Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 U.N. Chief Seeks Equity in Climate Change Agreement in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141357 The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

When the 193-member General Assembly hosted a high level meeting on climate change Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any proposed agreement at an upcoming international conference in Paris in December must uphold the principle of equity.

The meeting, officially known as the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21), should approve a universally-binding agreement that will support the adaptation needs of developing nations and, more importantly, “demonstrate solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable countries through a focused package of assistance,” Ban told delegates.“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results." -- Roger-Mark De Souza

The secretary-general is seeking a staggering 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing nations and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their resilience.

Some of the most threatened are low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that are in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth due to rising sea-levels caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” Ban told a Global Forum last week.

“Weather-related disasters are more frequent and more intense. Everyone is affected – but not all equally,” he said, emphasising the inequities of the impact of climate change.

Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting, said recurring disasters are affecting different regions as a result of changing climate patterns, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu, that “are a matter of deep concern for us all”.

He said many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are facing an existential threat due to rising sea levels, while other countries are grappling with devastating droughts that have left precious lands uninhabitable and unproductive.

“We are also increasingly witnessing other severe weather patterns as a result of climate change, including droughts, floods and landslides.

“In my own country Uganda,” he pointed out, “the impact of climate change is affecting the livelihoods of the rural population who are dependent on agriculture.”

Striking a positive note, Ban said since 2009, the number of national climate laws and policies has nearly doubled, with three quarters of the world’s annual emissions now covered by national targets.

“The world’s three biggest economies – China, the European Union (EU) and the United States – have placed their bets on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth,” he added.

Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told IPS: “I am pleased to see the discussion of resilience at the high level discussion on climate change at the U.N. today.”

Resilience has the potential to be a transformative strategy to address climate fragility risks by allowing vulnerable countries and societies to anticipate, adapt to and emerge strong from climate shocks and stresses.

Three key interventions at the international level, and in the context of the climate change discussions leading up to Paris and afterwards, will unlock this transformative potential, he said.

First, predictive analytics that provide a unified, shared and accessible risk assessment methodology and rigorous resilience measurement indicators that inform practical actions and operational effectiveness at the regional, national and local levels.

Second, risk reduction, early recovery approaches and long-term adaptive planning must be integrated across climate change, development and humanitarian dashboards, response mechanisms and strategies.

Third, strengthening partnerships across these levels is vital – across key sectors including new technologies and innovative financing such as sovereign risk pools and weather based index insurance, and focusing on best practices and opportunities to take innovations to scale.

“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results, and this must be deliberately fostered and supported through foresight analysis, by engaging across the private sector, and through linking mitigation and adaptation policies and programmes,” De Souza told IPS.

Asked about the serious environmental consequences of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Ban told reporters Monday political instability is caused by the lack of good governance and social injustice.

But if you look at the other aspects, he argued, abject poverty and also environmental degradation really affect political and social instability because they affect job opportunities and the economic situation.

Therefore, “it is important that the benefits of what we will achieve through a climate change agreement will have to help mostly the 48 Least Developed Countries (described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”) – and countries in conflict,” he added.

Robert Redford, a Hollywood icon and a relentless environmental advocate, made an emotional plea before delegates, speaking as “a father, grandfather, and also a concerned citizen – one of billions around the world who are urging you to take action now on climate change.”

He said: “I am an actor by trade, but an activist by nature, someone who has always believed that we must find the balance between what we develop for our survival, and what we preserve for our survival.”

“Your mission is as simple as it is daunting,” he told the General Assembly: “Save the world before it’s too late.”

Arguing that climate change is real – and the result of human activity – Redford said: “We see the effects all around us–from drought and famine in Africa, and heat waves in South Asia, to wildfires across North America, devastating hurricanes and crippling floods here in New York.”

A heat wave in India and Pakistan has already claimed more than 2,300 lives, making it one of the deadliest in history.

“So, everywhere we look, moderate weather is going extinct,” Redford said.

All the years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the warmest on record. And as temperatures rise, so do global instability, poverty, and conflict, he warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:59:26 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141299

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

While member states, weakened in the neoliberal era, have pulled back from the U.N. and cut its budgets, a charity mentality has arisen at the world body. Corporations and the mega-rich have flocked to take advantage of the opportunity. They have looked for a quietly commanding role in the organisation’s political process and hoped to shape the institution to their own priorities.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

The U.N. Global Compact, formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1999-2000 to promote corporate “responsibility,” was the first sign that the U.N. as an institution was beginning to work with the corporations and listen closely to them.

Critics point out that the corporations were getting branding benefits and considerable influence without any serious change in their behaviour, but the U.N. was happy to lend its prestige in exchange for proximity to the czars of the global economy.

The World Economic Forum, organisers of the Davos conferences, soon afterwards installed conferencing screens, disguised as picture frames, in the offices of top U.N. officials, so that corporate chieftains could have a spontaneous chat with their counterparts at the world body.Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

By that time, it was clear that Ted Turner’s dramatic donation of a billion dollars to the U.N. in 1997 was not a quirky, one-off gesture but an early sign that the U.N. was a target of Big Money. Today, the U.N. is riddled with “public-private partnerships” and cozy relations with the corporate world. Pepsico and BP are hailed as “partners.” Policy options have shifted accordingly.

As corporate voices have amplified at the United Nations, citizen voices have grown considerably weaker. The great global conferences, organised with such enthusiasm in the 1990s on topics like the environment, women’s rights, and social development, attracted thousands of NGO representatives, journalists, and leaders of grassroots movements.

Broad consultation produced progressive and even inspiring policy statements from the governments. Washington in particular was unhappy about the spectacle of citizen involvement in the great matters of state and it opposed deviations from neo-liberal orthodoxies.

In the new century, the U.S. warned that it would no longer pay for what it said were useless extravaganzas. The U.N. leadership had to shut down, downsize or otherwise minimise the conference process, substituting “dialog” with carefully-chosen interlocutors.

The most powerful governments have protected their domination of the policy process by moving key discussions away from the U.N. entirely to “alternative venues” for invitation-only participation. The G-7 meetings were an early sign of this trend.

Later came the G-20, as well as private initiatives with corporate participation such as the World Economic Forum. Today, mainstream thinkers often argue that the U.N. is not really a place of legislative decisions but rather one venue among others for discussion and coordination among international “stakeholders.”

The U.N. itself, in its soul-searching, asks about its “comparative advantage,” in contrast to these other events – as if public policy institutions must respond to “free market” principles. This race to the bottom by the U.N. is exceedingly dangerous.

Unlike the other venues, the U.N. is a permanent institution, with law-making capacity, means of implementation and a “universal” membership. It can and should act somewhat like a government, and it must be far more than a debating society or a place where secret deals are made. For all the hype about “democracy” in the world, the mighty have paid little attention to this most urgent democratic deficit.

Though the U.N. landscape is generally that of weakness and lack of action, there is one organ that is quite robust and active – the Security Council. It meets almost continuously and acts on many of the world’s most contentious security issues.

Unfortunately, however, the Council is a deeply-flawed and even despotic institution, dominated by the five Permanent Members and in practice run almost exclusively by the US and the UK (the “P-2” in U.N. parlance). The ten Elected Members, chosen for two-year terms, have little influence (and usually little zest to challenge the status quo).

Many observers see the Council as a power monopoly that produces scant peace and little enduring security. When lesser Council members have tried to check the war-making plans of Washington and London, as they surprisingly did in the 2003 Iraq War debates, their decisions have been ignored and humiliated.

In terms of international law, the U.N.’s record has many setbacks, but there have been some bright spots. The nations have negotiated significant new treaties under U.N. auspices, including major human rights documents, the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Disabled.

The Montreal Protocol has successfully reduced the release of CFC gasses and addressed the dangerous hole in the earth’s ozone layer. But the treaty bodies tasked with enforcement are often weak and unable to promote compliance.

Powerful states tend to flout international law regularly and with impunity, including treaty principles once considered inviolable like the ban on torture. International law, the purview of the U.N., is frequently abused as a tool of states’ propaganda, to be invoked against opponents and enemies.

Legal scholars question the usefulness of these “norms” with so little enforcement. This is a disturbing problem, producing cynicism and eating at the heart of the U.N. system.

The U.N. may not have solved the centuries-old conundrum of international law, but it has produced some good thinking about “development” and human well-being.

The famous Human Development Report is a case in point and there are a number of creative U.N. research programmes such as the U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, the U.N. University, and the World Institute for Development Economic Research. They have produced creative and influential reports and shaped policies in good directions.

Unfortunately, many excellent U.N. intellectual initiatives have been shut down for transgressing powerful interests. In 1993, the Secretary-General closed the innovative Center on Transnational Corporations, which investigated corporate behaviour and economic malfeasance at the international level.

Threats from the U.S. Congress forced the Office of Development Studies at UNDP to suddenly and ignominiously abandonment its project on global taxes. Financial and political pressures also have blunted the originality and vitality of the Human Development Report. Among the research institutions, budgets have regularly been cut and research outsourced. Creative thinkers have drifted away.

Clearly, the U.N.’s seventieth anniversary does not justify self-congratulation or even a credible argument that the “glass is half full.” Though many U.N. agencies, funds and programmes like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation carry out important and indispensable work, the trajectory of the U.N. as a whole is not encouraging and the shrinking financial base is cause for great concern.

As climate change gathers force in the immediate future, setting off mass migration, political instability, violence and even food supply failure, there will be increasing calls for action among the world’s people.

The public may even demand a stronger U.N. that can carry out emergency measures. It’s hard, though, to imagine the U.N. taking up great new responsibilities without a massive and possibly lengthy overhaul.

Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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Grenada Rebuilds Barrier Reefshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 16:46:16 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141280 Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock

Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock

By Desmond Brown
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

The Eastern Caribbean nation of Grenada is following the example of its bigger neighbours Belize and Jamaica in taking action to restore coral reefs, which serve as frontline barriers against storm waves.

Coral reefs also play an extremely important role in the Caribbean tourism economy, as well as in food production and food security, but they have been adversely affected by rising sea temperatures and pollution.“We will actually create coral nurseries where we will harvest live coral from some of the healthy colonies around the island." -- Kerricia Hobson

An assessment of the vulnerability of Grenada, conducted between September and October 2014, identified several areas that are particularly vulnerable that did not already have interventions. Two such areas were Grand Anse on mainland Grenada and the Windward community on the sister island Carriacou.

“What we will be doing through this project is actually establishing coral nurseries and this is the first time it will be done in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS),” Kerricia Hobson, Project Manager in the Environment Division in Grenada’s Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, told IPS.

“We will actually create coral nurseries where we will harvest live coral from some of the healthy colonies around the island. We will propagate them in the nursery and when they are sufficiently mature, we will plant them on existing reef structures.”

The reef restoration is being done jointly by the Government of Grenada and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Coastal Eco-system Based Adaptation in Small Island Developing States (Coastal EBA Project).

Hobson spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a communication symposium to demystify the complexities of communicating on climate change and its related issues.

The June 18-19 symposium was held here under the OECS Rally the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC project), which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Hobson noted that Grenada and its Caribbean neighbours get a lot of economic benefits from their coastal ecosystems, particularly through tourism and fisheries; and they also provide protection to the coastlines.

But she said a number of factors have led to the destruction of coral reefs.

“A lot of them are climate-related but some of them are the result of human activities. In the Caribbean we have a history of not recognising the importance of some of these structures,” she said.

“Like mangroves, with coral reefs some of the destruction is actually due to things like pollution which comes from land run-off. For example our agricultural sector, there is a tradition of farming close to water sources because it’s easier to get the water for your plants and your animals but it also means that when it rains all of the excess fertilizers and the faeces from your animals wash into the river and because we live on an island, five minutes after it rains these things end up on the reef.

“So what you end up having is a reef that is dominated by algae which overgrow the reefs,” Hobson explained.

Kerricia Hobson says Grenada is launching a coral reef restoration project, the first in the Eastern Caribbean. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Kerricia Hobson says Grenada is launching a coral reef restoration project, the first in the Eastern Caribbean. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The findings of a three-year study by 90 international experts, released in 2014, said restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, can help reefs recover and even make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

In Belize, live coral cover on shallow patch reefs has decreased from 80 percent in 1971 to 20 percent in 1996, with a further decline from the 20 percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 1999.

In 1980, Hurricane Allen – the worst storm to hit Jamaica in the past 100 years – smashed the reefs, decimating the ecosystem.

Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its fifth assessment report on climate change impacts and adaptation, said that damage to coral reefs has implications for several key regional services.

It said coral reefs account for 10 to 12 percent of the fish caught in tropical countries, and 20 to 25 percent of the fish caught by developing nations.

Coral reefs contribute to protecting the shoreline from the destructive action of storm surges and cyclones, sheltering the only habitable land for several island nations, habitats suitable for the establishment and maintenance of mangroves and wetlands, as well as areas for recreational activities. The report noted that this role is threatened by future sea level rise, the decrease in coral cover, reduced rates of calcification, and higher rates of dissolution and bioerosion due to ocean warming and acidification.

In the tourism sector, the IPCC said more than 100 countries benefit from the recreational value provided by their coral reefs.

With the advent of climate change, Caribbean countries have been told they have to start acting now, since their future viability is based on their present responsibility.

Dr. Dale Rankine, a researcher at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) in Barbados, said there are certain things countries have to start doing now, if they have not already started.

“One is mitigation, which is really to limit the amount of greenhouse gases. We have to lobby all the major emitters because collectively all of the small island states really emit very little. We have to pursue a green economy,” Rankine told IPS.

“Adaptation is also a major thing. For adaptation, we have to weigh the cost of action versus inaction right across the different sectors.

“Climate change is not an add-on. Some of the very things that are being advocated for climate change adaptation are the same things that we want to do for sustainable development. So it is not an add-on, it is really something that we can pursue whilst doing the same things but in a more sustainable manner,” he added.

Rankine also suggested that countries start embedding climate change considerations in all of their development planning and look at diversification in the agricultural sector “because some of the crops are just not going to survive in the future”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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On Kenya’s Coast, a Struggle for the Sacredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:58:31 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141260 In addition to being the caretakers of sacred forests, the Mijikenda community in southern Kenya practice agriculture and engage in livestock rearing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

In addition to being the caretakers of sacred forests, the Mijikenda community in southern Kenya practice agriculture and engage in livestock rearing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
KAYA KINONDO, Kenya, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Travel into the heart of Kenya’s southern Coast Province, nearly 500 km from the capital city of Nairobi, and you will come across one of the planet’s most curious World Heritage Sites: the remains of several fortified villages, revered by the indigenous Mijikenda people as the sacred abodes of their ancestors.

"If you have evil intentions within this forest, a curse will befall you and we believe that you may not even come out alive.” -- Rashid Bakari, a member of Kenya's Mijikenda community
Known locally as ‘kaya’, these forested sites date back to the 16th century, when a migration of pastoral communities from present-day Somalia is believed to have led to the creation of several villages covering roughly 200 km across this province’s low-lying hills.

Having thrived for centuries, developing their own language and customs, the kayas began to disintegrate around the early 20th century as famine and fighting took hold.

Today, although uninhabited, the kayas continue to be worshipped as repositories of ancient beliefs and practices.

Thanks to careful nurturing by the Mijikenda people, the groves and graves in the kayas are all that remains of what was once an extensive coastal lowland forest.

But they are under threat.

The discovery in the last three years of large deposits of rare earth minerals in this region has marked the kaya forests out as targets for extraction, development and displacement of the indigenous population.

As property developers and resource explorers eye these ancient lands, locals are squaring off for a fight in what the World Bank has called one of the fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa.

‘Bound to our forests’

Mnyenze Abdalla Ali, a representative of the Kaya Kinondo Council of Elders, which represents a kaya forest in Kwale County at the southern-most tip of the province, tells IPS that the Mijikenda people “consider themselves culturally and spiritually bound to their forests.”

Numbering some 1.9 million people, according to the most recent census, the Mijikenda community comprises nine distinct tribes who nevertheless share a language and culture.

Each tribe has its own unique kaya, which simply refers to ‘home’ or to a village built in a forest clearing, Ali explains.

Because the forests are believed to hold the secrets and spirits of ancestors passed, the community is vigilant about their protection. According to one resident of Kaya Kinondo, Hamisi Juma, “Nothing can be taken out of the forest – not even a fallen twig can be used as firewood in our homes.”

She tells IPS that forest debris is only used during rituals and traditional ceremonies, “when we slaughter goats and use twigs to lit the fire. This happens within the forest and only for the purposes of the ritual.”

As a result, some 50 kayas spread throughout Kwale County, Mombasa County and Kilifi County in the Coast Province are home to an exceptionally high level of biodiversity.

Kenya’s own ministry of environment, water and natural resources has declared the region a biodiversity hotspot and pledged to allocate the necessary funds and resources to its protection.

But it is more than just a rich ecological belt.

The local community carefully tends to the outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is home to rare plant and bird species. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The local community carefully tends to the outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is home to rare plant and bird species. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) decided to add the kaya forests to its prestigious World Heritage List of over 1,000 protected sites back in 2008, it referred to the area as “an outstanding example of traditional human settlement […] which is representative of a unique interaction with the environment.”

UNESCO also noted that the kaya represent a “fundamental source of the Mijikenda people’s sense of ‘being-in-the-world’ and of place within the cultural landscape of contemporary Kenya.”

Furthermore, the forests are highly prized as a repository of medicinal plants and herbs, according to Eunice Adhiambo, project manager at Ujamaa Centre, a non-governmental organisation founded on the philosophy of “building social capital, not capital accumulation” as put forward by Tanzania’s first independent leader, Julius Nyerere.

Dedicated to empowering exploited communities in Kenya, the Ujamaa Centre supports the Mijikenda’s struggle to preserve these “unblemished and very unique landscapes”, Adhiambo tells IPS.

“Although kaya forests constitute about five percent of the remaining closed-canopy forest cover of Kenya’s coast, 35 percent of the highest conservation-value sites are found here,” she adds.

“If developers have their way,” she says, “we will lose so much of the richness that Mother Nature has given us. We have the responsibility of conserving this gift because we cannot buy it anywhere.”

But not all residents of this country of 20 million people share this view – particularly not economists, investors and policymakers keen to realise a forecasted economic growth rate increase from 5.4 percent in 2014 to six or seven percent over the 2015-2017 period.

Rare earth minerals – a tempting opportunity

Kenya’s profile as a potential top rare earth minerals producer rose significantly when, in 2012, mineral explorer Cortec Mining Kenya Ltd. announced it had found deposits worth 62.4 billion dollars.

At the time, the mineral exploration company planned to sink between 160 million and 200 million dollars into a drilling operation at its Mrima Hill prospect, also home to kaya forests.

The corporation projected initial output of 2,900 to 3,600 tonnes of niobium, an element used in high-temperature alloys for special kinds of steel, such as is used in the production of gas pipelines, cars and jet engines.

Experts estimated the deposit at Mrima Hill to be the sixth largest in the world, with a mine life of 16-18 years.

Fully exploited, it would put Kenya among the ranks of the major niobium exporters; in 2012, Brazil accounted for 95 percent of the world’s combined annual niobium production of 100,000 tonnes, while Canada followed at a distant second place.

As environmental groups and civil society organisations concerned about the impact of mining on sensitive ecological and cultural sites mounted a huge challenge, the government revoked an initial 21-year license granted to the company – though it did not cite environmental causes for its decision.

In early 2015, the government upheld a court decision to revoke the license, and announced plans to bring mineral exploration under state control.

On Mar. 20, Mining Minister Najib Balala stated in a press release, “Not […] Cortec or any other company will be allowed to do exploration at Mrima. It will be handled on behalf of the people of Kenya and especially the people of Mrima and Kwale County as a whole.”

This news has not, however, been met with much optimism from indigenous communities, who continue to view Kenya’s ambitious economic development agenda with trepidation.

Both the extractive and real estate sectors have emerged as major drivers of the country’s growth in the coming decade, and deposits of rare earth minerals could be a huge boon for the country.

Ernst & Young say demand for rare earth minerals is rising, with their market share estimated at between four and six billion dollars in 2015.

While China currently meets 90 percent of global demand, Kenya – along with other African nations like Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia – could crack the Asian giant’s monopoly.

In addition, discoveries of oil and natural gas in 2013 in Turkana County, on Kenya’s border with South Sudan, together with news that explorers had tapped into titanium deposits along the 500-km coastline, re-ignited fears of massive encroachment and destruction of kaya forests.

According to Kenya’s 2015 National Economic Survey, “The overall value of mineral production rose by 6.1 percent to stand at KSh 20.9 billion [about 212 million U.S. dollars] from KSh 19.8 billion [201 million U.S. dollars] in 2013, mainly on account of production of Titanium ore.”

The Ujamaa Centre says that some indigenous communities are beginning to give in to the pressures of extractive industries and the lure of quick money from real estate developers.

Kaya Chivara, located in Kilifi County, for instance, is completely degraded as a result of human encroachment, while others – particularly those in mineral-rich Kwale Country – are at high risk.

“Imminent niobium extraction will certainly degrade the forest,” Ujamaa’s Adhiambo predicts, stressing that the Mijikenda people are now poised to play a major role in halting any potentially destructive development.

‘A curse or a blessing’

So far, despite developers of all stripes hungering after the land – with some property developers even buying up tracts that encroach into protected areas – Kaya Kinondo remains in safe hands.

Some kaya forests, particularly in Kilifi County in Kenya’s Coast Province, have been heavily degraded due to extractive industries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Some kaya forests, particularly in Kilifi County in Kenya’s Coast Province, have been heavily degraded due to extractive industries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The Council of Elders has been vigilant about protection of the forest, and the community has fallen back on their belief in powerful rituals to ward off bad omens.

Mijikendas say that two pillars govern the spirit of the kaya forests: either a curse or a blessing.

Rashid Bakari, a kaya guide who works with youth from the community to bring visitors into the forests, tells IPS, “If you have evil intentions within this forest, a curse will befall you and we believe that you may not even come out alive.”

For those who do not subscribe to his convictions, the Kenyan constitution is also proving to be a source of protection, with Article 44 providing for community participation in the resolution of disputes over customary land.

The Ujamaa Collective, which works to enhance popular participation in socio-economic processes and supports community based decision-making and governance, believes the government must be held accountable to these clauses.

Adhiambo also tells IPS that her organisation is “encouraging communities to work with the local governments to help them preserve what is left of their natural heritage.”

She says that community discussions with Josephat Chirema of the County Assembly Committee of Culture and Development has borne fruit, with the committee member promising to introduce debate in the Kwale County Assembly to establish and obtain detailed information about kayas – and the need to work with indigenous communities for their preservation.

Now, caretakers of several other kayas are working closely with the Kaya Kinondo Council of Elders, for lessons on how to salvage what is left of their hallowed heritage.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Conservation Successes Eclipsed by Species Declineshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/conservation-successes-eclipsed-by-species-declines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservation-successes-eclipsed-by-species-declines http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/conservation-successes-eclipsed-by-species-declines/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 17:09:02 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141257 By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Although strong gains have been made in some areas of conservation, many species are facing increasing threats to their survival.

According to an update from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species, conservation successes like the Iberian Lynx and the Guadalupe Fur Seal have been overshadowed by more species declines and concerns over the lion, African Golden Cat, New Zealand Sea Lion populations.

“(The update) confirms that effective conservation can yield outstanding results,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General, in a statement. “Saving the Iberian Lynx from the brink of extinction while securing the livelihoods of local communities is a perfect example.

“But this update is also a wake-up call, reminding us that our natural world is becoming increasingly vulnerable. The international community must urgently step up conservation efforts if we want to secure this fascinating diversity of life that sustains, inspires and amazes us every day.”

Aside from successful conservation efforts in southern Africa, the West African lion subpopulation has been listed as critically endangered due to habitat conversion, a decline in prey caused by unsustainable hunting, and human-lion conflict.

Rapid declines have also been recorded in East Africa – historically a stronghold for lions – mainly due to human-lion conflict and prey decline. Trade in bones and other body parts for traditional medicine, both within the region and in Asia, has been identified as a new, emerging threat to the species.

The Red List provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on plants, fungi and animals; cataloguing and highlighting those plants and animals that are facing a higher risk of global extinction.

It includes 77,340 assessed species, providing a useful snapshot of what is happening to species today and highlighting the urgent need for conservation action. Of the assessed species, 22,784 are threatened with extinction.

According to the update, 99 percent of tropical Asian slipper orchids – some of the most highly prized ornamental plants – are threatened with extinction.

Eighty-five percent of species on the Red List are threatened by the loss and degradation of their habitat, and illegal trade and invasive species are also key drivers of population decline.

“It is encouraging to see several species improve in status due to conservation action,” remarked Jane Smart, Director, IUCN’s Global Species Programme. “However, this update shows that we are still seeing devastating losses in species populations.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Pope Francis’ Timely Call to Action on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 14:22:11 +0000 Tomas Insua http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141241 Pope Francis, wearing a yellow raincoat, celebrates mass amidst heavy rains and strong winds near the Tacloban Airport Saturday, January 17, 2015. After the mass, the Pope visited Palo, Leyte to meet with families of typhoon Yolanda victims. The Pope visit to Leyte was shortened due to an ongoing typhoon in the area. Credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau/public domain

Pope Francis, wearing a yellow raincoat, celebrates mass amidst heavy rains and strong winds near the Tacloban Airport Saturday, January 17, 2015. After the mass, the Pope visited Palo, Leyte to meet with families of typhoon Yolanda victims. The Pope's visit to Leyte was shortened due to an ongoing typhoon in the area. Credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau/public domain

By Tomás Insua
BOSTON, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

On June 18, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si, the first ever encyclical about ecology, which promises to be a highly influential document for years to come. The encyclical, which is the most authoritative teaching document a Pope can issue, delivered a strong message addressing the moral dimension of the severe ecological crisis we have caused with our “throwaway culture” and general disregard for our common home, the Earth.

One of the most important points of this document is that it connects the dots between social justice and environmental justice. As a parishioner from Buenos Aires I have seen firsthand how Jorge Bergoglio cared deeply about both issues, and it is beautiful to see how he is bringing them together in this historical encyclical.Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year.

The most prominent example of this connection is how our role in causing climate change is hurting those who had nothing to do with this crisis, namely the poor and future generations.

Although the encyclical will have an impact on Catholic teaching for generations to come, its timing at this particular juncture is no accident. As the Pope himself stated, “the important thing is that there be a bit of time between the issuing of the encyclical and the meeting in Paris, so that it can make a contribution.”

The Paris meeting he referred to is the crucial COP21 summit that the United Nations will convene in December, where the world’s governments are expected to sign a new treaty to tackle human-made climate change and avoid its worst impacts.

This is significant because the international climate negotiations have been characterized by a consistent lack of ambition during the past two decades, allowing the climate change crisis to exacerbate. Greenhouse gases emissions have grown 60 percent since world leaders first met in the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, and continue to accelerate setting the foundation for a severe disruption of the climate system.

Scientists are shouting at us, urging humankind to change course immediately, but we are not listening. That is why strong moral voices such as the one of Pope Francis have the potential to change people’s hearts and overcome the current gridlock.

Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year. Faced with the clear and present threat of climate change, governments have long used the supposed passivity of their citizens as an excuse for inaction.

The climate movement is growing fast and is building up pressure at an increasing scale, but its growth rate needs to be boosted to meet the size of the challenge. Pope Francis’ encyclical has the potential to draw a huge amount of people to the climate movement by inspiring the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, as well as non-Catholics who are open to his message, to mobilise in this important year.

Catholics are already responding to the Holy Father’s call by scaling their mobilisation, mainly through the recently founded Global Catholic Climate Movement. This is a coalition of over 100 Catholic organizations from all continents, aiming to raise awareness about the moral imperative of climate change and to amplify the encyclical’s message in the global climate debate by mobilising the Church’s grassroots.

The flagship campaign of the movement is its recently launched Catholic Climate Petition, which the Pope himself endorsed a month ago when we met him in the Vatican, with the goal of collecting at least one million signatures for world leaders gathered in the COP21 summit in Paris. The ask, to be delivered in coalition with other faith and secular organisations, is for governments to take bold action and keep the global temperature increase below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels.

At the same time, people of all faiths are coming together with a strong moral call for action through initiatives such as Fast for the Climate – whereby participants fast on a monthly basis to show solidarity with the victims of climate change – and the People’s Pilgrimage – a series of pilgrimages in the name of climate change led by Yeb Saño, former Philippine climate ambassador, and designed to culminate in a descent on Paris around COP21.

Leaders of other faiths will furthermore join their Catholic counterparts in celebration of the encyclical on June 28, when the interfaith march “One Earth, One Human Family” will go to St. Peter’s Square as a sign of gratitude to Pope Francis.

Whatever happens, this year will go down in the history books. Be sure of that. The Pope has made a massive contribution to making sure it’s remembered for all the right reasons. Now it’s our turn to step up and finish the job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Oceans Need the Spotlight Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:10:30 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141237

Dr. Palitha Kohona was co-chair of the U.N. Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The international community must focus its energies immediately on addressing the grave challenges confronting the oceans. With implications for global order and peace, the oceans are also becoming another arena for national rivalry.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The clouds of potential conflict gather on the horizon. The U.N. resolution adopted on June 19 confirms the urgency felt by the international community to take action.

His Holiness the Pope observed last week, “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species… It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.”

The oceans demand our attention for many reasons. In a world constantly hungering for ever more raw material and food, the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the globe, are estimated to contain approximately 24 trillion dollars of exploitable assets. Eighty-six million tonnes of fish were harvested from the oceans in 2013, providing 16 percent of humanity’s protein requirement. Fisheries generated over 200 million jobs.

However, unsustainable practices have decimated many fish species, increasing competition for the rest. The once prolific North Atlantic cod, the Pacific tuna and the South American anchovy fisheries have all but collapsed with disastrous socio-economic consequences.Increasingly the world's energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources.

Highly capitalised and subsidised distant water fleets engage in predatory fishing in foreign waters causing tensions which could escalate. In a striking development, the West African Sub Regional Fisheries Commission recently successfully asserted, before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the responsibility of flag States to take necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Increasingly the world’s energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources. The sea bed could also provide many of the minerals required by strategic industries.

As these assets come within humanity’s technological reach, inadequately managed exploitation will cause damage to the ocean ecology and coastal areas, demonstrated dramatically by the BP Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. (Costing the company over 42.2 billion dollars).

Cross-border environmental damage could give rise to international conflicts. A proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ on responsibility for global warming and sea level rise was floated at the U.N. by Palau in 2013.

The oceans will also be at the centre of our efforts to address the looming threat of climate change. With ocean warming, fish species critically important to poor communities in the tropics are likely to migrate to more agreeable climes, aggravating poverty levels.

Coastal areas could be flooded and fresh water resources contaminated by tidal surges. Increasing ocean acidification and coral bleach could cause other devastating consequences, including to fragile coasts and fish breeding grounds.

The ocean is the biggest sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the rapid increases in anthropogenic GHGs will aggravate ocean warming and the melting of the ice caps. Some small island groups might even disappear beneath the waves.

Scientists now believe that over 70 percent of anthropogenic GHGs generated since the turn of the 20th century were absorbed by the Indian Ocean which is likely to result in unpredictable consequences for the littoral states of the region, already struggling to emerge from poverty.

The increasing ferocity of natural phenomena, such as hurricanes and typhoons, will cause greater devastation as we witnessed in the cases of Katrina in the U.S. and the brutal Haiyan in the Philippines.

The socio-economic impacts of global warming and sea level rise on the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry (476 billion dollars in the U.S. alone) would be far reaching. All this could result in unmanageable environmental refugee flows. The enormous challenge of ocean warming and sea level rise alone would require nations to become more proactive on ocean affairs now.

The international community has, over the years, agreed on various mechanisms to address ocean-related issues. But these efforts remain largely uncoordinated and with the developments in science, lacunae are being identified progressively.

The most comprehensive of these endeavours is the laboriously negotiated Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) of 1982. The LOSC, described as the constitution of the oceans by Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, who presided over the final stages of the negotiations, details rules for the interactions of states with the oceans and with each other with regard to the oceans.

Although some important states such as the U.S., Israel, Venezuela and Turkey are not parties to the LOSC (it has 167 parties), much of its content is accepted as part of customary international law. It also provides a most comprehensive set of options for settling inter-state disputes relating to the seas and oceans, including the ITLOS, headquartered in Hamburg.

The LOSC established the Sea Bed Authority based in Kingston, Jamaica which now manages exploration and mining applications relating to the Area, the sea bed beyond national jurisdiction, and the U.N. Commission on the Continental Shelf before which many state parties have already successfully asserted claims to vast areas of their continental shelves.

With humanity’s knowledge of the oceans and seas expanding rapidly and the gaps in the LOSC becoming apparent, the international community in 1994 concluded the Implementing Agreement Relating to Part XI of the LOSC and in 1995, the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.

Additionally, the United Nations Environment Programme has put in place a number of regional arrangements, some in collaboration with other U.N. agencies such as the FAO and the IMO, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, including fisheries.

The IMO itself has put in place detailed agreements and arrangements affecting the oceans and the seas in relation to shipping. The FAO has been instrumental in promoting regional mechanisms for the sustainable use of marine and coastal fisheries resources.

In 2012, the U.N. Secretary-General launched the Oceans Compact. States negotiating the Post-2015 Development Goals at the U.N. have acknowledged the vast and complex challenges confronting the oceans and have proceeded to highlight them in the context of a Sustainable Development Goal.

The majority of the international community now feel that the global arrangements for the sustainable use, conservation and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction need further strengthening. The negotiators of the LOSC were not fully conscious of the extent of the genetic resources of the deep. Ninety percent of the world’s living biomass is to be found in the oceans.

Today the genetic material, bio prospected, harvested or mined from the oceans is providing the basis for profound new discoveries pertaining to pharmaceuticals. Only a few countries possess the technical capability to conduct the relevant research, and even fewer the ability to convert the research into financially beneficial products. The international community’s concerns are reflected in the U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted on June 19.

Many developing countries are concerned that unless appropriate regulatory mechanisms are put in place now by the international community, the poor will be be shut out from the vast wealth, estimated at three billion dollars per year, expected to be generated from this new frontier. Over 4,000 new patents, the number growing at 12 percent a year based on such genetic material, were registered in 2013.

A U.N. working group, initially established back in 2006 to study the question of concluding a legally binding instrument on the conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond the national jurisdiction of states, and co-chaired by Sri Lanka and The Netherlands from 2009, submitted its report in January 2015, after years of difficult negotiations.

For nine years, consensus remained elusive. Certain major powers, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea held out, contending that the existing arrangements were sufficient. These are among the few which possess the technological capability to exploit the genetic resources of the deep and convert the research in to useful products.

The U.N. General Assembly is now expected to establish a preparatory committee in 2016 to make recommendations on an implementing instrument under UNCLOS. An intergovernmental conference is likely to be convened by the GA at its 72nd Session for this purpose.

The resulting mechanism is expected to complement the existing arrangements on biological genetic material under the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nagoya Protocol) applicable to areas under national jurisdiction.

This ambitious U.N. process is likely to create a transparent regulatory mechanism facilitating technological and economic progress while ensuring equity.

A development with long term impact, especially since Rio+20, was the community of interests identified and strengthened between the G 77 and China and the EU with regard to the oceans.

Life originated in the primeval ocean. Humanity’s future may very well depend on how we care for it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Takes First Step Towards Treaty to Curb Lawlessness in High Seashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:14:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141222 A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution Friday aimed at drafting a legally binding international treaty for the conservation of marine biodiversity and to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The resolution was the result of more than nine years of negotiations by an Ad Hoc Informal Working Group, which first met in 2006.“This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.” -- Elizabeth Wilson

If and when the treaty is adopted, it will be the first global treaty to include conservation measures such as marine protected areas and reserves, environmental impact assessments, access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

The High Seas Alliance (HSA), a coalition of some 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty and has been campaigning for this resolution since 2011.

Asked if the treaty will be finalised by the targeted date of 2018, Elizabeth Wilson, director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the HSA, told IPS: “Not exactly, although we do expect significant progress.”

The first round of formal negotiations is expected to take place in 2016 and continue through 2017.

The General Assembly will decide by September of 2018 on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to finalise the text of the agreement and set a start date for the conference.

Wilson said it is likely that the intergovernmental conference would then meet multiple times over approximately two years to accomplish this goal.

Asked how the treaty will change the current “lawlessness” in the high seas, Wilson said: “This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

Today, she pointed out, the high seas are governed by a patchwork of inadequate international, regional, and sectorial agreements and organisations.

A new treaty would help to organise and coordinate conservation and management. That includes the ability to create fully protected marine reserves that are closed off to harmful activities. Right now there is no way to arrange for such legally binding protections, she added.

Sofia Tsenikli of Greenpeace said: “The high seas accounts for nearly half our planet – the half that has been left without law or protection for far too long. A global network of marine reserves is urgently needed to bring life back into the ocean – this new treaty should make that happen.”

In a statement released Friday, the HSA said the resolution follows the Rio+20 conference in 2012 where Heads of State committed to address high seas protection.

The conference came close to agreeing to a new treaty then, but was prevented from doing so by a few governments which have remained in opposition to a Treaty ever since.

Asked about the significant difference between the 1982 landmark Law of the Sea Treaty and the proposed high seas treaty, Wilson told IPS the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is recognised as the “constitution” for global ocean governance, has a broad scope and does not contain the detailed provisions necessary to address specific activities, nor does it establish a management mechanism and rules for biodiversity protection in the high seas.

Since the adoption of UNCLOS in 1982, there have been two subsequent implementing agreements to address gaps and other areas that were not sufficiently covered under UNCLOS, one related to seabed mining and the other related to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, she added.

This new agreement will be the third implementing agreement developed under UNCLOS, Wilson said.

According to HSA, Friday’s resolution stresses “the need for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

It allows for a two-year preparatory process (PrepCom) to consider the elements that could comprise the treaty.

This will begin in 2016 and culminate by the end of 2017, with a decision whether to convene a formal treaty negotiating conference in 2018.

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 HSA.

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Pope Could Upstage World Leaders at U.N. Summit in Septemberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:26:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141208 His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

Judging by his recent public pronouncements – including on reproductive health, biodiversity, the creation of a Palestinian state, the political legitimacy of Cuba and now climate change – Pope Francis may upstage more than 150 world leaders when he addresses the United Nations, come September.

“The Pope will most likely be the headline-grabber,” predicts one longtime U.N. watcher, “particularly if he continues to be as outspoken as he has been so far.”“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.” -- Pope Francis

As his mostly socio-political statements become increasingly hard-hitting, the Argentine-born Il Papa, the first Pope from the developing world, is drawing both ardent supporters and hostile critics.

Last January, during a trip to Asia, he dropped a bombshell when he said Catholics should practice responsible parenthood and stop “breeding like rabbits.”

In the United States, the Pope has been criticised by right-wing conservatives for playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the resumption of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, and incurred the wrath of the pro-Israeli lobby for recognising Palestine as a nation state.

In fact, most of his pronouncements are closely in line with the United Nations – and specifically its socio-economic agenda.

In his 184-page Encyclical released Thursday, the Pope says “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”

“Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet. In this Encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

The Pope also complains how weak international political responses have been.

“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” he said.

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected, the Pope declared.

Speaking on the global environment last year, he said: “The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

“Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently warned against the devastating effects of climate change, praised Pope Francis for his papal encyclical which highlights that “climate change is one of the principal challenges facing humanity, and that it is a moral issue requiring respectful dialogue with all parts of society.”

He agreed with the encyclical’s findings that there is “a very solid scientific consensus” showing significant warming of the climate system and that most global warming in recent decades is “mainly a result of human activity”.

Ban urged governments to place the global common good above national interests and to adopt an ambitious, universal climate agreement in Paris this year.

Tim Gore, Oxfam International Climate Adviser, told IPS the Pope has set out how climate change is at its most basic a moral issue – it is a deep injustice that the pollution of the world’s richest people and countries drives harmful climate disruption in the poorest communities and countries.

“Anyone that is concerned about injustice should rightly be concerned about climate change, and in making his call, the Pope joins many other leaders of faith, civil society and trade unions. Climate change is all of our business,” he said.

Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Programme at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said: “Pope Francis is crystal clear — the current development model, based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas, has to go. In its place, we need renewable sources of energy and new modes of production and consumption that rein in global warming.”

Taxing carbon, divesting from fossil fuels, and ending public corporate welfare for polluters can help end the stranglehold dirty energy companies have on our governments, economies and societies, she added.

In a statement released Thursday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently chair of the Africa Progress Panel and Kofi Annan Foundation, said as Pope Francis reaffirms, climate change is an all-encompassing threat.

“It is a threat to our security, our health, and our sources of fresh water and food. Such conditions could displace tens of millions of people, dwarfing current migration and fuelling further conflicts,” Annan said.

“I applaud the Pope for his strong moral and ethical leadership. We need more of such inspired leadership. Will we see it at the climate summit in Paris?,” he added.

In the United States, the criticisms have come mostly from right-wing conservatives, who want the Pope to confine himself to religion, not politics.

Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina and a strong supporter of Israel, said Pope Francis should avoid the Palestine debate altogether – the Vatican should focus on spiritual matters and stay out of politics.

Asked Tuesday, just ahead of the Pope’s statement on climate change, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency, said: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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From Residents to Rangers: Local Communities Take Lead on Mangrove Conservation in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/from-residents-to-rangers-local-communities-take-lead-on-mangrove-conservation-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 17:24:57 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141176 Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KALPITIYA, Sri Lanka, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Weekends and public holidays are deadly for one of Sri Lanka’s most delicate ecosystems – that is when the island’s 8,815 hectares of mangroves come under threat.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture. We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.” -- Douglas Thisera, also known as Sri Lanka's Mangrove Master
With public officials, forest rangers and NGO workers on holiday, no one is around to enforce conservation laws designed to protect these endangered zones. Except the locals, that is.

Residents of the Kalpitiya Peninsula in the northwest Puttalam District are no strangers to the wanton destruction of the area’s natural bounty. Kalpitiya is home to the largest mangrove block in Sri Lanka, the Puttalam Lagoon, as well as smaller mangrove systems on the shores of the Chilaw Lagoon, 150 km north of the capital, Colombo.

For centuries these complex wetlands have protected fisher communities against storms and sea-surges, while the forests’ underwater root system has nurtured nurseries and feeding grounds for scores of aquatic species.

Perhaps more important, in a country still living with the ghosts of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, mangroves have been found to be a coastline’s best defense against tidal waves and tsunamis.

Many poor fisher families in western Sri Lanka also rely heavily on mangroves for sustenance, with generation after generation deriving protein sources from the rich waters or sustainably harvesting the forests’ many by-products.

But in Sri Lanka today, as elsewhere in the world, mangroves face a range of risks. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that the unique ecosystems, capable of storing up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests.

Over a quarter of the world’s mangrove cover has already been irrevocably destroyed, driven by aquaculture, agriculture, unplanned and unsustainable coastal development and over-use of resources.

On the west coast of Sri Lanka, despite government’s pledges to protect the country’s remaining forests, the covert clearing of mangroves continues – albeit at a slower rate than in the past.

But a small army of land defenders, newly formed and highly dedicated, is promising to turn this tide.

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When residents become rangers

They call him the ‘Mangrove Master’, but his real name is Douglas Thisera. A fisherman turned vigilante, he is the director for conservation at the Small Fisheries Foundation of Lanka (Sudeesa) and spends his days patrolling every nook of the Chilaw Lagoon for signs of illegal destruction.

Massive Boost for Mangroves

Last month, the Sudeesa programme received a massive boost from the U.S.-based NGO Seacology to expand its operations island-wide. The Sri Lankan government also signed on as a major partner for the five-year, 3.4-million-dollar mangrove protection scheme.

The project will use Sudeesa’s original initiative as a blueprint to pair conservation with livelihood prospects on a much larger scale.

The plan is to provide assistance to over 15,000 persons, half of them widows and the rest school dropouts, living close to Sri Lanka’s 48 lagoons where mangroves thrive.

There will be 1,500 community groups who will look after the mangroves and also plant 3,000 hectares’ worth of saplings.

In a further boost to conservationists, on May 11 the Sri Lankan government declared mangroves as protected areas, bringing them under the Forest Ordinance.

The move now makes commercial use of mangroves illegal, and the government has pledged to provide forest officials for patrols and other members of the armed forces for replanting programmes.

This is a huge step away from previous governments' policies and reflects a commitment from the newly-elected administration to conservation and sustainability - both priorities at the international level as the United Nations moves towards a pot-2015 development agenda.

“We can dream big now,” says the Mangrove Master, scanning the horizon.
He has been replanting and conserving mangroves since 1992, so he knows these forests – and its enemies – like the back of his hand.

“Suddenly we will see earth movers and other machinery clearing large tracts of mangroves – by the time pubic officials are alerted, the destruction is already done,” he tells IPS.

This pattern follows decades of state-sanctioned deforestation that began in the early 90s, when an aggressive government-backed prawn-farming scheme was taking root around the lagoon and private corporations as well as politically-linked business enterprises were eyeing and clearing the mangroves indiscriminately.

For years Thisera tried to draft the local community into conservation efforts, but they were up against a Goliath.

He recalls one instance, back in 1994, when a powerful politician cleared a 150-metre stretch of forest almost overnight. “We were helpless then, we did not have the organisational capacity to take on such figures.”

By 2012, prawn farming, salt panning, solid waste disposal and hotel construction for the country’s thriving tourist sector had conspired to cut Sri Lanka’s mangrove cover by 80 percent, according to some estimates.

Today, under the aegis of a major mangrove conservation programme in the region, Thisera not only has financial backing for his efforts – he has a network of residents just as dedicated to the task as he is.

The project is led by Sudeesa, whose chairman, Anuradha Wickramasinghe, believed that only “community-based” action could hope to save the disappearing forests.

But this was easier said than done.

Poverty stalks the population of Sri Lanka’s northwest coast, and the most recent government statistics indicate that the average income among fisher families is just 16 dollars a month, with 53 percent of the population here living below the national poverty line.

Unemployment is roughly 20 percent higher than the island-wide average of 4.1 percent, and most families spend every waking moment struggling to put food on the table.

So Sudeesa created a micro-credit scheme to incentivize conservation efforts, and tailored the programme towards women. Women are offered a range of loans at extremely low interest rates to start home-based sustainable ventures. In exchange, they care for young saplings, help replant stretches of mangrove forest and take it upon themselves to prevent illegal clearing for commercial purposes.

Together they have planted 170,000 saplings covering an area of 860 hectares in the district – and they are working to multiply this number.

Futures tied to the land

The entire scheme relies on community action.

Women are put in charge of designated locations, mostly close to their homes. When encroachment or illegal harvesting takes place, they use local networks and cell phones to get the word out.

Here, the Thisera plays a pivotal role, acting as an intermediary between local watchdogs and networks of public officials, which he can activate when the women raise a red flag.

Last year this rudimentary conservation machine managed to halt encroachment by a private company with a stake in prawn farming by forcing it to dismantle fencing around the mangroves and retreat to demarcations laid down in government maps of the area.

Thisera says powerful business interests present the biggest menace to locals. Although an epidemic in the late 1990s decimated most of the prawn farms, leaving large, empty man-made tanks in place of mangrove ecosystems, companies have been reluctant to retreat and many continue to pay taxes on former areas of operations.

“They want to keep a legal hold on the land for other purposes,” Thisera explains, such as tourism on the northern ridge of the Puttalam Lagoon that has seen a revival since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

Already two islands have been leased out to private companies, though no major construction operations have yet begun.

When they do, however, they will be forced to reckon with Thisera and his unofficial rangers.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture,” Thisera explains. “We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.”

Self-confidence and self-reliance

Cut off from the country’s commercial hubs and major markets, women in this district have long had to rely on their wits to survive.

Take Anne Priyanthi, a 52-year-old widow with two children who until three years ago had struggled to feed her family. She tried to lift herself out of poverty by applying for a bank loan – but was refused on the basis that she did not “meet the criteria”.

In 2012 Sudeesa granted her a loan of 10,000 rupees – about 74 dollars – which she used to start a small pig farm. Today, she earns a monthly income of 25,000 rupees, or 182 dollars.

It seems a pittance – but it means her kids can stay in school and in these impoverished parts that is a monumental success.

Another beneficiary of Sudeesa’s conservation-livelihood project is 58-year-old Primrose Fernando, who now works as a coordinator for the NGO. The widow has three daughters, one of whom has a minor disability.

With her loan she was able to set up a small grocery shop for the disabled daughter and also invest in an ornamental fish breeding business.

“Without this assistance I would have been left destitute,” Fernando tells IPS.

Since 1994 Sudeesa had given out loans to the tune of 54 million rupees (over 400,000 dollars) to 3,900 women in the Puttalam District. Officials say that the loans have a repayment rate of over 75 percent.

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now the loans scheme falls under a registered public organisation called Sudeesa Social Enterprises Corporation, of which 683 of the most active women are shareholders.

“It is the shareholders who run the orgainsation now, who decide on loans, repayments and follow-up action in case of defaulters,” explains Malan Appuhami, a Sudeesa accountant.

The operation is not your average micro-credit scheme – interest rates are less than three percent, and since the women are all part of the same community, they are more interested in helping each other succeed than hunting down defaulters.

For instance during the months of June to September, when rough seas limit a fisher family’s catch, the shareholders create more flexible repayment plans.

In a country where the female unemployment rate is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure of 4.2 percent, the conservation-livelihood scheme is a kind of oasis in an otherwise barren desert for women – particularly older women without a formal education, as many in the Puttalam District are – seeking paid work.

Suvineetha de Silva, a Sudeesa credit officer, tells IPS that there has been a visible shift in women’s outlooks and attitudes – no longer ragged and shy, they now ripple with the confidence of those who have taken matters into their own hands.

Some have even been able to send their kids to university, de Silva says, something that was “unheard of” a decade ago, when the simple act of completing primary school was considered a luxury for youth whose parents needed the extra labour to help feed the family.

Other women are spending more time at home, with the result that sustainable cottage industries like home bakeries, dress making ventures and even hairdressing operations are thriving.

Best of all is that Puttalam’s mangroves now have a fighting chance, with determined women keeping watch over them.

Globally, an estimated 100 million people live in the vicinity of mangrove forests. What would it mean for the future of biodiversity if all of them followed Sri Lanka’s example?

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here.

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: What the Philippines Can Learn from Morocco, Peru and Ethiopiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-what-the-philippines-can-learn-from-morocco-peru-and-ethiopia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-what-the-philippines-can-learn-from-morocco-peru-and-ethiopia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-what-the-philippines-can-learn-from-morocco-peru-and-ethiopia/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 23:47:12 +0000 Chris Wright and Jed Alegado http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141161 NGOs call for an energy revolution at the Bonn talks. Credit: IISD

NGOs call for an energy revolution at the Bonn talks. Credit: IISD

By Chris Wright and Jed Alegado
MANILA, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

(Last week, Australian Climate Activist offered an apology to the Philippines for his country’s lack of action. Today, he partners up with climate tracker from the Philippines Jed Alegado to talk about what the Philippines can do to show its leadership in tackling climate change.)

There has been a lot of pressure on the Philippines in the last week. Climate Change Commission Secretary Lucille Sering faced a senate hearing about the Philippines’ commitment to its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs.

Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), INDCs were introduced in Warsaw in 2013 to hasten and ensure concrete climate action plans from countries.We have already seen this year how cities like New Delhi and Beijing have become almost unlivable due to the dangerously polluted air. What will happen to the Philippines if it follows a similar path?

During the visit of French President Francois Hollande to the Philippines last February, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announced that his country’s INDC will be submitted by August this year after he delivers his final State of the Nation Address. However, during the Senate hearing last week, Sering said that the Philippines aims to submit the INDC before the October 2015 deadline.

In an interview last month, civil society representative to the Philippine delegation, Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Vina, clarified the process conducted by the Philippine government for its INDC. According to La Vina,  INDC orientation and workshops were conducted among government agencies in January 2015. A technical working group was formed last March followed by stakeholder discussions last month which included civil society groups, key government agencies and the private sector.

For a country which has played a leadership role and has become a rallying point for the global call for climate action due to its former lead negotiator Yeb Sano and the Super Typhoon Haiyan which wreaked havoc in the central Philippines in 2013, there has been a lot of pressure for the Philippines to come up with a definitive and clear commitment for its INDC.

Last month, Sering announced that the Philippines’ INDC might focus on a renewable energy and low-carbon sustainable development plan: “low emission and long-term development pathway to involve private sector and other stakeholders”. Sering also said that the Philippines intends to increase the use of renewable energy.

However, last week, the Palawan Community for Sustainable Development gave the go-ahead to a company to construct a coal-powered plant in Palawan in the western part of the Philippines, often described as the country’s last frontier. Environmental NGOs based in the province have been trying to stop the construction of this 15-megawatt coal plant to be built by one of the major construction companies in the Philippines.

In the past two years, the government has also approved the construction of 21-coal powered projects despite the President Aquino’s declaration that the Philippines intends to “nearly triple the country’s renewable-energy-based capacity from around 5,400 megawatts in 2010 to 15,300 MW in 2030.”

In spite of these events happening in the Philippines, the second week of the Bonn intersession has also been characterised by developing countries who have stood proud and shown the world just what they can do to stop global warming.

Reform, Accountability and Ambition

It may therefore be timely for the Philippines to take some lessons from three recent INDC announcements that have each drawn great praise at the U.N.

Step 1: Reform

The first lesson comes from Morocco, which this week came out as the first country to address “fossil fuel subsidy reform” in their Climate Action Plan. As the first Arab country to make an international Climate Action Plan, they naturally shocked a lot of people.

However, when you dive into their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 per cent by 2030 compared to what they call “business as usual”, I guess it’s understandable that some of us are having apprehensions.

But what is good about their efforts is to “substantially reduce fossil fuel subsidies”. This is one of the truly ‘unspoken’ aspects of transitioning away from fossil fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we need to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible to keep us below two degrees of warming. In order to give Filipinos a chance at a safe future, we need a global phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050, and the first step to get there is to cut fossil fuel subsidies.

Globally, the IMF estimates that the fossil fuel industry receives 10 million dollars every minute. If the world is ever going to move into a fossil-free future, reforming these subsidies will be critical. This is one way the Philippines can show some real leadership with their Climate Action Plan.

Step 2: Accountability

Late last week, Peru publicly announced their Climate Action Plan. While they haven’t yet officially submitted it to the U.N., what they have produced is very impressive.

In developing their Climate Action Plan, Peru has carefully calculated exactly how much emissions they can cut based on a concrete number of projects which they clearly outline in the plan. As such, their plan to cut emissions by 31 per cent based on business as usual is backed up by 58 clearly outlined different mitigation projects.

This makes it very easy for Peru to ask for support from developed countries to help them improve on their commitments. In fact, they have even outlined how they can increase their emissions cuts to up to 42 per cent with an extra 18 projects.

While they haven’t made a specific ask for international assistance to meet this difference, this level of transparency could make it a very simple step in the future. What’s more, they have now opened this plan up to public consultations until July 17.

They will be holding workshops across Peru and asking a wide range of citizens what their views on the Climate Action Plans are.

If the Philippines want to ask for international support to help increase their ability to combat global warming, this level of international and domestic transparency will be a critical step to take.

Step 3: Ambition

It is definitely true that the Filipinos have not caused climate change. In fact, the Filipinos are among the smallest contributors to climate change per person. What’s more, the energy needs across the country are critical. But is coal really the answer?

With 26 coal plants planned over the next ten years, what will become of the air that everyone has to breathe? We have already seen this year how cities like New Delhi and Beijing have become almost unlivable due to the dangerously polluted air. What will happen to the Philippines if it follows a similar path?

One country seeking to link their development needs to combatting climate change is Ethiopia. Yesterday they released a Climate Action Plan which aims at a 64 per cent reduction on their business as usual predictions.

With 94 million people, and over a quarter of those in extreme poverty, Ethiopia is a great model for the Philippines to follow. They have focussed their emissions cuts around agricultural reform, reforestation, renewable energy and public transport. These are all reforms which are possible for the Philippines to also make.

Ethiopia is not simply giving in to a broken development model that relies on fossil fuels, but neither is it living a “green” fantasy. It is among the fastest growing countries in the world and the fastest growing non-oil-dependent African country.

With international support, it plans to double its economy while still achieving carbon-negative growth. This, Ethiopia believes, is best for not only for the health of its economy in the long term, but their people.

If the Philippines is going to show the type of global leadership it has strived for over recent years at the U.N. climate negotiations, there are three easy steps for them to take forward; Reform, Accountability and Ambition.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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Climate Justice: Trial by Public Opinion for World’s Pollutershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 21:31:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141158 Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is tasked with the protection of the global environment, has asserted that climate change affects people everywhere – with no exceptions.

Still, one of the greatest inequities of our time is that the poorest and the most marginalised individuals, communities and countries — which have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions — often bear the greatest burden, says the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable." -- Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia

With an increasing link between climate change and human rights, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which is conscious of the growing threat of rising sea levels to Pacific island nations, is seeking “climate justice,” including both redress and accountability.

“For the first time anywhere in the world,” says Greenpeace, it will submit a petition to the Philippines Commission on Human Rights asking the Commission to investigate the responsibility of the world’s biggest polluters for directly violating human rights or threatening to, due to their contribution to climate change and ocean acidification.

Anna Abad, climate justice campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS: “The filing of the human rights petition before the Philippine Commission on Human Rights is a first step to investigate the responsibility of the Carbon Majors (a.k.a. big carbon polluters) for their human rights violations or threatened human rights violations resulting from climate change and ocean acidification impacts.”

Asked whether there is a possibility of the issue being taken up either by the Security Council or the International Court of Justice, she said Greenpeace Southeast Asia is also exploring other avenues – both legal and transnational – to amplify the urgency of climate justice and to ensure that those responsible for the climate crisis are held accountable for their actions.

“This is a collective effort between our partners and allies. With the climate justice campaign, we have certainly begun the trial by public opinion,” Abad said.

Zelda Soriano, legal and political advisor from Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said climate change is a borderless issue, gravely affecting millions of people worldwide.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council has recognised that climate change has serious repercussions on the enjoyment of human rights as it poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world.”

In this light, she said, “We view climate change as a social injustice that must be addressed by international governments and agencies, most especially those responsible for contributing to the climate crisis.”

Last week, the President of Vanuatu Baldwin Londsdale joined climate-impacted communities from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, as well as representatives from the Philippines, at “an emergency meeting” in Vanuatu vowing to seek ‘Climate Justice’ and hold big fossil fuel entities accountable for fuelling global climate change.

The Climate Change and Human Rights workshop was held on board the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, with the participation of about 40 delegates and civil society groups from Pacific Island nations.

“It is now more important than ever before that we stand united as affected communities in the face of climate change, rising sea-levels and changing weather patterns. Let us continue to stand and work together in our fight against the threats of climate change,” Londsdale told delegates.

The workshop concluded with participants signing on to the ‘People’s Declaration for Climate Justice,’ which was handed over to the President of Vanuatu.

According to Greenpeace, human-induced climate change is forecast to unleash increased hardship on the Philippines and Pacific Island nations due to stronger storms and cyclones.

A new study, Northwestern Pacific typhoon intensity controlled by changes in ocean temperatures, suggests that with climate change, storms like Haiyan, which in 2013 devastated Southeast Asia and specifically the Philippines, could get even stronger and more common.

It projects the intensity of typhoons in the western Pacific Ocean to increase by as much as 14 percent – nearly equivalent to an increase of one category – by century’s end even under a moderate future scenario of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace says it believes that those most vulnerable will continue to suffer, representing a violation of their basic human rights.

According to Greenpeace, recent research has shown that 90 entities are responsible for an estimated 914 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) of cumulative world emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1854 and 2010, or about 63 percent of estimated global industrial emissions of these greenhouse gases.

Abad said: “These big carbon polluters have enriched themselves for almost a century with the continued burning of coal, oil and gas. They are the driving force behind climate change.”

She said time is running out for these vulnerable communities and the world’s big carbon polluters have a moral and legal responsibility for their products and to meaningfully address climate change before it is too late.

Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia was quoted as saying: “Climate change is not a problem for one nation to solve alone, all our Pacific Island countries are affected as one in our shared ocean.”

She said governments must stand up for their rights and demand redress from these big carbon polluters for past and future climate transgressions.

“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable and to seek financial compensation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Adaptation Funding a Key Issue for Caribbean at Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 14:00:40 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141141 Rising sea levels pose a challenge for tourism-dependent Caribbean economies where the beach is a major attraction. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

With less than six months to go before the next full United Nations Conference of the Parties also known as COP 21 – widely regarded as a make-or-break moment for an agreement on global action on climate change – Caribbean nations are still hammering out the best approach to the talks.

The Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Director of Sustainable Development, Garfield Barnwell, said “the region’s expectations are extremely sober” with regards to COP 21, scheduled for Paris during November and December of this year. This is due to the poor response from the major emitting countries in addressing the issue of climate change."For the region, climate change magnifies the growing concerns regarding food security, water scarcity, energy security and the resource requirements for protection from natural disaster." -- CARICOM Chair Perry Christie

“An ideal 2015 agreement for the Caribbean would be one that first and foremost addresses the global rate of emissions and if that could be as close as possible to 1.5 degrees stabilisation of the global emissions level,” Barnwell told IPS.

“If there are commitments on the part of the major emitters meeting their commitments; and also if the international community would acknowledge the importance of adaptation and that they would provide adequate resources for all developing countries to address their adaptation needs, certainly that would be a good starting point with regards to further discussions in addressing the serious challenge of dangerous climate change.”

Barnwell said the region has been taking stock of what has been happening at the global level with regards to greenhouse gas emissions and “great concerns” remain concerning the responses from the major emitting countries.

He pointed to “the lack of action in meeting the commitments made in the past” on the climate change issue.

“The expectation is that there would be a number of announcements with regards to how the major emitters plan to meet their goals with respect to the expected discussions, but the (countries of the) region do, to a large extent,  have a measured level of expectation regarding the Paris talks in December.”

Caribbean countries are also trying their utmost to seek the mobilisation of resources to more aggressively implement their adaptation programmes at the national level.

“Adaptation is of great significance to us in the Caribbean because our region as a group contributes less than one percent of the total global greenhouse gasses. When we calculated the amount, it comes up to about 0.33 percent of global greenhouse gasses so mitigation is not an issue for the Caribbean given our contribution,” Barnwell said.

“However, it must be stated that the impact of both temperature rises and precipitation levels poses serious challenges for our survival as a region and a national security (concern) to many of our member states given that most of us are either islands or most of our populations and social and economic infrastructure reside on the coastal belt which brings into focus the issue of sea level rise which is of great concern to all our member states.”

Climate change poses significant challenges to the natural resource base of the Caribbean, with most countries having resource-based economies including tourism where there is great reliance on the sea in terms of the beaches which are a major source of attraction.

Some countries are also primary producers of agricultural crops, and the agricultural sector, like tourism, is significantly affected by climate change.

“We have a problem with regards to rising sea levels in terms of the oceans coming more inland and that poses a challenge not only for the beaches but also for the hotels and the airports that to a large extent are roughly about three centimetres away from the sea in many of our islands,” Barnwell said.

“For many of our islands, we are challenged and have been challenged by the impact of natural disasters and again as a result of rising sea levels and warming oceans, the potential for a greater impact of natural disasters poses some significant challenges in terms of the frequency and the impact.

“For those agriculture-oriented economies in the region, we also face challenges associated with the change in temperatures and also the precipitation rates with regards to patterns with respect to planting, with respect to reaping of our products. All these are significant problems with regards to how we have been living and the kinds of activities we’ve been engaged in. So climate change poses significant challenges for our region in terms of our livelihood and our survival,” Barnwell added.

At the just ended two-week Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, Caribbean negotiators maintained the pressure to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level.

They noted that limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees Celsius would come with several advantages, including avoiding or significantly reducing risks to food production and unique and threatened systems such as coral reefs.

The Caribbean negotiators also requested that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ensure that the lowest marker scenario used in its 6th Assessment Report is consistent with limiting warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Chairman of CARICOM and Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie said as a result of the impacts of climate change, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), which spearheads the technical work for CARICOM on this issue, estimates the cost of global inaction in the sub-region to be approximately 10.7 billion dollars per year by 2025 and that this figure could double by 2050.

He said the Caribbean is urging parties that have made pledges towards the initial capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to enter into their contribution agreements with the GCF as soon as possible and scale up their contributions in line with the pledge for 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

“For the region, climate change magnifies the growing concerns regarding food security, water scarcity, energy security and the resource requirements for protection from natural disaster,” Christie told IPS.

“Another significant threat is linked to the projected impact of climate change on public health, through an increase in the presence of vectors of tropical diseases, such as malaria and dengue, and the prevalence of respiratory illnesses.

“These diseases will affect the well-being and productivity of the workforce of the sub-region and compromise the economic growth, competitiveness and development potential of the Caribbean Community,” he said.

Meantime, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt, who chairs the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), said they are constantly reminded that the power to bring about the desired change in the global climate system rests with those countries that are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

“We in the OECS are among the smallest of the small and despite or negligible contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, we are on the frontline as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” Skerritt told IPS.

“For us, climate change and its related phenomenon are issues affecting our very survival and can be viewed as a matter of life and death.

“As an organisation comprising and representing the smallest of the small, ours is a solemn duty and responsibility to articulate and champion the cause of all our member states – those that are sovereign as well as those that are not; and those that are party to the UNFCC as well as those that are not.”

Skerritt said they have adopted this posture in the knowledge that climate change has absolutely no regard for political status and that it impacts, with equal severity, the islands and low-lying and coastal regions regardless of political or sovereign status.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: GM Cotton a False Promise for Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-gm-cotton-a-false-promise-for-africa/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 08:58:31 +0000 Haidee Swanby http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141132 Zambian cotton grower sitting on his bales. Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market. Credit: Nebert Mulenga/IPS

Zambian cotton grower sitting on his bales. Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market. Credit: Nebert Mulenga/IPS

By Haidee Swanby
MELVILLE, South Africa, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

Genetically modified (GM) cotton has been produced globally for almost two decades, yet to date only three African countries have grown GM cotton on a commercial basis – South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan.

African governments have been sceptical of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for decades and have played a key role historically in ensuring that international law – the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety – takes a precautionary stance towards genetic engineering in food and agriculture.

They have also imposed various restrictions and bans on the cultivation and importation of GMOs, including on genetically modified (GM) food aid.

But now resistance to GM cultivation is crumbling as a number of other African countries such as Malawi, Ghana, Swaziland and Cameroon appear to be on the verge of allowing their first cultivation of GM cotton, with Nigeria and Ethiopia planning to follow suit in the next two to three years.“Scrutiny of actual experiences [with GM cotton] reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production”

Some African governments and local cotton producers have high hopes that GM technology will boost African competitiveness in the dog-eat-dog world that characterises the global cotton market.

At the moment African cotton productivity is declining – it now stands at only half the world average – while global productivity is increasing. The promise of improving productivity and reducing pesticide use through the adoption of GM cotton is thus compelling.

However, African leaders and cotton producers need to take a close look at how GM cotton has fared in South Africa and Burkina Faso to date, particularly its socioeconomic impact on smallholder farmers.

Scrutiny of actual experiences reveals a tragic tale of crippling debt, appalling market prices and a technology prone to failure in the absence of very specific and onerous management techniques, which are not suited to smallholder production.

As stated by a farmer during a Malian public consultation on GMOs, “What’s the point of encouraging us to increase yields with GMOs when we can’t get a decent price for what we already produce?”

In Burkina Faso, the tide turned against GM cotton after just five seasons as low yields and low quality fibres persisted. In South Africa, GM cotton brought devastating debts to smallholders and the local credit institution went bust. Last season, smallholders contributed to less than three percent of South Africa’s total production.

In Malawi, Monsanto has already applied to the government for a permit to commercialise Bollgard II, its GM pest resistant cotton, to which there has been a strong reaction from civil society and an alliance of organisations has submitted substantive objections.

Even Malawi’s cotton industry, the Cotton Development Trust (CDT), has publically voiced its concerns over a number of issues, including inadequate field trials, the high cost of GM seed and related inputs, and blurred intellectual property arrangements.

In addition, CDT has expressed unease over the potential development of pest resistance and the inevitable applications of herbicide chemicals.

Regional economic communities (RECs), such as the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), are also key players in readying their member states for the commercialisation of and trade in GM cotton, through harmonised biosafety policies. Together COMESA and ECOWAS incorporate 34 countries in Africa.

The COMESA Policy on Biotechnology and Biosafety was adopted in February 2014 and member states validated the implementation plan in March 2015.

The ECOWAS Biosafety Policy has been through an arduous process for more than a decade now and pronounced conflicts between trade imperatives and safety checks have stalled agreement between stakeholders. However, recent reports indicate that agreement between member states and donor parties has been reached and a final draft of the Biosafety Policy will soon be published.

Experiments and open field trials with GM cotton have been running for many years in a number of African countries and are increasingly at a stage where applications for commercial release are imminent.

However, there are many obstacles to the birth of a new GM era in Africa, chief among them the fact that this high-end technology is simply not appropriate to resource-poor farmers operating on tiny pieces of land, together with fierce opposition from civil society and sometimes also from governments.

Attempts by the biotech industry to impose policies that pander to investors’ desires at the expense of environmental and human safety may be easier to realise at the regional level, through the trade-friendly RECs. This is where many biotech industry resources and efforts are currently being channelled.

Despite whatever legal environments may be implemented to enable the introduction of GM cotton regionally or nationally, the fact remains that Africa’s cotton farmers are operating in a difficult global sector – prices are erratic and distorted by unfair subsidies in the North, institutional support for their activities is often lacking, and high input costs are already annihilating profit margins.

Fighting for the introduction of more expensive technologies that have already proven themselves technologically unsound in a smallholder environment is deeply irresponsible and short-sighted.

It is time that African governments turn their resources to improving the local environments in which cotton producers operate, including institutional and infrastructural support that can bring long-term sustainability to the sector, without placing further burdens and vulnerability on some of the most marginalised people in the world.

Civil society actions will continue to vehemently oppose and challenge the false solutions promised by GM cotton and will insist on just trading environments and true and sustainable upliftment for African cotton producers.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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. 

* This opinion piece is based on the author’s more extensive paper titled Cottoning on to the Lie, published by the African Centre for Biodiversity, June 2015

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Peru a Shining Example for South America’s Climate Action Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/peru-a-shining-example-for-south-americas-climate-action-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peru-a-shining-example-for-south-americas-climate-action-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/peru-a-shining-example-for-south-americas-climate-action-plans/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 13:13:59 +0000 Chris Wright http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141107 A villager from Combayo, Peru. Citizen engagement is critical for the country to achieve its ambitious climate action plans. Photo courtesy of La República /IPS

A villager from Combayo, Peru. Citizen engagement is critical for the country to achieve its ambitious climate action plans. Photo courtesy of La República /IPS

By Chris Wright
BONN, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

This week, Peru became the first South American nation to publicly announce its Climate Action Plan, or INDC. In doing so, it may have set the scene for a new wave of highly transparent and ambitious INDC submissions from the continent.

This most recent plan comes after 12 years of collective planning, as Peru developed a suite of regional and national strategies to address climate change. As a result, the government of Peru has come out with an ambitious proposal to cut business as usual emissions by 31 per cent.

However, it is the carefully constructed road map towards this goal that displays what Tania Gullen from Climate Action Network Latin America describes as its true “leadership”.

Gullen, who is also from SUSWATCH, has welcomed the new draft action plan “as an example for other Latin American countries who are still developing or haven’t started their national planning processes”.

This is because Peru’s target of 31 per cent is backed up by 58 clearly outlined different mitigation projects. These projects cover energy, transport, agriculture, forestry and waste management. While two of these projects involve a shift from coal to natural gas, rather than renewables, each of these options has been carefully identified and their emissions reduction potential quantified.

chris chart

This makes it very easy for Peru to ask for support from developed countries to help improve on its commitments. In fact, the government has even outlined how it can increase emissions cuts to up to 42 per cent with an extra 18 projects. Considering the planning that has gone into creating this additional scenario of a 42 per cent reduction by 2030, this could also be released as a twin-track conditional and unconditional pledge.

Marcela Jaramillo from E3G believes this is a key aspect of the Peruvian proposal that should be copied by other Latin American states. She argues that “the INDCs” need to be “translated into investment plans that attract national and international resources”. She believes that these resources will “build action on the ground in hand with government, private sector and all critically supported with actively engaged citizens”.

Citizen engagement may be critical to Peru being able to achieve these ambitious plans. However, the most recent pledge also makes the country vulnerable. There are those who are worried that given a poor implementation record in the past, the government is opening itself up for failure.

Last year, NGO’s at COP20 in Lima criticised the government’s “Law 30230”, which they argued “decouples environmental protection from economic growth”. As such there are ongoing concerns that environmental bodies in Peru will have the power to “regulate and supervise economic activity like power and infrastructure development”.

Other questions have been raised over Peru’s business as usual projections. After years of political instability and all-out conflict in Peru during the 1980’s, Peru’s economy has transitioned from one of the lowest levels of economic freedom in the world to now being ranked as the 20th most-free economy in the world, according to the Economic Freedom of the World 2014 Annual Report. This has been partnered by a relatively consistent growth rate of 5.5 per cent per year.

However, Peru’s growth has slowed over the last 12 months and is not represented in its “Business As Usual” scenario. Here, its emissions trajectories are based on its growth rate leading into 2013, rather than the reality that had been witnessed more recently.

Under a BAU scenario, it is estimated that Peru would increase its annual emissions to 216 million tonnes of CO2 eq., and that this would rise to 243 millon tonnes by 2o25, and to 269 millon tonnes CO2eq by 2030.

This could potentially become a key aspect of the ongoing civil society dialogues that are now open until Jul. 17. As Gullen notes, the “inclusiveness” of this process will be a clear sign of the former COP president’s leadership. This is due to the fact that she believes “inclusive and participative consultation processes are crucial for the definition of the INDC in Peru, but also in all Latin American and Caribbean countries.”

As Bitia Chavez, a young Peruvian from Generacion+1, has suggested, it is critical that Peruvians are “aware and fully engaged in this process to contribute positively to the environment”.

However, it won’t just be this clearly laid out mitigation pledge that Peruvians will have to decide on. Peru has also developed an extensive adaptation package. Its adaptation plan focusses on decreasing the vulnerability of its largely agrarian population, and even has distinct indicators for how to meet adaptation goals going forward.

This includes specific adaptation sectors, objectives and indicators. Below is an example of its specific goal of ensuring health as a key adaptation sector.

salud

Considering that a number of developing nations have called for a global adaptation goal to be a key part of the Paris agreement, the inclusion of quantifiable adaptation goals within the Peruvian INDC could be a key step that other countries may also like to follow.

This may indeed be one of the goals of Peru, as Argentinian campaigner Tais Gadea Lara believes its extensive INDC may be a wake-up call to some of the country’s neighbours who “haven’t realised yet the power they have on their hands to participate actively through delivering an ambitious INDC”.

She noted that in the case of Argentina, there is a disconnect between its strong stance within the negotiations, and lack of action domestically.

She hopes that “Argentina, Peru, Brazil and all of the countries across the region can start making history with ambitious and quantified Climate Action Plans that demonstrate the continent’s leadership on climate change.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Small Victories at Bonn Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/small-victories-at-bonn-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-victories-at-bonn-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/small-victories-at-bonn-climate-talks/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 15:06:36 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141094 High Level Youth Briefing on June 11, 2015 with the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christina Figueres. Credit: UNClimateChange/cc by 3.0

High Level Youth Briefing on June 11, 2015 with the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christina Figueres. Credit: UNClimateChange/cc by 3.0

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

As climate talks wind down in Bonn, Germany, observers of the negotiations say that despite some progress on a draft text, key issues remain unresolved and will carry over at least until the next round in August.

These pending items include the legal form of the final treaty, how to fairly distribute emission reduction commitments, and also how to generate sufficient public finance for adaptation to climate change.

Athena Ballesteros, director of the Finance Center, World Resources Institute, said, “After two weeks of discussions, there remains much to do to cut the finance text down to a workable size. While G7 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to mobilising 100 billion dollars a year in climate finance by 2020, donor countries have yet to elaborate how they will meet this goal.

“As negotiators head back to their capitals, they need to focus on converging around a robust finance package to deliver in Paris. This package should include establishing regular cycles to scale up funding over time, closing the finance gap on adaptation, and sending a clear message that all investments be oriented towards achieving the two-degree goal and building climate resilience.”

One main area of agreement was on REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation), a concept that was formally agreed to at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Bali, Indonesia in 2007.

REDD is intended to reward the preservation of forests with carbon credits which can be sold to polluting companies in the North wishing to offset their harmful emissions. (REDD+, agreed later, extends the concept beyond forests and plantations to include agriculture.)

The deal reached in Bonn resolves all of the outstanding technical issues on REDD+, including finance mechanisms, safeguards and non-market approaches.

REDD has long been a target of criticism by indigenous peoples and other forest dwellers who lack formal land rights and rely on forest resources for their livelihoods – and are all too often excluded from the benefits of international investment.

“Today’s breakthrough was unexpected, and countries should be praised for their hard work over the last decade,” said Gustavo Silva-Chávez, who manages the Forest Trends REDDX tracking initiative.

“While REDD+ is finished on paper, the Paris global deal must provide the policy certainty to implement REDD+ on the ground.”

More than 40 countries also released their national climate plans, and Norway announced that it will divest eight billion dollars from coal in its efforts to accelerate clean energy. Norway’s Statoil was also one of six European oil and gas giants to formally ask the UNFCCC executive secretary, Christina Figueres, for “an open and direct dialogue” on carbon pricing.

But some civil society groups remain sceptical of pledges by the G7 to “decarbonise” the global economy, noting that leaders gave only vague assurances they would work to mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to help poorer nations cope with the worst effects of climate change.

“G7 countries have signalled their agreement on the importance of tackling climate change eventually, but haven’t announced any meaningful action,” said Susann Scherbarth, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

“The emission cuts they’ve promised are less than half of what climate science recommends and justice requires. We are on the path to a disastrously empty deal in Paris this December, but ordinary people are making the energy transformation that our governments have failed to.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Chief Backs New Int’l Decade for Water for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-backs-new-intl-decade-for-water-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-backs-new-intl-decade-for-water-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-backs-new-intl-decade-for-water-for-sustainable-development/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 17:55:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141049 Floods in Morigaon, India submerged about 45 roads in October 2014. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon, India submerged about 45 roads in October 2014. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

As the United Nations continues its negotiations to both define and refine a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before a summit meeting of world leaders in September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed support for a new “International Decade for Water for Sustainable Development.”

“It would complement and support the achievement of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals – for water,” he said.“A dedicated Sustainable Development Goal, explicitly addressing the multifaceted nature of water - as a social issue, an economic issue, an environmental issue, as well as the main cause of disasters on our planet – is an imperative." -- Torgny Holmgren

The proposal for a new International Decade, which has to be eventually approved by the 193-member General Assembly, was initiated Tuesday by the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, at a ‘Water for Life” high-level international conference in the capital of Dushanbe.

Tajikistan, which has taken a leading role in highlighting the significance of water as a source of life, also sponsored the International Decade of Water For Life (2005-2015) “to raise awareness and galvanize action.”

The proposed new International Decade will be a successor to Water for Life which concludes in December this year.

Ban told delegates water’s place in the SDGs go well beyond access — taking into account critical issues such as integrated water resources management, efficiency of use, water quality, transboundary cooperation, water-related ecosystems, and water-related disasters.

“Water, like other areas of the post-2015 development agenda, is intricately interconnected with other challenges,” he noted.

John Garrett, senior policy analyst of development finance at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS: “We at WaterAid are glad to see U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighting in Tajikistan the human right to water and sanitation, and the enormous need that still exists for these essential services among the world’s poorest and most marginalised populations.”

The new SDGs, he pointed out, represent a once-in-a-generation chance to reach everyone, everywhere with clean water, decent toilets and a way to keep themselves and their surroundings clean.

“A new decade for action on Water for Sustainable Development would continue a much-needed focus on the enormous challenges ahead,” he said.

However, he cautioned, the action should also focus on sanitation and hygiene, because without these, clean water is neither achievable nor sustainable, and neither are the health benefits nor economic progress that results.

Over the years, the United Nations has continued to place water-related issues on its socio-economic agenda: the first-ever International Year of Water Cooperation; World Water Day commemorated every year on Mar. 22; and the annual World Toilet Day on Nov. 19.

Ban said the world achieved the Millennium Development Goal target for safe and sustainable drinking water five years ahead of schedule.

In the course of one generation, 2.3 billion people – one-third of humanity – have gained access to an improved drinking water source.

The United Nations General Assembly declared access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation to be a human right, he pointed out.

Torgny Holmgren, executive director at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), told IPS his organisation welcomes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s strong support for water as a key ingredient in all efforts towards sustainable development.

It is clear that the global community increasingly realises the challenges caused by growing water stress and unwise water management, he added.

“A dedicated Sustainable Development Goal, explicitly addressing the multifaceted nature of water – as a social issue, an economic issue, an environmental issue, as well as the main cause of disasters on our planet – is an imperative, but by no means sufficient, step towards the world we want.”

It is therefore particularly inspiring, he said, to see Ban’s encouragement for a process beyond the SDGs – “a process that allows and requires the involvement of all sectors and actors, public and private, individuals and organisations to collectively take a giant leap towards a water wise world.”

Garrett of WaterAid told IPS progress in the next decade will be critical and “we welcome efforts to keep these issues in the spotlight”.

The Millennium Development Goals succeeded in halving the number of people in the world without improved water, but left many of those most in need without.

Sanitation is among the most off-track of those goals. “We must refocus efforts in the next decade to ensure no one is left behind.”

Ban said sanitation has also made progress during the Decade, with more than 1.9 billion people gaining access to improved sanitation.

“That is all good news. Yet we also know that even today, in the 21st century, some 2.5 billion people still lack access to adequate sanitation”, while some one billion people still practice open defecation.

Even today, in the 21st century, nearly 1,000 children under the age of five are killed each day by a toxic mix of unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene, he said.

And inadequate water supply and sanitation cost economies about 260 billion dollars worldwide every year.

Just 10 years from now, 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity, and two out of three people around the world could live under water-stressed conditions.

“It is little wonder that many global experts have called the ‘water crisis’ one of the greatest global risks that we face,” warned Ban.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: For a New Generation of Climate Activists, It’s Too Late to Waithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-for-a-new-generation-of-climate-activists-its-too-late-to-wait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-for-a-new-generation-of-climate-activists-its-too-late-to-wait http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-for-a-new-generation-of-climate-activists-its-too-late-to-wait/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 23:23:31 +0000 Chris Wright http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140984 A scene from the Dec. 12, 2009 march in Copenhagen to ask world political leaders to be courageous, stop talking and act now. Nasseem Ackbarally /IPS

A scene from the Dec. 12, 2009 march in Copenhagen to ask world political leaders to be courageous, stop talking and act now. Nasseem Ackbarally /IPS

By Chris Wright
BONN, Jun 4 2015 (IPS)

I remember pretending not to be so excited. There was this nervous energy that kicked up my heels as I prowled through the U.N. negotiations that afternoon. You could feel it all around. Circling our meeting point like sharks quietly rounding our prey. If you knew what to look for, you would know exactly what was about to happen.

All it took was a side glance, and a slip of a white t-shirt, and the voices rose up.The young people who were escorted out by security guards that day have returned home, only to be disappointed. For three years they have continued to raise their voices, only to watch them fall on the deaf ears of ageing politicians and old media conservatives.

For the rest of the afternoon, young people screaming out for climate justice with songs that rocked the South African Apartheid movement held the U.N. climate negotiations hostage.

That was back in 2012, on the last scheduled day of climate negotiations. Little did we know how important that one day would be.

For the next 48 hours, the energy that filled the metallic conference centre sent negotiators into a frenzy of compromise that has lasted until today.

Since young people’s voices rung free through the halls that fateful afternoon in Durban, the U.N. climate negotiations has kicked into rounds and rounds of discussions all leading to what many believe could be a game-changing climate agreement in Paris in December.

But the young people who were escorted out by security guards that day have returned home, only to be disappointed. For three years they have continued to raise their voices, only to watch them fall on the deaf ears of ageing politicians and old media conservatives.

As Avik Roy, a youth activist and writer from India, recently argued, “India is world’s largest democracy, but since the last year the state has actively been attempting to stifle the voices of activists that threatens to ask uncomfortable questions.”

Avik is a close friend of mine, and a journalist at that. He cares passionately about the fate of Indian’s impacted by climate change, especially the now more than 2000 people have died in recent heat waves.

But he is not alone.

In India, he is joined by young writers such as Dhanasree Jayaram, Mrinalini Shinde and Ritwajit Das who have all called out the Modi government in recent weeks for what they believe to be an obsessive compulsion towards coal expansion.

Not only has Dhanasree called out the Indian government’s for its domestic coal expansion and its impact on its citizens, but Mrinalini has given her voice to support the thousands of young people across India calling for an end to crony, state-sponsered coal development in Australia.

However, as Ritwajit, an environmental entrepreneur mentioned recently, anyone calling for environmental protection in India is immediately labelled “a roadblock for economic development”.

But their fight continues.

As it does across Latin America, where young people like Lais Vitória Cunha de Aguiar (Brazil), Itzel Morales (Mexico), Maria Rinaudo Mannucci (Venezuela) and Bitia Chavez (Peru) have been calling on their governments government to protect their long-term social and economic stability without exploiting their vast fossil fuel reserves (Add link).

Each of them faces unique battles. In Brazil, Lais is working to convince her fellow Brazilians that newly found oil reserves must be left in the ground. In Peru and Mexico, Bitia and Itzel continue to struggle to free their economies from the iron grip of fossil fuels which they believe they will be able to do one day.

Especially with support from those such as Santiago Ortega in Colombia and Stephanie Cabovianco in Argentina, who are trying to inspire “cultural change” across Latin America that may lead to the continent realising its incredible renewable energy opportunities.

Across the Western Hemisphere, the Divestment movement has been a key driver of that same cultural change around fossil fuels. In the UK, young people such as the UKYCC’s Freya Palmer and Entrepreneur David Saddington are on the front lines of these movements.

David believes that “the biggest challenge to stopping Fossil Fuel usage in the UK is the lack of debate surrounding our energy future”.

Rather than sit down and wait, it is young people like David and Freya who are driving these debates and supporting divestment movements such as those in Edinburg University.

The same goes for the U.S., where young people like Sarabeth Brockley and Alex Lenferna have been critical in driving the divestment movement across campuses from Seattle to Pennsylvania. Alex recently celebrated leading Seattle University’s decision to end their investments in thermal coal, and now has his sights set on spurring on the Divestment movement across Africa.

There, he’ll be relying on support from fellow South African Ruth Kruger to shift their home nation away from their “enormous coal reserves” and towards a policy future that doesn’t “trivialise things like human rights”.

To do so, they will have to challenge the narrative of divestment. In a recent think piece, Catalan activist, Anna Perez Catala argues that for the divestment movement to have an impact in her own region, it will need to incorporate a message of hope, and inspire opportunities for young people on the wrong side of an employment crisis.

This reality resounds across the EU, where young people such as Federico Brocchieri (Italy), Anton Jeckel (Germany) and Morgan Henley (The Czech Republic) have called out so-called European leaders in the climate change debate for their fondness to the fossil fuel industry.

However, the biggest divestment shift yet has come from Norway. This Friday, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund is expected to formally divest close to 900 billion dollars from fossil fuels.

This has come on the back of a long and passionate push from young people across Europe, but has been supported by people as far away as the Philippines. Campaigners there such as Denise Fontanilla argue that Norweigan foreign funds have funded between 50-70 percent of coal plants across the tropical island nation.

It is young people just like this, fighting battles that everyone else told them they could never win, that are the reason the tide is now turning against the Fossil Fuel industry.

Right now, being surrounded by such an amazing global family of young climate activists, I feel just as excited as I did back then, three years ago, screaming my lungs out.

With a growing movement of young writers all around the world calling on greater climate action from Madagascar, Trinidad and Tobago and even Tajikistan our calls are now louder than ever.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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As Jamaica’s Prime Forests Decline, Row Erupts Over Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/as-jamaicas-prime-forests-decline-row-erupts-over-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-jamaicas-prime-forests-decline-row-erupts-over-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/as-jamaicas-prime-forests-decline-row-erupts-over-protection/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 15:05:24 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140972 Workers at Jamaica's Bodles Agricultural Station prepare fruit tree seedlings for distribution. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

Workers at Jamaica's Bodles Agricultural Station prepare fruit tree seedlings for distribution. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jun 4 2015 (IPS)

For Jamaica, planting more trees as a way to build resilience is one of the highest priorities of the government’s climate change action plan. So when Cockpit Country residents woke up to bulldozers in the protected area, they rallied to get answers from the authorities.

On May 18, Noranda Bauxite Limited acted on 2004 mining leases and moved its heavy equipment into the outer areas of the Cockpit Country, ignoring unresolved boundary issues. Their actions reignited a simmering row between stakeholders and government over demarcation and protection of the biologically diverse area.Bauxite mining is said to be the single largest cause of deforestation on the island.

Whilst the company denies that it has begun mining, its officials admit to prospecting. Noranda’s actions however, raised suspicions that government had reneged on a promise made in 2006 when several prospecting leases issued to Alumina Partners were revoked. Back then, authorities had promised residents that the Cockpit Country would be off-limits to bauxite mining.

Junior Minister for Mining and Energy Julian Robinson has reiterated his government’s commitment to preserving the area, but many continue to be wary.

Michael Schwartz, director of the Windsor Research Station, is fearful that government will seek to “placate” the people with “a token boundary” which defines the Cockpit Country to an area “where there is no bauxite to be mined”.

“My concern is that GoJ [the government] seems to be completely ignoring the Public Consultation Report, which they commissioned in 2013, and is going to come up with its own boundary,” he said in an email response to IPS.

Schwartz’s concern seems valid. After all bauxite was, until 2008 the island’s second largest earner of foreign exchange. That year bauxite earned 1.37 billion dollars and accounted for 55 per cent of Jamaica’s total merchandise exports and traditionally contributed around five to six per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Just prior to the economic fallout and closure of mining operations in 2009, the sector was the third largest foreign exchange earner.

Bauxite mining is also said to be the single largest cause of deforestation on the island. Not only are large areas of forests destroyed to extract the ore, the cutting of haul and access roads opens the prime forests to further threats from loggers, yam stick traders and coal burners.

Forest clearing is identified as one of the biggest threats to the island’s biodiversity and the remaining forests. The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) also identifies forest clearing as one of the top contributors to climate variation.

Looking westward - Noranda Bauxite's equipment cuts access roads for prospecting. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Schwartz

Looking westward – Noranda Bauxite’s equipment cuts access roads for prospecting. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Schwartz

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill confirms that changes to the forest cover have  “significant implications” for Jamaica, given that is “highly dependent” on its environmental resources.

At a press conference to announce the findings of the most recent forest assessment surveys on Mar. 10, the minister said:  “The open dry forests that now stand as bare lands have increased the country’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and increased our risk of desertification. The loss of our broadleaf forests has reduced the forests’ capacity to provide us with ecosystem services such as water and clean air.”

“Cockpit Country is in relatively good shape today because of its topography, it has conserved itself, so to speak,” Schwartz said, pointing out that whilst farmers have been encroaching on the area for centuries, the difficult terrain had made access difficult thereby limiting the impact of their activities.

Depending on which of the three proposed boundaries is used, the Cockpit Country is estimated to cover between 820 and 1099 square kilometres (between 510 and 683 sq. miles). The core boundary – primarily forest reserves and crown lands – totals just over 56,000 hectares (138,379 acres), a transition boundary of just over 80,000 hectares (197, 684 acres) and the outer boundary of 116,218 hectares (287,181 acres).

The outer boundary proposed during the public consultations that the University of the West Indies conducted will more than double the reserves and is the preferred option. It seems that any other would not go down well with the stakeholders and according to Schwartz: “This would show a willful disregard of the public stakeholders.”

Aside from a rich biological diversity that supports the largest number of globally threatened species in the Caribbean region, Jamaica’s State of the Environment Report 2010 described the Cockpit Country as “the largest remaining primary forest” on the island. The area also supplies fresh water for about 40 per cent of islanders and recharges the aquifers in three major agricultural areas.

In what the Forestry Department describes as its most comprehensive analysis of forest cover change to date, a 2013 survey shows an overall increase in forests and a decline in the amount of high quality forests due to the destruction of wetlands and previously undisturbed areas. More than 4,000 hectares (about 10,000 acres) of mined-out lands have also been restored.

“We have gained new low-quality forests but lost high-quality closed and disturbed broadleaf forests. We also lost swamp forests and dry forests,” Conservator of Forests Marilyn Headley told IPS in an email.

The loss of the swamp forests, Pickersgill says, “poses serious risks to our tourism industry, as well as the success of our disaster management strategies and destroys the habitat for many of our essential wetland species.”

In addition to improved assessments, the Forestry Department is now updating the National Forest Management and Conservation Plan that aims to build on and outline additional strategies to arrest the loss of quality forests, promote sustainable use and regulate saw mills.

The Department continues to work with Local Forest Management Committees in the Cockpit Country and other areas across the island to replant and reduce the impact of the local communities on their forests. Schwartz is confident that ongoing sensitisation and community actions will help to preserve the areas if bauxite mining is excluded.

However, with an estimated one billion tonnes of bauxite remaining, a sluggish economy and most of the country’s earnings going to debt repayment, stakeholders are demanding a resolution of the boundaries sooner rather than later. Many believe that potential earnings from bauxite could tip the balance between preservation and mining of the prized ecological area.

“If mining were allowed, how would you explain how it’s alright for the big man to destroy large areas of forest, but it’s not okay for little man to cut a tree to improve his life?” the researcher asks.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Zimbabwean Women Weave Their Own Beautiful Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 17:49:17 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140954 Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three, busily completing one of her ilala palm products, which will be sold through a women’s cooperative in western Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
LUPANE, Zimbabwe, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

Seventy-seven-year-old Grace Ngwenya has an eye for detail. You will never catch her squinting as she effortlessly weaves ilala palm fronds into beautiful baskets.

“Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.” -- Lisina Moyo, a member of the Lupane Women's Centre (LWC)
Her actions are swift and methodical as she twirls, straightens and tugs the long strands into a fine stitch. Periodically she pauses to dip the last three fingers of her right hand into a shallow tin of water that sits beside her, to wet the fibres and make them pliable.

Slowly, under the deft motion of her hands, a basket takes shape. She insists on attention to “detail, neatness and creativity.” Once she has decided on the shape and colour of her product, she will work for seven days straight to complete the task.

When she’s done, the basket will be inspected for quality, carefully packed up, and shipped off to its buyer who could be anywhere in the world from Germany to the United States. Her efforts earn her about 50 dollars a month – a small fortune in a place where women once counted it a blessing to earn even a few dollars in the course of several weeks.

Ngwenya lives in Shabula village in Ward 15 of Zimbabwe’s arid Lupane District, located in the Matabeleland North Province that occupies the western-most region of the country, 170 km from the nearest city of Bulawayo.

Home to about 90,000 people, this area is prone to droughts and has a harsh history of hunger.

Today, rural women are putting Lupane District on the map with an innovative basket-weaving enterprise that is earning them a decent wage, preserving an indigenous skill and enabling them to erect a barrier against extreme weather events by investing the profits of their creativity into sustainable farming.

Perfecting skills, preserving arts

It started small, when a group of women came together in 1997 to produce baskets and other crafts from local forest products and sell them along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road, a major tourist route.

In 2004, with the help of a Peace Corp volunteer, they establised the Lupane Women’s Centre (LWC) in order to streamline their production. At the time they had just 14 registered members.

A decade later they have grown their ranks to 3,638 members hailing from 28 wards in the district. Average earnings have increased from one dollar to 50 dollars a month, and this past May one of their number earned 700 dollars from the sale of her crafts.

For a community that was barely able to put three square meals on the table every day, this is a huge step towards a more wholesome life.

“Weaving has transformed my life, even in my old age,” Ngwenya tells IPS, pointing to a half-built residence not far from where she sits, busily threading away. In this impoverished village, the emerging two-roomed brick house is a veritable super-structure.

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Grace Ngwenya, a skilled weaver from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District, deftly threads palm strands into a sturdy basket. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“This year sales have been slow,” she says, “but God willing, my house should be complete by next year. I have already bought the windows and I will plaster and paint it myself.”

In addition to a dwelling place, her income has helped her buy a goat and erect a fence around her ‘keyhole’ garden, a popular farming method all across the African continent involving a keyhole-shaped vegetable bed with an active compost pile at its centre that feeds crops in the walled-in plot.

At a weaving competition last year she even won an ox-drawn plough and recently sunk more of her savings into the purchase of a heifer and some simple farm tools.

Considering that she joined the collective during a drought year back in 2008, she is forever grateful for her newfound wellbeing. And it is not just her own life that has changed.

Barely a stone’s throw away is the homestead of her sister Gladys, and her husband, Misheck Ngwenya. This cluster of huts is distinguished by solar lights attached to their thatched roofs, a luxury secured with the boons of Gladys’ basket sales.

“In the past I would go to my neighbours to ask for sugar,” Gladys Ngwenya recalls. “Not anymore.”

She tells IPS the women’s centre has helped her perfect her art by improving the dimensions and measurements of her craft work.

Beating hunger with baskets

It is no coincidence that these entrepreneurs sprang from the dry soil of Lupane District. The area is a farmer’s nightmare, yielding only drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and finger millet and receiving inadequate rainfall – just 450-600 mm annually – to allow extensive maize cropping.

When the weather is bad, with long, dry spells, rural communities suffer badly.

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Extension Services indicate that Lupane experiences annual food shortages. In 2008, it had a food production deficit of more than 10,000 metric tonnes of grain, producing just over 3,000 tonnes of cereal against an estimated annual requirement of 13,900 metric tonnes.

The situation has not changed seven years later. In 2015, scores of people are at risk of hunger, with government data suggesting that only half of the region’s required 10,900 metric tonnes will be produced this year.

Families who practice subsistence agriculture will be forced to purchase food to make up for lower harvests, a situation that could leave many with no food at all given that income-generating opportunities are scarce.

Zimbabwe is this year importing 700,000 tonnes of the staple maize grain to cover a deficit following another bad agricultural season. The country requires 1.8 million tonnes of maize annually.

The Women’s Centre in Lupane is now tackling these twin problems – hunger and livelihoods – by helping craftswomen become breadwinners.

Hildegard Mufukare, who manages the Centre, tells IPS that putting women at the head of the household has created “peace in the home.”

“Women have bought assets from farm implements to cattle, they have taken up agricultural activities and are working together with the men to sustain their families.”

Applying a communal, grassroots approach to its management and upkeep, members contribute five dollars annually towards operational costs, accounting for 31 percent of the Centre’s required financing.

The remaining 59 percent comes from donors, including patron backers like the Liechtenstein Development Services (LED), but members say they plan to cultivate greater self-sufficiency by establishing and running a restaurant, conference centre and farm which will serve the dual purpose of providing more food and skills to the community.

As they grow their markets overseas, securing additional funding will not be difficult. Already members courier their wares to clients in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and Denmark.

Revenue from craft sales tripled over a two-year period, going from 10,000 dollars in 2012 to 32,000 dollars in 2014. The members keep the bulk of the profits while the Centre retains 15 percent to cover administration fees and government taxes.

The baskets are multi-functional, doubling up as waste bins or fruit bowls. The women are now toying with the idea of turning them into biodegradable coffins – to ensure sustainability even in their deaths.

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Members of the Lupane Women’s Centre hope to market these ‘eco coffins’, biodegradable caskets made from local materials, to ensure their community is sustainable, even in death. Credit: Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

They are unsure how such an idea will be received, but their bold proposal suggests a commitment to holistic living that goes beyond incomes or nutrition.

Preparing for a changing climate

Community-led buffers against the horrors of global warming are desperately needed in Zimbabwe, a country of 14.5 million that faces a host of climate risks from floods to droughts.

Unable to access adequate international climate finance, the country was forced to slice its environment ministry’s budget from 93 million in 2014 to 52 million this year.

The funding crunch has crippled the country’s ability to respond to natural disasters, with the meteorological services department – responsible for forecasts and early warnings – also experiencing budget cuts.

This means that when calamity strikes, remote communities and especially rural women will be left to fend for themselves, a reality that the women of Lupane are more than prepared to deal with.

Siduduzile Nyoni, a mother of three who joined the cooperative in 2008, says that the simple act of weaving baskets has helped her build a lifeline for times of crisis.

She has used her savings to buy a goat, and is also maintaining a chicken farm and a thriving vegetable garden. When the weather is fine, the garden feeds her family. If it takes a turn for the worse, she simply dips into her surplus stores to tide her over until the land yields food again.

“I joined the centre even though I didn’t know how to weave,” she tells IPS. Her husband is unemployed, but she is doing well enough to support them both.

She and three other women have created their own micro-savings scheme, pooling five dollars of their monthly income into a rotational pool of 20 dollars that each enjoys on a quarterly basis.

Other groups of women have taken advantage of skills training at the Centre and taken up potato farming, bee keeping, candle making, and cattle rearing. Rearing indigenous chickens is also hugely popular activity as an additional source of revenue, and nutrition.

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Women from Zimbabwe’s Lupane District invest the profits of their craft sales in ‘keyhole’ gardens to ensure food security. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Others have turned to small-scale farming so they don’t have to rely on central supply chains for their food. According to Lisina Moyo, who joined the Centre in 2012, keyhole gardens “should be a part of every home” – earning 15 dollars a month from her personal vegetable patch has helped her pay her children’s school fees and contribute to a savings club that keeps her afloat during harsh seasons.

Saving the forests

Perhaps more importantly, the thousands of women who comprise the cooperative’s membership are natural caretakers of forests, having practiced sustainable harvesting of forest products for years.

The art of basket-weaving from both ilala palm and sisal, a species of the Agave plant found in Zimbabwe’s forests whose tough fibres make strong rope and twine, has been passed down for generations.

Furthermore, local communities have traditionally relied on surrounding forests for medicines, timber, fuel and fruits, so they have a vested interest in protecting these rich zones of biodiversity.

Considering the country lost an estimated 327,000 hectares of forests annually between 1990 and 2010, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), empowering guardians of Zimbabwe’s remaining forested areas is crucial.

With an estimated 66,250 timber merchants operating throughout the country, as well as millions of rural families relying on forests for fuel, deforestation will be a defining issue for Zimbabwe in the coming decade.

But here again, the women of Lupane are planning for the worst, creating small plantations of ilala palms to ensure propagation of the species, even in the face of rapid destruction of its natural habitat.

Their work is reinforcing the land around them, and breathing life into the women themselves.

As Moyo tells IPS: “Working together as women has united us, and strengthened our community spirit.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here.

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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