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asian elephant Elephas maximas is found in Thailand and 12 other Asian countries.

The study also said forensic results show that African elephant ivory accounted for a majority of the items tested.

“Whilst the relatively small number of samples cannot be considered as representative of the entire ivory market in Thailand, it indicates that African elephant ivory is prominently represented in the retail outlets in Bangkok,” it noted.

This capability supports the enforcement component of Thailand’s revised National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) submitted to CITES in September 2014.

The plan was developed to control ivory trade in Thailand and strengthen measures to prevent illegal international trade and includes a strong focus on law enforcement and regulation, including the execution of a robust ivory registration system, according to the report.

“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement,” said Adisorn Noochdumrong, acting deputy director general of DNP.

“We are deeply concerned by these findings which come just at the moment a nationwide ivory product registration exercise is being conducted pursuant to recently enacted legislation to strengthen ivory trade controls in Thailand,” he added.

The report said the Thai government last month passed new legislation to regulate and control the possession and trade of ivory that can be shown to have come from domesticated Asian Elephants in Thailand.

With the passing of the Elephant Ivory Act B.E. 2558 (2015), anyone in possession of ivory – whether as personal effects or for commercial purposes – must register all items in their possession with the DNP from Jan. 22 until Apr. 21, 2015.

Penalties for failing to do so could result in up to three years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of Thai Baht 6 million (nearly 200,000 dollars).

“We remind anyone registering possession of raw ivory or ivory products under Thailand’s new laws that African Elephant ivory is strictly prohibited and ineligible for sale in Thailand,” said Noochdumrong.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Water and the World We Wanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-water-and-the-world-we-want/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 19:42:58 +0000 Corinne Schuster-Wallace and Robert Sandford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139353 Little girls in Timor-Leste cross a rice field after heavy rains carrying water in plastic containers. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Little girls in Timor-Leste cross a rice field after heavy rains carrying water in plastic containers. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Corinne Schuster-Wallace and Robert Sandford
HAMILTON, Canada, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

We have entered a watershed year, a moment critical for humanity.

As we reflect on the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals, we look toward the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals to redress imbalances perpetuated through unsustainable economic growth and to help achieve key universally-shared ambitions, including stable political systems, greater wealth and better health for all.Threat of a global water crisis is often mischaracterised as a lack of water to meet humanity’s diverse needs. It is actually a crisis of not enough water where we want it, when we want it, of sufficient quality to meet needs.

More than any other resource, freshwater underpins sustainable development. Not only is it necessary for life and human well-being, it’s a key element of all human industry.

And a U.N. report launched Feb. 24, “Water in the World We Want,” outlines what must be done within the world’s water system.

Effective management and universal provisioning of drinking water and sanitation coupled with good hygiene are the most critical elements of sustainability and development, preventing disease and death and facilitating education and economic productivity.

While 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water since 2000, it is estimated that just as many do not have access to potable quality water, let alone 24-7 service in their homes, schools and health facilities. Furthermore, 2.5 billion people without adequate access and 1 billion with no toilet at all.

If we don’t regain momentum in water sector improvements, population growth, economic instability, Earth system impacts and climate disruption may make it impossible to ever achieve a meaningful level of sustainability.

If this occurs we could face stalling or even reversal of development, meaning more people, not fewer, in poverty, and greater sub-national insecurity over water issues with the potential to create tension and conflict and destabilize countries.

Threat of a global water crisis is often mischaracterised as a lack of water to meet humanity’s diverse needs. It is actually a crisis of not enough water where we want it, when we want it, of sufficient quality to meet needs.

Moreover, changes in atmospheric composition and consequent changes in our climate have altered the envelope of certainty within which we have historically anticipated weather, producing deeper and more persistent droughts and more damaging floods. These changing water circumstances will cascade through the environment, every sector of every economy, and social and political systems around the world.

So what in the world do we do?

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, every country must commit funding, institutional resources and tools to the cause — including major realignment of national economic priorities where needed.

New mechanisms are required for transferring and sharing not only money but knowledge, data, technology and “soft” solutions proven in different contexts. Engagement of the private sector is critical in this transfer of technologies and know-how.

National governments must prioritize water, wastewater, and sanitation management, supported by a dedicated and independent arm’s length water agency.

The balance between environment, human security, and economic viability need to be articulated in a manner which holds all nations accountable for helping one another achieve the highest global standard for sustainable development, does not tolerate compromise, yet provides flexibility on the mechanisms by which to achieve those outcomes.

If we want to live in a sustainable world we have to provide clean and reliable sources of water to the billions of people who do not enjoy this basic right today and provide sanitation services to the more than two and a half billion people on Earth who lack even basic toilets.

Agriculture and energy sectors must be held accountable for water use and other system efficiencies while maintaining or increasing productivity. Companies that rely on, or have an interest in, water have a key role to play in financing and implementing sound water, sanitation and wastewater management strategies. Such companies must step up to the plate or risk significant losses. This is no longer simply corporate social responsibility but sound economic investment.

To ensure financial resources for implementation, new and emerging opportunities must be explored in parallel with more efficient expenditures, taking maximum advantage of economies of both scope and scale and accounting for trickle through benefits to many other sectors.

Additional funds can be freed up through phased redirection of the 1.9 trillion dollars currently granted as subsidies to petroleum, coal and gas industries. Corruption, a criminal act in its own right, siphons up to 30 percent of water sector investments which could be viewed as a crime against humanity within the context of sustainable development.

We can still have the sustainable future we want. But only if the world finds renewed determination and resumes the pace needed to reach our water-related development goals.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UN at 70: Mega-Cities, Mortality and Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/analysis-mega-cities-mortality-and-migration-a-snapshot-of-post-u-n-world-population/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:43:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139346 The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The world's population reached 7 billion on Oct. 31, 2011. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

As the international community marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, one question worthy of some reflection is: Is world population better or worse off demographically since the establishment of the U.N.?

Some contend that the demography of today’s world population is markedly better than it was seven decades ago. Others argue that humanity is definitely worse off demographically and still others – often sceptics and cynics – feel it is neither better nor worse, but just different.This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

To consider the merits of those various perspectives and distinguish between personal opinions and measurable facts, it is useful and appropriate to dispassionately examine some fundamental demographic changes that have occurred to world population since the middle of the 20th century.

Perhaps the most visible demographic change is the increased size of world population, which now at 7.3 billion is five billion larger than at the time of the U.N.’s founding.

While world population has more than tripled in size, considerable variation has taken place across regions. Some populations, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia, have increased 500 percent or more over the past seven decades.

In contrast, other populations, such as those in Europe, increased by 40 percent or less over that time span.

The growth of world population, around 1.8 percent per year at mid 20th century, peaked at 2.1 percent in the late 1960s. The current annual rate of global population growth is 1.1 percent, the lowest since the U.N.’s founding.

In terms of absolute numbers, world population was adding approximately 47 million per year in 1950. The annual increase nearly doubled to a peak of 91 million in the late 1980s and then began declining to its current level of 81 million.

An important consequence of the differential rates of demographic growth globally has been the shift in the geographic distribution of world population. Whereas 70 years ago about one-third of world population resided in more developed regions, today that proportion is about half that level or 17 percent.

Also noteworthy are the regional demographic shifts that have occurred. For example, while Europe and Africa at mid 20th century accounted for 22 percent and 8 percent of world population, respectively, their current proportions are 10 percent for Europe and 16 percent for Africa.

Perhaps the most welcomed demographic change in world population that has taken place is the decline in mortality levels, including infant, child and maternal death rates.

During the past 70 years, the global infant mortality rate fell from approximately 140 to 40 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The improvements in mortality across all age groups have resulted in an average life expectancy at birth for the world of 70 years, a gain of some 25 years since 1950.

Another remarkable transformation in world population over the past seven decades is the decline in fertility.

As a result of men and women gaining unprecedented control over the number, spacing and timing of their children, global fertility has decreased significantly from an average of about 5 births per woman at mid-20th century to 2.5 births per woman today.

Due to the declines in fertility as well as mortality, the age structure of world population has aged markedly. Over the past seven decades, the median age of world population has increased by six years, i.e., from 24 to 30 years.

In addition, the elderly proportion aged 80 years or older has tripled during this time period, increasing from about 0.5 to 1.6 percent.

The sex composition of world population has been relatively balanced and stable over the recent past, with a global sex ratio of around 100 -102 males for every 100 females.

Although slightly more boys are born than girls, many countries, especially the more developed, have more females than males due to lower female mortality rates.

Notable exceptions to that general pattern are China and India, whose population sex ratios are approximately 107 males per 100 females due in part to sex-selective abortion of female fetuses.

Whereas the sex ratio at birth of most countries is around 105 males per 100 females, it is 117 in China and 111 in India, markedly higher than their ratios in the past.

Increased urbanisation is another significant demographic transformation in world population. A literal revolution in urban living has occurred across the planet during the past seven decades.

Whereas a minority of world population, 30 percent, lived in urban areas in 1950, today the majority of the world, 54 percent, consists of urban dwellers. The migration to urban places took place across all regions, with many historically rural, less developed countries, such as China, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey, rapidly transformed to predominantly urban societies.

Another striking demographic change in world population is the emergence of mega-cities — agglomerations of 10 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, there was a single city in this category: New York, with 12.3 million inhabitants.

Today there are 28 mega-cities, with Tokyo being the largest at 38 million inhabitants, followed by Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million and Mexico City, Mumbai and San Paulo each with approximately 21 million.

In addition to internal movements within nations, international migration across countries and regions has also increased markedly over the past decades. A half-century ago 77 million or nearly 3 percent of world population were immigrants, meaning they live in a place different from their place of birth. That figure has tripled to 232 million, representing slightly more than 3 percent of world population.

While most of the international migration is lawful, increasing numbers of men, women and children are choosing due to circumstance and desire to immigrate outside legal channels.

And while precise figures of migrants unlawfully resident are difficult to establish, the total number worldwide is estimated at least 50 million.

The numbers of refugees have also increased substantially during the recent past. At mid-20th century, an estimated one million people remained uprooted following the world war.

In the early 1990s the number of refugees peaked at around 18 million. Latest estimates put the global number of refugees at 16.7 million and growing.

Also, the total number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflict, which includes refugees, asylum seekers and internal displaced persons, has reached 51.2 million, the first time it has exceeded 50 million since the World War II.

From the above discussion, most would probably agree that while some aspects of world population are clearly better today than 70 years ago, others are not necessarily better and still others are decidedly worse.

Lower mortality rates and people living longer lives are certainly welcomed improvements. Men and women having the ability to decide more easily and freely the number, spacing and timing of births has also been an advance.

The logical consequence of lower mortality and fertility is population aging, a remarkable achievement that will, however, require major societal adjustments.

The scale of refugees and internally displaced person is plainly worse than a half century ago. The growing numbers and difficult circumstances of those fleeing their homes are unlikely to improve in the near future given the increasing political upheaval, ongoing civil conflicts and deteriorating economic conditions in many parts of the world.

Finally, the unprecedented growth of world population – the most rapid in human history –added about 5 billion more people since the mid 20th century.

This extraordinary demographic growth continues to pose serious challenges for humanity, including food production, pollution, global warming, water shortages, environmental degradation, crowding, reduced biodiversity and socio-economic development.

The recent declines in world population growth provide some indication of future demographic stabilisation or peaking, perhaps as early as the close of the 21st century.

At that time, would population is expected to be about 10 billion, 2.5 billion more than today or four times as many people as were living on the planet when the United Nations was founded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139258 A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Should We Celebrate 10 Years of the Global Tobacco Control Treaty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/should-we-celebrate-10-years-of-the-global-tobacco-control-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=should-we-celebrate-10-years-of-the-global-tobacco-control-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/should-we-celebrate-10-years-of-the-global-tobacco-control-treaty/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:36:29 +0000 Laurent Huber http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139241

Laurent Huber is Director of Framework Convention Alliance, a grouping of nearly 500 organisations worldwide dedicated to global tobacco control.

By Laurent Huber
GENEVA, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

February 27 will mark the 10th anniversary of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first global public health treaty.

Today the FCTC has 180 Parties, making it among the most widely-adopted international instruments. About 90 percent of the world’s population falls under the FCTC’s protections.

The creators of the Convention were bold in their intentions – “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption.”

An anniversary is an opportunity to look back and reflect, and to look forward and plan. Has the FCTC lived up to its lofty goals? Are we on track to end the tobacco epidemic? Is it too soon to judge?

1 billion deaths ahead?

It is no accident that the first global, legally-binding public health effort targeted tobacco. In the absence of action, the world gloomily looked ahead to one billion deaths from tobacco consumption in the 21st century.

In addition to that depressing figure, tobacco has profoundly negative consequences for the wealth of nations and individuals, for human rights, for development and for the environment. In 10 years, have we made a dent?

Yes. The FCTC came into being at a critical time in the history of the tobacco epidemic. Consumption was moving swiftly from the developed to the developing world, and growing overall.

Everywhere, tobacco addiction was becoming a burden on the poorest, most marginalised populations.

Tobacco industry profits were staggering, dwarfing the gross domestic products of most of the countries in which they operated.

This wealth was poured back into marketing, litigation and public influence to ensure the addiction of future generations.

In 2005, when the FCTC came into force, the tobacco industry was put on notice that the world had united against it.

Numerous victories

The public health community can point to specific victories. In 2004, Ireland became the first country to ban smoking in all public and work places. They have been followed by dozens more.

Several countries have struck at the core of the industry’s business model by banning marketing – including the display of products in stores – and corporate social responsibility schemes (Mauritius), and by requiring plain packaging (Australia).

While we have succeeded in convincing health ministries of the importance of tobacco, other government sectors lag far behind.

Scores of countries have introduced graphic warning labels on packaging, and there have been large tobacco tax increases in countries not previously known for their strong tobacco control policies, such as Chile and the Philippines, to name just two.

There is a protocol to address the massive problem (often perpetrated by the industry itself) of illicit trade. An increasing number of governments are using litigation to hold the industry accountable for the consequences of its products.

Mainly health ministries

But – and you knew there was going to be a “but” – sober reflection is also called for. The number of tobacco users and deaths continues to rise. The tobacco industry, the vector of the epidemic, is not on its heels: the profit of the four biggest firms was over US$36 billion in 2013.

While we have succeeded in convincing health ministries of the importance of tobacco, other government sectors lag far behind.

The implementation of the all-important FCTC Article 5.3, calling for governments to refuse to cooperate with the tobacco industry in formulating health policy, is failing miserably in all but a few countries.

And when governments bravely move forward with cutting-edge tobacco control measures, they can expect an avalanche of tobacco industry lawsuits, both domestically and through international trade agreements, chilling the political will of other governments.

Mixed results, to be certain. Should we celebrate? Absolutely! No one expected the FCTC to be an instant cure. At the outset, the curve of the epidemic was simply too steep to believe that, in 10 years’ time, it could be reversed.

We’ve made great strides.

On 27 Feb, if you have been involved in this historic endeavour, take a moment to congratulate yourself and a colleague. And then on the 28th, let’s move forward with purpose to fill in the gaps. The FCTC is the beginning, not the end, of a long and purposeful journey.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Keeping Food Security on the Table at U.N. Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/keeping-food-security-on-the-table-at-u-n-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-food-security-on-the-table-at-u-n-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/keeping-food-security-on-the-table-at-u-n-climate-talks/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 22:32:29 +0000 Denise M. Fontanilla and Chris Wright http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139186 The UN climate talks open in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 8. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata

The UN climate talks open in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 8. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata

By Denise M. Fontanilla and Chris Wright
GENEVA, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

Food security has become a key issue of the U.N. climate negotiations this week in Geneva as a number of countries and observers raised concerns that recent advances in Lima are in jeopardy.

While food security is a core objective of the U.N. climate convention, it has traditionally been discussed in relation to adaptation.“If we succeed in having food security within mitigation, we can say that one of the biggest concerns of Southern countries will have been taken into account." -- Ali Abdou Bonguéré, a negotiator for Niger

“Ask any African country what’s adaptation about – they’re going to say agriculture,” said Teresa Anderson of the international charity ActionAid. She added that 90 percent of countries who developed national adaptation plans identified agriculture as the key element.

Food security is referenced throughout the latest draft of the new climate agreement, which was released Feb. 12. One proposal for adaptation recognises the need “to build resilience of the most vulnerable linked to pockets of poverty, livelihoods and food security in developing countries.”

This language has recently been strengthened during negotiations in Lima. These discussions were seen as a minor victory for many developing nations seeking to include specific provisions for food security.

“Since Lima we have worked hard for food security to be taken into account. Food security was finally included into the adaptation section and we are currently working hard to have it also included in the mitigation negotiations as well,” said Ali Abdou Bonguéré, a negotiator for Niger.

However, this week a number of non-governmental organisations and negotiators alike have raised concerns that food security may be coming under threat.

As Teresa Anderson of ActionAid explained, there have been recent changes to the language being used within mitigation discussions that may have a long term impact on food security, especially in developing and marginalised nations.

Augustine Njamnshi, executive member of Cameroon’s Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme and part of the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance. Credit: RTCC

Augustine Njamnshi, executive member of Cameroon’s Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme and part of the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance. Credit: RTCC

These concerns began when “a few countries proposed submissions on a long term mitigation goal of ‘net zero’ emissions”. This was seen as a largely positive move, as negotiations developed a broader perspective and a number of countries proposed possible long-term pledges to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 2050 to ‘net’ or ‘near’ zero.

However, while the terms “near zero emissions” and “net zero emissions” may sound similar, some NGOs here believe they can have the exact opposite meaning. According to Anderson, while a goal of near zero emissions would be essential to addressing climate change, a long term “net zero” goal would mean that developed countries in particular could continue their emissions business as usual , while using alternative approaches to suck carbon out of the air instead of implementing real change.

Of the “net-zero” emissions approaches currently on the table, most are land-based, and would involve the scaling up of biofuels, biochar or BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage). “All of these approaches would use massive amounts of land, and this could create significant competition for food production,” she adds.

“In Africa we need land to grow our crops. You cannot be solving another problem by creating another problem,” said Augustine Njamnshi, executive member of Cameroon’s Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme and part of the Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance.

“We call for zero emissions, actually reducing emissions. Net zero means continuing pollution in some countries while stocking carbon dioxide in other countries, which will not be helpful to the communities in Africa,” he added.

This then could have a multiplying effect on food security, as “land use” was this week also introduced into the negotiations on mitigation.

“As land use is now being proposed in mitigation text, there are fears from many NGOs and countries I have talked to that an overemphasis on mitigation relating to agriculture and land will become the priority over adaptation…countries will have to sequester carbon to meet their mitigation goals,” Teresa said.

Dr. Alicia Ilaga, climate director of the Philippine agricultural ministry. Credit: Lou Del Bello via SciDev.net

Dr. Alicia Ilaga, climate director of the Philippine agricultural ministry. Credit: Lou Del Bello via SciDev.net

This, she fears, means that developed countries could supplement their mitigation goals with plans on purchasing land used for agriculture and turning it into biofuels or biochar. As Teresa added, if this was in fact to occur, it could affect poor and subsistence farmers, especially in developing countries.

“What we have learned from the biofuel land grab, it is always the hungriest, the poorest, the most marginalised who suffer the most. In the end, they get pushed off their land and thrown into poverty as they can’t afford the price of food.”

However, a number of negotiators, including some from developing countries, have argued that these concerns are exaggerated, and assumes these negotiations are occurring in bad faith.

“I don’t think that’s the way [the European Union] would see it like that because there’s actually a lot of measures you can take within the agriculture sector that have benefits for food security, adaptation and mitigation,” according to Irish delegate Gemma O’Reilly.

This is in the context of a week of negotiations that many feel was among the most successful and collegial in the recent history of the U.N. climate negotiations. As such, O’Reilly still believes we can achieve a win-win situation in the long term.

“There are measures you want to take that’s win-win-win and that’s what you can encourage. And land-grabbing – I don’t think so,” she added.

While Geneva may have closed (the talks ran Feb. 8-13), negotiations on mitigation remain open as we move closer to a Paris deal at the end of the year. It is therefore the hope among many developing nations that the inclusion of specific safeguards within mitigation could help protect against a future climate-fuelled land grab.

“If we succeed in having food security within mitigation, we can say that one of the biggest concerns of Southern countries will have been taken into account,” Bonguéré said.

This was reiterated by Dr. Alicia Ilaga, climate director of the Philippine agriculture ministry.

“Adaptation is our priority. If there are mitigation co-benefits, okay, even better, why not? And there are co-benefits for food security. Food security is adaptation, but there are adaptation strategies with mitigation potential,“ she said.

Saying that, climate justice groups this week reminded negotiators that the greatest threat to food security remains the lack of efforts to dramatically reduce carbon emissions before 2020.

Instead of delaying what may become an inevitable climate crisis for farmers and fisherfolk in the future, they call on countries to “take up the call of local communities to transform our energy systems today”.

This approach, partnered with a rapid phase-in of renewable energies and agro-ecological farming practices, could possibly achieve the co-benefits Dr. Ilaga hopes will support food security and prevent further climate change.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Warming, Wildfires and Worrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=warming-wildfires-and-worries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/warming-wildfires-and-worries/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:22:24 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139127 A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States. Credit: John McColgan/U.S. Forest Service

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

World leaders from government, finance, business, science and civil society are attempting to negotiate a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change at the upcoming 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference being convened in Paris in December.

If achieved, which appears uncertain at present, the agreement aimed at addressing global warming would begin to take effect some time in the future. In the meantime, local communities are being forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as the increasing incidence of wildfires.The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia.

As a result of the world’s warming the frequency and duration of large wildfires and the area burned have been increasing. Longer fire seasons, warmer temperatures, which are conducive to widespread insect infestations killing more trees, and drier conditions, including more droughts, are contributing to more severe wildfire risks and growing worries for local communities.

Worldwide it is estimated that somewhere between 75 million and 820 million hectares of land burn each year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that “climate variability is often the dominant factor affecting large wildfires” despite widespread management practices aimed at reducing flammable materials in forests.

Various climate models are forecasting higher temperatures and longer droughts, which in turn are expected to increase wildfire frequency. While more rainfall in some areas might reduce fire frequency, it may also foster more forest vegetation that provides more fuel for wildfires. Lightning strikes, often an ignition source for wildfires, are also expected to increase with global warming.

The challenges of catastrophic wildfires are certainly daunting and can be overwhelming as recently witnessed in California, South Australia and Indonesia. The costs of wildfires in terms of risks to human life and property damage are enormous and are expected to increase substantially in the coming years.

Wildfires also have serious environmental and health consequences. In addition to threats to humans and wildlife, wildfires contribute to local air pollution, which exacerbate lung diseases, and cause breathing problems even in healthy individuals.

Most wealthy industrialised nations have developed mechanisms and organisations and allocated human and financial resources to combat wildfires and mitigate their devastating consequences. Less developed countries, in contrast, often lack the resources and governmental organisations to tackle wildfires and handle their effects.

As might be expected, people’s vulnerability to global warming varies greatly by region, wealth and access to alternatives. Some less developed nations, in particular small island nations and low-lying territories, are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These nations are seeking mitigation monies from the wealthy, industrialised countries to help them adapt to the impending catastrophes from climate change.

Based on the available statistical evidence, the overwhelming majority of scientists have concluded that climate change is due to greenhouse-gas emissions. Some powerful voices, however, are in denial, disputing the causes of global warming often because of self-interest, resistance to change and fear of governmental and outside interventions and regulations.

Local communities, however, do not have the luxury of debating the causes and consequences of climate change. Communities are forced to deal with the consequences of global warming, such as increasing wildfires, rising sea levels, droughts, etc.

With a possible global agreement on climate change now being debated and negotiated by major world powers, one small community in the Bahamas decided that they needed to do something about the increased threat of large wildfires to life and property due to global warming.

On a plot of land leased from the Bahamian government, the community of Bahama Palm Shores consisting of some 100 households located in the Abacos Island financed and built their own firehouse.

The homeowners -men and women and young and old- donated their time, labour and limited financial resources to build their local firehouse. They were also able to collect 12,000 dollars in donations to purchase a used 1985 fire truck from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

In addition to an occasional bingo night, the community has organised a 30-mile Bike-a-Thon on Valentine’s Weekend of about three dozen riders to raise funds to maintain the firehouse and fire truck as well as support volunteer fire services.

Many communities recognise the need to organise and work together to ensure that local climate change adaptation measures are effective. Non-governmental organisations, especially environmental groups, are also encouraging and supporting citizens at various levels to due their part to reduce the impact of climate change.

However, the only long-term solution to global warming is a legally binding and international agreement on climate among all nations of the world, which is the overall objective of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December.

As witnessed at the recent U.N. Summit on Climate Change held in New York City, heads of state and government officials often announce impressive actions and ambitious goals intended to avert the worst consequences of global warming as well as address the vocal concerns of activist environmental groups. When it comes to adopting coordinated action at the global level for nearly 200 countries, things become enormously more complex and difficult.

Some observers consider the chances of achieving an international, binding climate agreement by the year’s end to be slim. They see powerful factors, including the industrial complexes reliance on fossil fuels, economic and business interests, and short-term, parochial nation-state interests, undermining the chances for an agreement.

In addition, even if an international climate convention were to be reached, they contend that it would be almost impossible to enforce.

Others, however, believe that a global climate convention is not only possible, but that it may lead to payoffs that will have meaningful impacts on confronting climate change. Not only will an international agreement buttress the abilities of individual nations to address climate change, it will also send a clear message to businesses and guide investments toward low carbon emission outcomes.

While communities around the world wait hopefully for the outcome of the U.N. Climate Change Conference to kick in, they have little choice but to do the best they can to deal with the consequences of global warming, including more bike-a-thons, bingo games and other fund raising events.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Touts 2015 as Milestone Year for World Bodyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-touts-2015-as-milestone-year-for-world-body/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:25:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139103 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, in a sustained political hype, is touting 2015 as a likely breakthrough year for several key issues on its agenda – primarily development financing, climate change, sustainable development, disaster risk-reduction and nuclear non-proliferation.

At the same time, the world body is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year while also commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Conference on Women which strengthened gender empowerment worldwide."Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century." -- James Paul

In a report titled ‘The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet’ released last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 2015 is “the time for global action.”

The upcoming events include the Third World Conference on Disaster-Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan in March; the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty in April-May in New York; and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa in July.

Speaking to reporters last week, the secretary-general singled out three priorities “I have been repeating all the time.”

“We have to do the utmost efforts to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (ending 2015). Then the Member States are working very hard to shape the post-2015 development agenda by September.”

The United Nations will host a special summit of world leaders, Sep. 25 to 27, and “we expect that most of the world leaders will be here and discuss and adopt and declare as their vision to the world, aiming by 2030, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.

And in December this year, he said, “we must have a universal, meaningful climate change agreement” in talks scheduled to take place in Paris.

At each of these “milestones,” he pointed out, “we will continue to be ambitious to end poverty, reduce inequality and exploit the opportunities that accompany the climate challenge.”

As for the 70th anniversary, he said, it will be “an important moment for serious reflection on our achievements and setbacks”.

But Jim Paul, who monitored the United Nations for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS he was sceptical of the political hype surrounding the upcoming conferences.

“The United Nations has been trumpeting the global meetings of 2015 as watershed events, but real world expectations are lagging behind the rhetoric of the secretary-general and his team,” he said.

Paul said there are several issues to bear in mind: while the U.N.’s summits address some of the world’s most pressing issues, powerful member states like the United States usually seek to weaken the events and prevent strong outcomes.

This trend was already visible in the 1990s, the golden decade of U.N. summits, when Washington began to insist that summits were too “expensive” and reached too far, said Paul, a onetime lecturer and assistant professor of political science at Empire State College in the State University of New York system.

“That policy reached its most extreme form in the run-up to the summit of 2005, when the U.S. insisted on a massive, last-minute re-working of the agreed text, but it can be found in many other cases before and since,” he said.

Paul pointed out that powerful states, the U.S. first and foremost, do not like to be limited by U.N.-based decisions.

Second, there is the problem of the lack of binding outcomes to these global events.

He said grand aspirations are often expressed in the outcome documents, and the word “binding” is sometimes used, but all participants know that the outcome will remain aspirational – not tough, compelling policy to be adhered to.

This gives rise to cynicism among the diplomats and especially among the public, urged by governments to blame “the U.N.” for its supposedly feckless behaviour (whilst they themselves are often at fault), he declared.

At a press conference last month, the president of the 193-member General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, said 70 years after the founding of the United Nations “we have a truly historic opportunity to agree on an inspiring agenda that can energize the international community, governments everywhere and the citizens of the world.”

“We must be ready to seize this challenge,” he added.

Speaking on the specifics of SDGs, Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Penang-based Third World Network, told IPS while the incorporation of the SDGs is an important part of the post-2015 development agenda, “We need to put the economic agenda as a priority for the Development Summit.”

She said financial instabilities “continue to loom before us, while increasingly anti-people and anti-development trade rules are being pushed by major developed countries in bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

“The notoriety of transnational investors suing national governments for hundreds of millions of dollars under bilateral investment agreements has triggered protests in many countries, with some developing country governments reviewing and even terminating those grossly unfair treaties. “

She said the Addis Ababa conference is crucial for addressing several fundamental financial and economic issues – without structural reforms that respect national policy space and ensure stability, sustainable development will remain elusive.

Paul told IPS there are various alternative policy venues, such as the World Bank, the G-8, the G-20, the IMF, and so on.

The United Nations must confront the challenge of great powers who take decisions in venues they prefer and according to their own priorities and timetables.

Washington is certainly not the only U.N. member state to act this way, but as the biggest and richest, it has the strongest inclination to act according to its own perceived interests and not in a broadly consultative process, he said.

“Finally, we should remember the difficult policy context of 2015 – the deep crisis of climate change that requires decisions that go very far and necessarily upset the comfortable assumptions of the existing global order,” Paul noted.

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 85 percent is so radical a goal that no one even wants to think about it, much less create policy around it, said Paul.

And creating a fair, stable and just global economic order under the Sustainable Development Goals appears also nearly impossible in a global economy that is stumbling seriously and creating ever-greater inequality. Will the world’s oligarchs concede power and revenues? he asked.

Does all this mean that the U.N.’s aspirational summit meetings in 2015 are useless or downright negative? Not necessarily.

“To know that we cannot expect a miracle is perhaps a valuable adjustment of our unreasonable expectations and a way to think more realistically about what can and cannot be accomplished,” Paul said.

“Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: People Power, the Solution to Climate Inactionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-people-power-the-solution-to-climate-inaction/#comments Tue, 10 Feb 2015 11:15:55 +0000 Rob McCreath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139086 If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century. Credit: Bigstock

By Rob McCreath
BRISBANE, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

Nothing is more important to farmers like me than the weather. It affects the growth and quality of our crops and livestock, and has a major impact on global food supply.

The world’s weather is being messed up by global warming, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which releases heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

Every national science organisation in the developed world agrees that global warming is real and caused by human activities. That’s good enough for me.

If we keep on burning coal, oil and gas at ‘business as usual’ levels, our grandchildren will inhabit a planet some 5 degrees Celsius hotter by the end of the century – rendering large parts of it uninhabitable, including many currently densely populated areas, which will be under water due to melting glaciers and ice caps.

The impacts on farming in Australia (and everywhere else) of such a rise in temperature would be very severe indeed.

To avoid such a bleak future, we simply must stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If our politicians had any common sense, they would change quickly to renewable energy, but sadly they are captives of the fossil fuel industry that funds their re-election campaigns.

Just look at the Nationals, who in spite of claiming to represent farmers, this month declared donations of 30,000 dollars from oil & gas company Santos, 25,000 from coal miner Peabody, and 50,000 dollars from prominent climate change denier and coal & oil company director Ian Plimer.

So, for the sake of future generations, we have to make this change happen ourselves, and the best way to do this is to disrupt the business model of companies trying to make money from fossil fuels by pulling the financial rug out from underneath them.

It’s called divestment, which is simply the opposite of investment. Here’s how it works. If you’ve got shares in fossil fuel companies, then sell them and invest in something that won’t wreck the planet.

If your super fund invests in fossil fuels, then transfer your money to a fund that doesn’t. If your bank lends money to coal, oil and gas projects, then take your business to one that doesn’t. It will put a smile on your face.

The global movement to divest from fossil fuels is gaining momentum, and the more people that take part, the better it works. Share prices (just like wheat and cattle prices) are set by supply and demand, so as more people sell, the price falls.

When a company’s share price falls far enough, it finds it more difficult to borrow money, with which to fund its next coal mine. Take oil and gas company Santos, for example. Due mainly to the recent plunge in oil prices, in the past six months its share price has dropped by almost 50 percent.

As a result, the company has announced plans to cut back on expenditure and reduce its operations.

On the flip side, the more money that flows into companies involved in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green technology, the faster they will grow and the sooner we can put a lid on runaway climate change.

A brave new world awaits. Let’s divest together and change the future!

Global Divestment Day will be taking place on Feb. 13-14. Hundreds of events spanning six continents will be taking place. Join an event near you. For more information visit: gofossilfree.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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Local Pollutants Compound Threats to Coral Reefshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/local-pollutants-compound-threats-to-coral-reefs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-pollutants-compound-threats-to-coral-reefs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/local-pollutants-compound-threats-to-coral-reefs/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 11:40:05 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139042 The research team has been studying this relatively acidic coral reef in the Palauan archipelago. Seawater pH on this reef today represents acidification levels predicted for tropical western Pacific by the end of the 21st century. Credit: Tom DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

The research team has been studying this relatively acidic coral reef in the Palauan archipelago. Seawater pH on this reef today represents acidification levels predicted for tropical western Pacific by the end of the 21st century. Credit: Tom DeCarlo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

By Leila Lemghalef
NEW YORK, Feb 6 2015 (IPS)

A recent study suggests that one of the multiple threats to coral reefs contains both the problem and solution.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), based in Cape Cod, conducted a study highlighting multiple threats to coral reef ecosystems and also identifying a management strategy that could slow reef decline."Management of a local coral reef, in terms of limiting human nutrient supplies to that coral reef, can actually have real substantial effects over the next century." -- marine researcher Thomas DeCarlo

Coral reefs are animal organisms that are like sea castles, vibrant with algae and home to sponges, mollusks and creatures seeking shelter. In fact, 25 per cent of marine life relies on coral reefs as part of their habitat.

Coral reefs build their skeletons using limestone, or calcium carbonate. The increase of acid in the ocean due to excess carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere causes the carbonate ion to become less available. Coral reefs rely on carbonate to produce their well-cemented skeletons, which they are doing more slowly.

As a result, the natural equilibrium governing production–erosion of coral reefs has been disrupted in favour of erosion.

To add to the imbalance, the added component of ‘nutrients’ to water accelerates the rate of erosion 10 times.

The interaction between high levels of nutrients with acidity makes the effect of ocean acidification 10 times greater.

‘Nutrients’ refer here to pollution by humans on a local scale.

And herein lies the study’s seed of good news as it says in encouraging terms that “…people can take action to protect their local reefs. If people can limit runoff from septic tanks, sewers, roads, farm fertilizers and other sources of nutrient pollution to the coastal ocean, the bioeroders will not have such an upper hand, and the balance will tip much more slowly toward erosion and dissolution of coral reefs”.

Mark Eakin is coordinator of Coral Reef Watch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Reducing erosion by tenfold is major,” he told IPS.

He also explained that coral reefs face both global and local threats, thereby requiring solutions at each level, regardless of whether the global stressors or the local factors, such as overfishing, are paramount (and in fact, both are severe).

“In addressing things like pollutant runoffs that contribute to the local issue of why ocean acidification can be so harmful, what you’re doing is you’re pointing to a local solution to a local problem,” said Eakin.

While the climate change remains a problem of planetary scale, requiring concerted efforts on a cross-national level, the plus-side of local problems is that they can be addressed on a local scale.

“And by doing that what you’re doing is making the reefs more resilient to climate change and ocean acidification. So that better helps them to survive, while we work on getting the global problems under control,” he said.

A good warning sign

Thomas DeCarlo is doing his PhD in the joint programme of oceanography between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and WHOI. He led the Woods Hole study.

In an interview with IPS, DeCarlo was asked the extent to which cleaning up waters locally could alleviate the overall strains on coral reef development.

He explained that local action could buffer or limit to some extent the global impact of ocean acidification, which is certain to continue over the next century.

“I guess the source of optimism is that whereas the CO2 ocean acidification problem is really truly global, and that’s a really big problem because reefs can’t really escape that, it’s such a global phenomenon that all coral reefs are going to be seeing this ocean acidification effect.

“But the nutrient problem from human nutrient addition is really a pretty local problem, in a lot of respects so, the optimism is that that can actually be limited and controlled on a local scale, so management of a local coral reef, in terms of limiting human nutrient supplies to that coral reef, can actually have real substantial effects over the next century,” he said.

There is an economic incentive that could help the political agenda bend to the needs of nature, with the total dollar value of coral reef services estimated in the billions annually in the U.S. alone.

Furthermore, coral reefs protect shorelines by absorbing storm energies and perform many other roles in the world as we know it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Future of Wetlands, the Future of Waterbirds – an Intercontinental Connectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection/#comments Sat, 31 Jan 2015 14:16:53 +0000 Jacques Trouvilliez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138953 Lesser Flamingos in flight, Credit: ©Mark Anderson

Lesser Flamingos in flight, Credit: ©Mark Anderson

By Jacques Trouvilliez
BONN, Jan 31 2015 (IPS)

The first global treaty dealing with biodiversity was the Ramsar Convention – predating the Rio processes by 20 years.

Ramsar aims to conserve wetlands, the usefulness of which has been undervalued – even the eminent French naturalist of the 18th century, the Comte de Buffon, advocated their destruction – and which have suffered large losses in recent decades.Wetlands are vital for birds – and especially waterbirds – but it is also the case that the birds are vital to the wetlands, playing a major role in maintaining nature’s balance.

Far from being wastelands, wetlands provide invaluable services, replenishing aquifers that supply drinking water and filtering out harmful pollutants. By maintaining a healthy environment, wetlands help ensure human well-being.

While the Ramsar Convention has had to deal with a broader spectrum of wetland issues over the years, it should be remembered that its full title includes “especially as waterfowl habitat”, and in AEWA, Ramsar has a strong ally with a clear focus on waterbird conservation in the African-Eurasian Flyway.

The areas designated as Ramsar Sites form an important part of the network of breeding, feeding and stopover grounds that are indispensable to the survival of the 255 bird populations of listed under AEWA.

Ramsar Sites are vital “hubs” in the network of habitats that constitute the African-Eurasian flyway along which millions of birds migrate in the course of the annual cycle. They include habitats as diverse as the Wadden Sea in Europe and the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania, both also designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and important staging posts for birds migrating between Arctic breeding grounds and wintering sites deep in Africa.

Despite being often far apart geographically and different morphologically, these sites are inextricably linked by the birds that frequent them.

The definition of “wetland” extends to fish ponds, rice paddies, saltpans and some shallow marine waters, so Ramsar has sites of significance to other species covered by the Convention of Migratory Species, under which AEWA was concluded.

Examples are the Franciscana dolphin (the only dolphin species to inhabit wetlands) found in the estuary of the River Plate and along the coast of South America; and the European eel – a recent addition to the CMS listings – which spends most of its life in rivers but spawns and then dies in the Sargasso Sea.

But it is waterbirds that have the strongest links to wetlands and the future of many species is in doubt as a result of the continuing reduction in area of these most productive of habitats. Of great concern is the fate of the mudflats of the Yellow Sea which are under increasing pressure from human developments because tied to them is the fate of a number of threatened shorebirds.

Lake Natron in the United Republic of Tanzania is the only regular breeding site of over two million Lesser flamingoes. Applications have been made to exploit the area’s deposits of soda ash leading to fears that irrevocable damage would be done to the site resulting in the species’ extinction.

The habitats of Andean flamingoes – the Puna and Andean Flamingoes – are facing similar problems as illegal mining activities have eroded the nesting sites and contaminated the water, exacerbating other threats such as egg collection.

Fragile wetland ecosystems also fall victim to man-made accidents – the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico and the Sandoz chemical works fire in Basel, Switzerland in 1986 being just two examples of countless incidents, both leading to the death of thousands of birds and fish.

Wetlands are vital for birds – and especially waterbirds – but it is also the case that the birds are vital to the wetlands, playing a major role in maintaining nature’s balance.

Government representatives will gather in Paris later this year in the latest effort to seek agreement on the steps necessary to arrest the causes of climate change. Wildlife is already feeling the effects and one of the best ways to ensure that animals can adapt is to ensure that there are enough robust sites providing the habitat and food sources at the right time and in the right place.

The theme chosen by the Ramsar Convention for this year’s campaign is Wetlands for Our Future and there is a particular emphasis being placed on the role of young people. While wetlands are of course vital for humans, they are no less important for the survival of wildlife and to a great extent also depend on the birds that live in them.

It is the role of AEWA to provide a forum where the countries of Europe, West Asia and Africa can work together to maintain the network of sites making up the African-Eurasian flyway.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Marine Resources in High Seas Should be Shared Equitablyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:07:38 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138914 An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

After almost 10 years of often frustrating negotiations, the U.N. ad hoc committee on BBNJ decided, by consensus, to set in motion a process that will result in work commencing on a legally binding international instrument on the conservation and sustainable use, including benefit sharing, of Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction.

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

As a consequence, the General Assembly is expected to adopt a resolution in the summer of 2015 establishing a preparatory committee to begin work in 2016 which will be mandated to propose the elements of a treaty in 2017, to be adopted by an intergovernmental conference.

The Ad Hoc Working Group, established in 2006, has been meeting regularly since then. In 2010, for the first time, it adopted a set of recommendations which were elaborated methodically until the momentous decision on Saturday.

This decision will impact significantly on the biggest source of biodiversity on the globe.

The political commitment of the global community on BBNJ was clearly stated in the 2012 Rio+20 Outcome Document, “The Future We Want”, largely at the insistence of a small group of countries which included Argentina, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the European Union (EU).

It recognised the importance of an appropriate global mechanism to sustainably manage marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

In 2013, GA resolution A/69/L.29 mandated the UN Ad Hoc Working Group to make recommendations on the scope, parameters and feasibility of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to the 69th Session of the GA.While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

During the past few years our understanding of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction has advanced exponentially. The critical need to conserve and sustainably use this vast and invaluable resource base is now widely acknowledged.

The water surface covers 70 percent of the earth. This marine environment constitutes over 90 percent of the volume of the earth’s biosphere, nurturing many complex ecosystems important to sustain life and livelihoods on land. Two thirds of this environment is located in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The contribution of oceans to the global economy is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents based on them are being filed annually.

The value of these patents is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. It is increasingly obvious that mankind must conserve the resources of the oceans and the associated ecosystems and use them sustainably, including for the development of new substances.

At the same time, unprecedented challenges confront the marine environment and ecosystems. Overfishing, pollution, climate change, ocean warming, coral bleach and ocean acidification, to name a few, pose a severe threat to marine biological resources. Many communities and livelihoods dependent on them are at risk.

While 2.8 percent of the world’s oceans are designated as marine protected areas, only 0.79 percent of such areas are located beyond national jurisdiction. In recent times, these protected areas have become a major asset in global efforts to conserve endangered species, habitats and ecosystems.

While the management of areas within national jurisdictions is a matter primarily for states, the areas beyond are the focus of the challenge that confronted the U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group.

Developing countries have insisted that benefits, including financial benefits, from products developed using marine genetic resources extracted from areas beyond national jurisdiction must be shared equitably.

The concept that underpinned this proposition could be said to be an evolution of the common heritage of mankind concept incorporated in UNCLOS.

The Ad-Hoc Working Group acknowledged that UNCLOS, sometimes described as the constitution of the oceans, served as the overarching legal framework for the oceans and seas. Obviously, there was much about the oceans that the world did not know in 1982 when the UNCLOS was concluded.

Given humanity’s considerably better understanding of the oceans at present, especially on the areas beyond national jurisdiction, the majority of participants in the Ad Hoc Working Group pushed for a new legally binding instrument to address the issue of BBNJ.

Last Saturday’s decision underlined that the mandates of existing global and regional instruments and frameworks not be undermined; that duplication be avoided and consistency with UNCLOS maintained.

The challenge before the international community as it approaches the next stage is to identify with care the areas that will be covered by the proposed instrument in order to optimize the goal of conservation of marine biodiversity. It should contribute to building ocean resilience, provide comprehensive protection for ecologically and biologically significant areas, and enable ecosystems time to adapt.

The framework for sharing the benefits of research and developments relating to marine organisms needs to be crafted sensitively. Private corporations which are investing heavily in this area prefer legal certainty and clear workable rules.

An international instrument must establish a framework which includes an overall strategic vision that encompasses the aspirations of both developed and developing countries, particularly in the area of benefit sharing.

Facilitating the exchange of information between States will be essential to achieve the highest standards in conserving and sustainably using marine biodiversity, particularly for developing countries. They will need continued capacity building so that they can contribute effectively to the goal of sustainable use of such resources and benefit from scientific and technological developments.

To address the effects of these complex dynamics, the proposed instrument must adopt a global approach, involving both developed and developing countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S.-India Partnership a Step Forward for Low-Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:44:06 +0000 David Waskow and Manish Bapna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138861 President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By David Waskow and Manish Bapna
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

India garnered international attention this week for its climate action.

As President Barack Obama visited the country at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation, the two leaders announced a new U.S.-India agreement on clean energy and climate change.With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

The agreement will help turn India’s bold renewable energy targets into reality.

Rather than relying on one major plank, the collaboration is a comprehensive set of actions that, taken together, represent a substantial step in advancing low-carbon development in India while also promoting economic growth and expanding energy access.

This agreement comes just two months after the U.S-China climate agreement.

While expectations for the two agreements were quite different — India’s per capita emissions are a fraction of those from China and the United States, and India is in a very different phase of economic development— Modi’s commitments are significant steps that will help build even further momentum for a new international climate agreement.

Prime Minister Modi’s new government has made a significant commitment to sustainable growth in the past several months, setting a goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2022 and considering a new target of 60 GW in wind energy capacity.

The Indian government has also created a new initiative to develop 100 “smart cities” across the country, aimed at building more sustainable, livable urban areas.

The U.S.-India collaboration takes a multi-pronged approach to turn these promising pledges into concrete results. For example:

Setting a renewable energy goal

Building on India’s 100 GW solar capacity goal, Modi announced India’s intention to increase the overall share of renewable energy in the nation’s electricity supply.

Setting a percentage of overall energy consumption that will come from renewables can not only help India reduce emissions, it can also play a key role in expanding energy access.

Roughly 300 million Indians—nearly 25 percent of the country’s population—lack access to electricity.

Solar power—which is already cheaper than diesel in some parts of the country and may soon be as cheap as conventional energy—can put affordable, clean power within reach.

Accelerating clean energy finance

Given that the entire world’s installed solar capacity in 2013 was 140 GW, India’s plan to reach 100 GW by 2022 is nothing short of ambitious.

The Modi government estimates that scaling up its 2022 solar target from 20 GW to 100 GW will save 165 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent emissions of about 23 million American households’ annual electricity use.

The U.S.-India announcement reveals a clear commitment from both countries to stimulate the public and private investment needed to achieve this bold target.

Improving air quality

Of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution, India houses 13 of them.

The cost of premature deaths from air pollution in the country is already 6 percent of GDP, and it’s poised to worsen as the urban population increases from 380 million to 600 million over the next 15 years.

The U.S.-India plan to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AIR Now-International Program can help cut back on harmful urban air pollution, improve human health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Modi’s plan to establish 100 “smart cities” can support this initiative by designing compact and connected rather than sprawled urban areas, which are associated with a heavy transportation-related emissions footprint.

Boosting climate resilience

India is already one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change: rising sea level threatens 8,000 kilometers of coastline and nearly half of its 28 states.

The U.S.-India deal builds on both countries’ previous commitment to climate adaptation, outlining a plan to better assess risks, build capacity and engage local communities.

With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

This action is not only important for reducing emissions in the three nations, but also for building momentum internationally. Obama and Modi have created a direct line of communication, a relationship that will be important for securing a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

Prime Minister Modi made it clear that he sees it as incumbent on all countries to take action on climate change.

Rather than being motivated by international pressure, he said what counts is “the pressure of what kind of legacy we want to leave for our future generations. Global warming is a pressure… We understand this pressure and we are responding to it.”

Modi is tasked with confronting not just global warming, but a number of immediate threats—alleviating poverty, improving air quality, expanding electricity access and enhancing agricultural productivity, just to name a few.

Many of the actions under the U.S.-India agreement will not only reduce emissions, but will also help address these development challenges.

With the new agreement, India is positioning itself as a global leader on pairing climate action with economic development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Aboriginal Businesses Stimulate Positive Change in Australiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 07:51:12 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138815 Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
MOSSMAN, Queensland, Australia, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, would watch thousands of tourists and vehicles trampling his pristine land while working on the sugarcane fields in Far North Queensland. His people were suffering and their culture was being eroded. The native wildlife was disappearing. He dreamt of turning this around.

It took 20 years to bring his vision to fruition, but today the Mossman Gorge Centre is a successful indigenous ecotourism business in the world heritage-listed Daintree National Park in Queensland, Australia.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people.
With more people travelling the world and seeking authentic experiences, tourism has acted as a catalyst for preserving indigenous culture, providing employment, education and training opportunities and protecting the environment – especially in remote locations such as the Mossman Gorge, the ancestral home of the Kuku Yalanji people in the southern tip of the Daintree National Park.

Roy and the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community worked in collaboration with the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), to build the Centre, which has a 90-percent indigenous workforce – 61 employees and 21 trainees.

Roberta Stanley, 18, who joined the Centre as a trainee along with her twin sibling, says, “Every morning, when I step out of home in my work uniform, I can’t stop smiling. It has helped me reconnect with our history, legends, languages, music and the arts. I feel a sense of immense pride and have the confidence to pursue my dream of becoming an artist and dancer.”

This was something young people like her couldn’t do before the Centre began providing accredited skills training in tourism, hospitality, retail and administration. Both her parents also work at the Centre. With four members of the Stanley family employed, it has made life easier.

In 2011, an estimated 207,600 indigenous people were in the labour force. About two in five (42 percent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over were employed, compared with about three in five non-indigenous people (61 percent).

With limited employment opportunities, pursuing their dreams is not something every native Australian is free to do.

Pamela Salt, 41, used to be a cleaner and paint in colours representing the rainforest and sea during her spare time. Since she began working at the Mossman Gorge Centre, she feels a sense of ownership with the place.

“Physically, mentally and emotionally, it has given our people the confidence that we can do it. One of my daughters is also employed here,” Pamela told IPS. A self-taught artist with no formal training, today her work is on display in the Centre’s gallery and bought by national and international visitors.

Since July last year, 250,000 tourists, 40 percent of them international, have visited the Centre. As Mossman Gorge Centre’s General Manager Greg Erwin told IPS, “Indigenous tourism is gaining momentum. It will add a cultural depth to the experiences that visitors have in any destination. The Kuku Yalanji people, like other Aboriginal communities, have been nurturing and looking after the environment for thousands of years. It is their supermarket and their pharmacy.”

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

In the next 10 to 15 years, the business will be totally owned by the aboriginal people of the Gorge – a long way from the ‘Stolen Generation’: the tens of thousands of children who were forcibly removed from their families between 1900 and 1970 under Australian government assimilation policies to “breed out” their Aborigine blood and supposedly give them a better life.

Roy, 58, who also belongs to the ‘Stolen Generation’, doesn’t want his people to ever experience that psychological trauma again.

“This Centre is a role model for our younger generation dreaming of a better life.” He, along with other indigenous guides, takes visitors on “dreamtime walks” highlighting the nuances of the world’s oldest rainforest, relating stories spun around creation, food sources, flora and fauna, the caves and Manjal Dimbi (Mt. Demi), a mountain with spiritual significance for the indigenous people.

“Now we are able to protect our ecosystem and at the same time provide visitors an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of the Kuku Yalanji people and their connection to the natural environment. Our emphasis is on sustainability,” Roy told IPS.

Stimulating positive change

Sustainable indigenous businesses like the Mossman Gorge Centre are not only helping protect and preserve the ecosystem, but lifting out of poverty some of the most disadvantaged communities that suffer from alcohol abuse, domestic violence, chronic diseases, unemployment and high suicide rates.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous Australians; about half of the young people in juvenile detention are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Meanwhile, indigenous women are hospitalised for family violence-related assaults at 31 times the rate of non-indigenous women, according to the 2014 Social Justice and Native Title Report.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people. The remoteness of places where many indigenous people reside plays a large part in this.

Still, Tourism Research Australia’s 2014 figures show 14 percent of international visitors enjoy an indigenous experience and these visitors spent 5.2 billion dollars in Australia, highlighting a huge demand for authentic experiences in out-of-the-way locations.

ILC subsidiary, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, offers unique experiences in iconic locations around Australia. Besides the Mossman Gorge Centre, it manages the Ayers Rock Resort and Longitude 131° in the Northern Territory, Home Valley Station in The Kimberley in Western Australia.

While the ILC is focused on acquiring land and assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders manage that land to provide sustainable benefits, Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) is a commercially focused organisation providing sustainable economic development opportunities for indigenous Australians.

As IBA’s CEO Chris Fry said, “Our Business Development and Assistance Programme (BDAP) assists indigenous entrepreneurs to start and grow their own enterprises, and indigenous-owned businesses to be strong employers of indigenous peoples.”

Jo Donovan, a beneficiary of the programme, turned her hobby into a business after attending IBA’s BDAP. She formed Bandu Catering with her son Aaron Devine and daughter Jessica, both chefs. Bandu (‘food’ in the Dhanggati language) provides quality food, blending native ingredients and flavours with innovative, contemporary Australian cuisine.

The BDAP, which has partnered with the banking sector, has provided over 90 loans valued at 55 million dollars during the last financial year.

“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners currently hold more than 68 million dollars in equity across a range of commercial businesses and assets through IBA’s Equity and Investment Programme and the IBA purchased over 2.4 million dollars [of] goods and services from approximately 30 indigenous businesses,” Fry told IPS.

IBA also has a scholarship programme for mature-age, full-time indigenous students to complete tertiary qualifications in business, financial, commercial or economic management disciplines.

As the international community prepares for a new era of development, one that puts sustainability at the heart of poverty-eradication, initiatives like these can provide a blueprint for inclusive and equal growth.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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After Nine Years of Foot-Dragging, U.N. Ready for Talks on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 16:43:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138808 Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25 2015 (IPS)

After four days of intense negotiations – preceded by nine years of dilly-dallying – the United Nations has agreed to convene an intergovernmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The final decision was taken in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the United Nations was fast asleep.

The open-ended Ad Hoc informal Working Group, which negotiated the deal, has been dragging its collective feet since it was initially convened back in 2006.

The High Seas Alliance, a coalition of 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty.

Karen Sack, senior director of international oceans for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the coalition, told IPS a Preparatory Committee (Prep Com), comprising of all 193 member states, will start next year.

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

“As part of reaching consensus, however, there was no deadline set for finalising the treaty,” she said.

Asked if negotiations on the treaty would be difficult, she said, “Negotiations are always tough but a lot of discussion has happened over almost a decade on the issues under consideration and there are definitely certain issues where swift progress could be made.”

The Prep Com will report to the General Assembly with substantive recommendations in 2017 on convening an intergovernmental conference for the purpose of elaborating an internationally legally binding instrument.

The four-day discussions faced initial resistance from several countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and South Korea, and to some extent Iceland, according to one of the participants at the meeting.

But eventually they joined the large majority of states in favour of the development of a high seas agreement.

Still they resisted the adoption of a time-bound negotiating process, and “setting a start and end date was for them a step too far,” he added.

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS: “Regarding the United States in particular, we are very pleased to see them finally show flexibility and hope that moving forward they find a way to support a more ambitious timeline.”

In a statement released Saturday, the High Seas Alliance said progress came despite pressure from a small group of governments that questioned the need for a new legal framework.

“That minority blocked agreement on a faster timeline reflecting the clear scientific imperative for action, but all countries agreed on the need to act,” it added.

The members of the High Seas Alliance applauded the decision to move forward.

Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defence Council said many states have shown great efforts to protect the half of the planet that is the high seas.

“We know that these states will continue to champion the urgent need for more protection in the process before us,” she added.

Daniela Diz of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Saturday’s decision was a decisive step forward for ocean conservation. “We can now look to a future in which we bring conservation for the benefit of all humankind to these vital global commons.”

Mission Blue‘s Dr Sylvia Earle said, “Armed with new knowledge, we are taking our first steps to safeguard the high seas and keep the world safe for our children.”

The outcome of the meeting will now have to be approved by the General Assembly by September 2015, which is considered a formality.

The high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the Alliance.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas ‑ and therefore the entire global ocean ‑ from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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A “Rosetta Stone” for Conducting Biodiversity Assessmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:56:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138781 Species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Credit: Biodiversity Act/cc by 2.0

Species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Credit: Biodiversity Act/cc by 2.0

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

This month saw an important milestone reached by the U.N.’s young Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): Publication of its first public product.

It wasn’t a biodiversity-related trend analysis nor a policy prescription, however. The first of those from IPBES will appear at about this time next year.Its first assessment will focus on the issue of pollination and the threats to insect pollinators essential to much of the world’s food production.

What the organisation published was something more fundamental — the result of two years collaboration by hundreds of experts. It is an agreed scaffolding for assessments that integrate the information and insights of indigenous and local knowledge holders as well as experts in the natural, social, and engineering science disciplines.

IPBES is akin to the U.N.’s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in that it will carry out assessments of existing knowledge in response to governments’ and other stakeholders’ requests.

Some argue IPBES confronts a challenge as complex as its sister organisation, if not more so. That’s because species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Solutions, therefore, need to be tailored to a fine local and regional degree.

And the relative contributions of efforts to halt and reverse biodiversity loss also vary enormously — complete success of efforts somewhere with little biodiversity might not be nearly as important as a little success in a megadiverse area in the tropics, for example.

Step 1 in the ambitious IPBES work programme, however, has been to agree on how to integrate diverse, strongly-held, culturally-formed attitudes and viewpoints in as simple and effective a way as possible.

The IPBES’ Conceptual Framework, published by the Public Library of Science, is the end result, connecting the dots and illustrating the inter-relationships between:

Nature (which includes scientific concepts such as species diversity, ecosystem structure and functioning, the biosphere, the evolutionary process and humankind’s shared evolutionary heritage). For indigenous knowledge systems, nature includes different concepts such as “Mother Earth” and other holistic concepts of land and water as well as traditions, for example.

Nature’s benefits to people (the framework underlines that nature has values beyond providing benefits to people — “intrinsic value, independent of human experience.”)

Anthropogenic assets (knowledge, technology, financial assets, built infrastructure. Most benefits depend on the joint contribution of nature and anthropogenic assets, e.g., fish need to be caught to act as food)

Indirect drivers of change (such as institutions deciding access to land, international agreements for protection of endangered species, economic policies)

Direct drivers of change (which are both natural, e.g. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tropical cyclones; and human, e.g. habitat conversion, chemical pollution); and

“Good quality of life” (interpreted as “human well-being” by parts of humanity; to others it may mean “living well in harmony and balance with Mother Nature,” The framework recognises that fulfilled life is a highly values-based and context-dependent idea, one that influences institutions and governance systems.

To quote the paper’s authors: “There had been a struggle to find a single word or phrase to capture the essence of each element in a way that respected the range of utilitarian, scientific, and spiritual values that makes up the diversity of human views of nature.

“The conceptual framework is now a kind of ‘Rosetta Stone’ for biodiversity concepts that highlights the commonalities between very diverse value sets and seeks to facilitate cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural understanding.”

IPBES is now fully embarked on its work programme to produce coordinated assessments, policy tools, and capacity building actions.

Its first assessment will focus on the issue of pollination and the threats to insect pollinators essential to much of the world’s food production. Its second will explore biodiversity and ecosystem services models and scenarios analysis. Many others will follow in years to come.

The conceptual framework was created to change the way such assessments are approached from those before, and to inspire the community, though the changes are “likely to push all engaged parties well beyond their comfort zones,” say the authors.

For example, direct drivers of pollination change (such as habitat or climate change, pesticide overuse, pathogens) will be examined alongside their underlying causes, including institutional ones.

State-of-the-art environmental, engineering, social and economic science knowledge will be augmented by and benefit from insights into the impacts of pollinator declines on subsistence agricultural systems, which provide much of the food in some world regions of the world — considerations typically under-represented in case studies.

Guided by the IPBES Task Force on Indigenous and Local Knowledge, assessments will consider trends observed by practitioners and their interpretations, and draw on local and indigenous knowledge that could contribute to solutions.

What IPBES is pioneering foreshadows the future of research — the convergence of different disciplines and knowledge systems to solve problems.

Integrative, cross-paradigm, co-produced knowledge is on the agenda of a growing number of national research agencies, international funding bodies, and some of the largest scientific networks in the world.

It is an essential step forward. To IPBES, in the words of the authors, “the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge is not only a matter of equity but also a source of knowledge that we can no longer afford to ignore.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Bahamas’ New Motto: “Sand, Surf and Solar”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 21:42:41 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138764 The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
ABU DHABI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to tourism in the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), The Bahamas — 700 islands sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean starting just 50 miles off Florida — is a heavyweight.

With a gross domestic product of eight billion dollars, the Bahamian economy is almost twice the size of Barbados, another of CARICOM’s leading tourism destinations."Reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us." -- Environment Minister Kenred M.A. Dorsett

Visitors are invited to “imagine a world where you can’t tell where dreams begin and reality ends.”

However, in the country’s Ministry of the Environment, officials have woken up to a reality that could seriously undermine the gains made in tourism and elsewhere: renewable energy development.

In 2014, in a clear indication of its intention to address its poor renewable energy situation, The Bahamas joined the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The Abu Dhabi-based intergovernmental organisation supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future. IRENA also serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

The Bahamas has also advanced its first energy policy, launched in 2013, and has committed to ramping up to a minimum of 30 per cent by 2033 the amount of energy it generates from renewable sources.

“Currently, we are debating in Parliament an amendment to the Electricity Act to make provision for grid tie connection, therefore making net metering a reality using solar and wind technology,” Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred M.A. Dorsett told IPS on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

ADSW is a global forum that unites thought leaders, policy makers and investors to address the challenges of renewable energy and sustainable development. The week includes IRENA’s Fifth Assembly, the World Future Energy Summit, and the International Water Summit.

But Dorsett was especially interested in the IRENA assembly, which took place on Jan. 17 and 18.

At the assembly, ministers and senior officials from more than 150 countries met to discuss what IRENA has described as the urgent need and increased business case for rapid renewable energy expansion.

Dorsett came to Abu Dhabi with a rather short shopping list for both his country and the CARICOM region, and says he did not leave empty-handed.

“Our involvement in IRENA is important because the world over is concerned with standardisation of technology to ensure that our citizens are not taken advantage of in terms of the technology we import as we advance the renewable energy sector,” he told IPS.

“We certainly were able to engage IRENA in discussions with respect to what the Bahamas is doing, and our next steps and they have indicated to us that they will be able to assist us on the issue of standardisation,” Dorsett tells IPS.

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says IRENA has developed a programme that looks at practical consideration for the implementation or ramping up of renewable energy, including assistance in developing regulations for ensuring that standards are maintained.

“So, I think from our perspective, it is clear to us that IRENA would be prepared to assist us on that particular issue, and I think that generally speaking, what I certainly found was that the meeting was very innovative, particularly in light of the fact that there was a lot of technical support for countries looking to implement or deploy renewable energy technologies,” he said of Bahamas-IRENA talks on the sidelines of the assembly.

Dorsett also wanted IRENA to devote some special attention to CARICOM, a group of 15 nations, mostly Caribbean islands, in addition to Belize, Guyana and Suriname.

At a side event — “Renewables in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities” — ahead of the Assembly, there was no distinction between Caribbean and Latin American nations.

“… I think that’s very, very important for us as region, as we move to ensure that CARICOM itself is a region of focus for IRENA, that we are not consumed in the entire Latin America region and there is sufficient focus on us,” he told IPS ahead of the assembly.

Dorsett is now convinced that CARICOM positions will be represented as Trinidad and Tobago, another CARICOM member, and the Bahamas, have been elected to serve on IRENA Council in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

“We do know that deployment of renewable energy in our region is important, we are small island development states, we live in [low-lying areas] and sea level rise is a major issue for us in the Caribbean region.

“Therefore, reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us,” he told IPS.

Meanwhile, Director-General of IRENA, Adnan Amin, said that his agency is “trying to develop a new type of institution for a new time”.

“We know that the islands’ challenges are very particular. We have developed a lot of expertise in doing that, and we know in a general sense the challenge they face is quite different from mainland Latin America,” Amin told IPS. “So we see them as logically separate entities in what kinds of strategies we will have.”

He says IRENA has been working in the Pacific islands — early members of the agency — and is moving into the Caribbean.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

IRENA is already working in the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica, and this year agreed to lend St. Vincent and the Grenadines 15 million dollars to help fund its 10-15 megawatt geothermal power plant, expected to come on stream by 2018.

Dorsett is also pleased that at the assembly the Bahamian delegation was able to get a briefing on the advances of technology that stores electricity generated from renewable sources.

“That also can prove to be very important for us as many Caribbean counties are faced with addressing the issue of grid stability,” he told IPS, adding that the ability to have storage that is “appropriately priced and that works efficiently” can help the Bahamas to exceed the average of 20 to 40 per cent of electricity generated by renewable sources by many countries.

The Bahamas woke up to the realities of its poor renewable energy situation in 2013 when Guilden Gilbert, head the country’s Renewable Energy Association, decried the nation for not doing enough to advance renewable energy generation.

The call came after the release of a report by Castalia-CREF Renewable Energy Islands Index for the Caribbean, which ranked the Bahamas 26 out of 27 countries in the region for its progress and prospects in relation to renewable energy investments.

The 2012 edition of the same report had ranked The Bahamas 21 out of the 22 countries on the list.

In the two years leading up to the announcement of the “National Energy Policy & Grid Tie In Framework”, The Bahamas established an Energy Task Force responsible for advising on solutions to reducing the high cost of electricity in the country.

The government also eliminated tariffs on inverters for solar panels and LED appliances to ensure that more citizens would be able to afford these energy saving devices.

The government also advanced two pilot projects to collect data on renewable energy technologies. The first project provided for the installation of solar water heaters and the second project for the installation of photovoltaic systems in Bahamian homes.

Dorsett tells IPS that he thinks that it is “incredibly important” that CARICOM focuses on renewable energy generation.

“I think CARICOM, as a region, has to look at renewable energy sources to build a sustainable energy future for our region as well as to ensure that we build resilience as we address the issues of climate change,” he tells IPS.

However, in some CARICOM nations, there is a major hurdle that policy makers, such as Dorsett, will have to overcome before the bloc realises its full renewable energy potential.

“There are very special challenges in the Caribbean. For example, many of the utilities are foreign-owned and they negotiated 75-year-long, cast-iron guarantees on their existence,” Amin tells IPS.

“They were making money off diesel. They have no incentive to move to renewables, but we are moving ahead,” the IRENA chief says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

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