Inter Press Service » Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 01 Feb 2015 16:49:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 OPINION: The Future of Wetlands, the Future of Waterbirds – an Intercontinental Connectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-future-of-wetlands-the-future-of-waterbirds-an-intercontinental-connection/#comments Sat, 31 Jan 2015 14:16:53 +0000 Jacques Trouvilliez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138953 The Balearic shearwater is considered critically endangered with extinction by the IUCN. Credit: Joao Corvina

The Balearic shearwater is considered critically endangered with extinction by the IUCN. Credit: Joao Corvina

By Jacques Trouvilliez
BONN, Jan 31 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

India garnered international attention this week for its climate action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting a renewable energy goal

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

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

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

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

Accelerating clean energy finance

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

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

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

Improving air quality

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

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

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

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

Boosting climate resilience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stimulating positive change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

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Final Push to Launch U.N. Negotiations on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:39:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138751 A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations will make its third – and perhaps final – attempt at reaching an agreement to launch negotiations for an international biodiversity treaty governing the high seas.

A four-day meeting of a U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group is expected to take a decision by Friday against a September 2015 deadline to begin negotiations on the proposed treaty.“The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.” -- Lisa Speer of NRDC

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “This is the last scheduled meeting where we hope to see the decision to launch negotiations materialise.”

Asked about the timeline for the final treaty itself, she said “it really depends on the issues that will come up during the negotiations.”

In a statement released Monday, the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, said the high seas is a vast area that makes up nearly two-thirds of the ocean and about 50 percent of the planet’s surface, and currently falls outside of any country’s national jurisdiction.

“This means it’s the largest unprotected and lawless region on Earth,” the Alliance noted.

The lack of governance on the high seas is widely accepted as one of the major factors contributing to ocean degradation from human activities.

The issues to be discussed include marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as well as benefit-sharing of marine genetic resources, capacity building and transfer of marine technology.

At the same time, the growing threat from human activities, including pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering, and climate change, have made an international agreement to protect these waters more critical than ever, says the High Seas Alliance.

Lisa Speer, international oceans programme director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, says “The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.”

Kristina M. Gjerde, senior high seas policy advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told IPS U.N. member states have the historic opportunity to launch negotiations for a new global agreement to better protect, conserve and sustain the nearly 50 percent of the planet that is found beyond national boundaries.

The U.N. process, initiated at the 2012 Rio+20 summit in Brazil, has extensively explored the scope, parameters and feasibility of a possible new international instrument under the 1994 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), she added.

“It is clear that by now the vast majority of States are overwhelmingly in support,” Gjerde said.

Though some outstanding issues remain, IUCN is confident that once negotiations are launched, rapid progress can be made toward achieving an effective and equitable agreement, she added.

“With good luck, good will and good faith, negotiations, including a preparatory stage, could be accomplished in as little as two to three years,” Gjerde declared.

At the Rio+20 meeting, member states pledged to launch negotiations for the new treaty by the end of the 69th U.N. General Assembly in September 2015.

In a briefing paper released Monday, Greenpeace called on the 193-member General Assembly to take a “historic decision to develop an agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond the jurisdiction of States.”

Unfortunately a few countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Iceland, have expressed opposition to an agreement going forward. But this could change, it added.

Norway – previously unconvinced – has now become supportive and calls for the launch of a meaningful implementing agreement for biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

For the United States in particular, said Greenpeace, standing against progress towards a U.N. agreement that would provide the framework for establishing a global network of ocean sanctuaries would be at odds with the U.S.’s leadership on ocean issues such as the establishment of marine reserves in EEZ’s (Exclusive Economic Zones) as well as the Arctic, Antarctic and fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

The environmental groups say there is overwhelming support for an UNCLOS implementing agreement from countries and regional country groupings across the world, from Southeast Asian nations, to African governments, European and Latin American countries and Small Island Developing States.

Among them are Australia, New Zealand, the African Union, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Group of 77 developing nations plus China, the 28-member European Union, Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Mexico, Benin, Pakistan, Uruguay, Uganda and many more.

Karen Sack, senior director of The Pew Charitable Trusts international oceans work, said the upcoming decision could signal a new era of international cooperation on the high seas.

“If countries can commit to work together on legal protections for biodiversity on the high seas, we can close existing management gaps and secure a path toward sustainable development and ecosystem recovery,” she added.

According to the environmental group, the high seas is defined as 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.

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Caribbean Youth Ready to Lead on Climate Issueshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 21:21:30 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138726 Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

At 24 years old, Stefan Knights has never been on the side of those who are sceptical about the reality and severity of climate change.

A Guyana native who moved to Trinidad in September 2013 to pursue his law degree at the Hugh Wooding Law School, Knights told IPS that his first-hand experience of extreme weather has strengthened his resolve to educate his peers about climate change “so that they do certain things that would reduce emissions.”“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people." -- Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran

Knights recalled his first week in Trinidad, when he returned to his apartment to find “the television was floating, the refrigerator was floating and all my clothes were soaked” after intense rainfall which did not last more than an hour.

“When we have the floods, the droughts or even the hurricanes, water supply is affected, people lose jobs, people lose their houses and the corollary of that is that the right to water is affected, the right to housing, the right to employment and even sometimes the right to life,” Knights told IPS.

“I am a big advocate where human rights are concerned and I see climate change as having a significant impact on Caribbean people where human rights are concerned,” he said.

Knights laments that young people from the Caribbean and Latin America are not given adequate opportunities to participate in the major international meetings, several of which are held each year, to deal with climate change.

“These people are affected more than anybody else but when such meetings are held, in terms of youth representation, you find very few young people from these areas,” he said.

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Also, the countries that are not independent within Latin America and the Caribbean, like Puerto Rico which is still a territory of the United States, Montserrat, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the voices of those people are not heard in those rooms because they are still colonies.”

Knights, who is also an active member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), said young people are ready to lead.

“They are taking the lead around the world in providing solutions to challenges in the field of sustainable development,” he explained.

“For instance, CYEN has been conducting research and educating society on integrated water resources management, focusing particularly on the linkages between climate change, biodiversity loss and unregulated waste disposal.”

CYEN has been formally recognised by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) as one of its Most Outstanding Partners in the Caribbean.

As recently as December 2014, several members of CYEN from across the Caribbean participated in a Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) Media Workshop on Water Security and Climate Resilience held here.

CYEN has been actively involved in policy meetings on water resources management and has conducted practical community-based activities in collaboration with local authorities.

CYEN National Coordinator Rianna Gonzales told IPS that one way in which young people in Trinidad and Tobago are getting involved in helping to combat climate change and build resilience is through the Adopt a River (AAR) Programme, administered by the National Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

“This is an initiative to involve the community and corporate entities in the improvement of watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago in a sustainable, holistic and coordinated manner,” Gonzales said.

“The aim of the AAR programme is to build awareness on local watershed issues and to facilitate the participation of public and private sector entities in sustainable and holistic projects aimed at improving the status of rivers and watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Most of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water supply (60 per cent) comes from surface water sources such as rivers and streams, and total water demand is expected to almost double between 1997 and 2025.

With climate change predictions indicating that Trinidad and Tobago will become hotter and drier, in 2010, the estimated water availability for the country was 1477 m3 per year, which is a decrease of 1000 m3 per year from 1998.

Deforestation for housing, agriculture, quarrying and road-building has also increased the incidence of siltation of rivers and severe flooding.

“The challenge of water in Trinidad and Tobago is one of both quality and quantity,” Gonzales said.

“Our vital water supply is being threatened by industrial, agricultural and residential activities. Indiscriminate discharge of industrial waste into waterways, over-pumping of groundwater sources and pollution of rivers by domestic and commercial waste are adversely affecting the sustainability of our water resources.

“There is therefore an urgent need for a more coordinated approach to protecting and managing our most critical and finite resource – water,” she added.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran said there is an urgent need to protect human dignity and alleviate the sufferings of people because of climate change.

“We know that the urgency is now. Business as usual is not enough. We are not on track to meet our agreed 2.0 or 1.5 degree Celsius objective for limiting the increase in average global temperatures, so urgent and ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is absolutely necessary,” he told IPS.

Dookeran added that “there is no excuse not to act” since economically viable and technologically feasible options already exist to significantly enhance efforts to address climate change.

“Even with a less than two degrees increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, small island states like Trinidad and Tobago are already experiencing more frequent and more intense weather events as a result of climate change,” Dookeran said.

The foreign affairs minister said residents can look forward to even more mitigation measures that will take place in the first quarter of this year with respect to the intended nationally determined contributions for mitigation.

“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people,” he said.

“Trinidad and Tobago has made important inroads in dealing with the problem as we attempt to ensure that climate change is central to our development. As we prepare our economy for the transition to low carbon development and as we commit ourselves to carbon neutrality, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is working assiduously towards expanding the use of renewable energy in the national energy mix,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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More Than Half of Africa’s Arable Land ‘Too Damaged’ for Food Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 10:52:05 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138619 Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

By Busani Bafana
NTUNGAMO DISTRICT, Uganda, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

A report published last month by the Montpellier Panel – an eminent group of agriculture, ecology and trade experts from Africa and Europe – says about 65 percent of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain viable food production.

The report, “No Ordinary Matter: conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soil“, notes that Africa suffers from the triple threat of land degradation, poor yields and a growing population."Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil." -- Rattan Lal

The Montpellier Panel has recommended, among others, that African governments and donors invest in land and soil management, and create incentives particularly on secure land rights to encourage the care and adequate management of farm land. In addition, the report recommends increasing financial support for investment on sustainable land management.

The publication of the report comes with the U.N. declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils, a declaration the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) director general, Jose Graziano da Silva, said was important for “paving the road towards a real sustainable development for all and by all.”

According to the FAO, human pressure on the resource has left a third of all soils on which food production depends degraded worldwide.

Without new approaches to better managing soil health, the amount of arable and productive land available per person in 2050 will be a fourth of the level it was in 1960 as the FAO says it can take up to 1,000 years to form a centimetre of soil.

Soil expert and professor of agriculture at the Makerere University, Moses Tenywa tells IPS that African governments should do more to promote soil and water conservation, which is costly for farmers in terms of resources, labour, finances and inputs.

“Smallholder farmers usually lack the resources to effectively do soil and water conservation yet it is very important. Therefore, for small holder farmers to do it they must be motivated or incentivized and this can come through linkages to markets that bring in income or credit that enables them access inputs,” Tenywa says.

“Practicing climate smart agriculture in climate watersheds promotes soil health. This includes conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, diversification, mulching, and use of fertilizers in combination with rainwater harvesting.”

Before farmers received training on soil management methods, they applied fertilisers, for instance, without having their soils tested. Tenywa said now many smallholder farmers have been trained to diagnose their soils using a soil test kit and also to take their soils to laboratories for testing.

According to the Montpellier Panel report, an estimated 180 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are affected by land degradation, which costs about 68 billion dollars in economic losses as a result of damaged soils that prevent crop yields.

“The burdens caused by Africa’s damaged soils are disproportionately carried by the continent’s resource-poor farmers,” says the chair of the Montpellier Panel, Professor Sir Gordon Conway.

“Problems such as fragile land security and limited access to financial resources prompt these farmers to forgo better land management practices that would lead to long-term gains for soil health on the continent, in favour of more affordable or less labour-intensive uses of resources which inevitably exacerbate the issue.”

Soil health is critical to enhancing the productivity of Africa’s agriculture, a major source of employment and a huge contributor to GDP, says development expert and acting divisional manager in charge of Visioning & Knowledge management at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Wole Fatunbi.

“The use of simple and appropriate tools that suits the smallholders system and pocket should be explored while there is need for policy interventions including strict regulation on land use for agricultural purposes to reduce the spate of land degradation,” Fatunbi told IPS

He explained that 15 years ago he developed a set of technologies using vegetative material as green manure to substitute for fertiliser use in the Savannah of West Africa. The technology did not last because of the laborious process of collecting the material and burying it to make compost.

“If technologies do not immediately lead to more income or more food, farmers do not want them because no one will eat good soil,” said Fatunbi. “Soil fertility measures need to be wrapped in a user friendly packet. Compost can be packed as pellets with fortified mineral fertilisers for easy application.”

Fatunbi cites the land terrace system to manage soil erosion in the highlands of Uganda and Rwanda as a success story that made an impact because the systems were backed legislation. Also, the use of organic manure in the Savannah region through an agriculture system integrating livestock and crops has become a model for farmers to protect and promote soil health.

Meanwhile, a new report by U.S. researchers cites global warming as another impact on soil with devastating consequences.

According to the report “Climate Change and Security in Africa”, the continent is expected to see a rise in average temperature that will be higher than the global average. Annual rainfall is projected to decrease throughout most of the region, with a possible exception of eastern Africa.

“Less rain will have serious implications for sub-Saharan agriculture, 75 percent of which is rain-fed… Average predicated production losses by 2050 for African crops are: maize 22 percent, sorghum 17 percent, millet 17 percent, groundnut 18 percent, and cassava 8 percent.

“Hence, in the absence of major interventions in capacity enhancements and adaption measures, warming by as little as 1.5C threatens food production in Africa significantly.”

A truly disturbing picture of the problems of soil was painted by the National Geographic magazine in a recent edition.

“By 1991, an area bigger than the United States and Canada combined was lost to soil erosion—and it shows no signs of stopping,” wrote agroecologist Jerry Glover in the article “Our Good Earth.” In fact, says Glover, “native forests and vegetation are being cleared and converted to agricultural land at a rate greater than any other period in history.

“We still continue to harvest more nutrients than we replace in soil,” he says. If a country is extracting oil, people worry about what will happen if the oil runs out. But they don’t seem to worry about what will happen if we run out of soil.

Adds Rattan Lal, soil scientist: “Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil.”

Edited by Lisa Vives

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Integrated Farming: The Only Way to Survive a Rising Seahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/integrated-farming-the-only-way-to-survive-a-rising-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=integrated-farming-the-only-way-to-survive-a-rising-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/integrated-farming-the-only-way-to-survive-a-rising-sea/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 15:46:55 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138561 The Mandal family lives on a half-hectare farm in the Sundarbans and uses integrated methods to ensure survival. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The Mandal family lives on a half-hectare farm in the Sundarbans and uses integrated methods to ensure survival. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
SUNDARBANS, India, Jan 8 2015 (IPS)

When the gentle clucking grows louder, 50-year-old Sukomal Mandal calls out to his wife, who is busy grinding ingredients for a fish curry. She gets up to thrust leafy green stalks through the netting of a coop and two-dozen shiny hens rush forward for lunch.

In the Sundarbans, where the sea is slowly swallowing up the land, Mandal’s half-hectare farm is an oasis of prosperity.

The elderly couple resides in the Biswanathpur village located in what has now been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site: a massive tidal mangrove forest covering some 10,000 km in the vast Bay of Bengal delta, stretching between India and Bangladesh.

“An integrated farming system virtually replicates nature." -- Debabrata Guchhait, a trainer with the Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS) in the Sundarbans
In this scenic biodiversity hotspot, there is no longer any doubt about the impact of sea-level rise prompted by global warming – studies show that the region lost some 5.5 square km per year between 2001 and 2009, compared to four square km annually over the previous four decades.

As a result, the population here is facing a myriad of crises, a lack of freshwater being one of the most pressing for the primarily subsistence communities who have lived and worked the network of islands that comprise the landmass of the Sundarbans for generations.

The stubborn encroachment of the sea, as well as cyclones, storm surges, eroded farmland lost on the islands’ edges, tidal river floods from concentrated rains, brackish water intruding through breached earthen embankments and increased soil salinity, have all deepened poverty in these villages.

With a population of some four million, research suggests that three out of every 10 people in the Sundarbans now live below the poverty line.

Those like Mandal and his wife have been forced to innovate to stay alive. With traditional farming faltering under the strain of climate change, new methods, such as integrated farming, have been adopted to ensure survival.

Water everywhere, but none for farming

A November 2014 study sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) pointed out that the dearth of fresh water was reaching a crisis point in the Indian portion of the Sundarbans, occupying a large part of the state of West Bengal.

According to Sugata Hazra, oceanographer and climate change expert at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, the region urgently requires an infusion of 507 cubic metres of fresh water per day to sustain its estuarine ecosystems and dependent human livelihoods.

Increased salinity now affects farmlands in 52 of the roughly 102 inhabited islands on the Indian side of the forest.

Meanwhile, an observatory on Sagar Island, the largest sea-facing island bearing the brunt of climate impacts, recorded a relative mean sea level rise (MSLR) of 17.8 mm per year from 2001-2009, remarkably higher than the 3.14 mm per year observed during the previous decade.

Making ends meet under such harsh conditions is not easy.

Several farmers’ groups in the Patharpratima administrative block of the South 24-Parganas district told IPS that every family has one or more migrant members, on whose remittances they are increasingly dependent.

Other families, like Sukomal and his wife Alpana Mandal, are turning towards integrated farming methods.

“An integrated farming system virtually replicates nature,” explained Debabrata Guchhait, a trainer with the Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS), which works for community food security.

The technique “brings the farm and household together” so that waste from one area of life becomes an input for another. Staple crops are mixed with other plant and vegetable varieties, while cattle, ducks and hens all form part of the self-sustaining cycle.

The process “reduces farm costs and risks by going organic and by diversifying yield and income sources, while ensuring nutrition,” Guchhait told IPS.

The hens feed on leafy greens, broken grains and maize while their litter is collected and used as organic manure with dung from Mandal’s three cows and two goats. The remaining hen waste drains into the pond, becoming fish feed.

Digging a small pond to help harvest water during the annual monsoon, which typically brings 1,700 mm of rainfall, helped his fortunes immensely.

From one ‘bigha’, a local land measurement unit equal to 0.133 hectares, Mandal now harvests 480 kg of paddy (un-husked rice) – 70 kg more than he did before, and sufficient to cover one month’s worth of household consumption.

With sufficient fresh water in his backyard he now harvests a paddy crop not once but twice annually, harvesting 900 kg in a disaster-free year. After meeting his family’s food needs, he still sells 25,000 rupees (about 400 dollars) worth of his harvest.

Vegetables grown in the tiny space fetch him double that amount, since he plants a mixed crop of over 25 varieties throughout the year. Using every inch of free space, the family has built up crucial resilience against changing climate patterns.

The overflow from the pond provides a catchment area for fish from their paddy fields.

“Our family of four consumes three kg of fish weekly and sells some,” Mandal’s wife, Alpana, tells IPS. Rice with spicy fish curry is a popular staple here.

Still, those practicing integrated farming are few and far between.

“Of our 890 household members in 17 villages, only 15 members have taken up bio-integrated farming,” Palash Sinha, who heads the ISWS in Patharpratima block, told IPS.

“A major reason for the low uptake is the high 12,000-rupee (200-dollar) cost of landscaping integrated farm plots,” he explained. Despite assistance in the form of technical training and monetary support from community organisations, many farmers are reluctant to take the required 5,000-rupee loans.

“For effective landscaping at least 0.072 hectares (720 sq metres) are needed,” Sinha added. “Many farmers do not even have this much land.”

Others associate the integrated method with harder work. “In a good year, income from integrated farms can be 200 percent higher than same-size conventional farms, but labour input is 700 percent more,” Samiran Jana, an integrated bio-farmer, told IPS in the Indrapastha village.

Government assistance for marginal farmers hoping to transform their smallholdings, meanwhile, is extremely low, experts say. For instance, the West Bengal Action Plan on Climate Change – which includes promises on stepping up assistance for integrated farming – is yet to be implemented.

In a country where 56 percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, of which some 80 percent are small and landless farmers, experts say that concerted efforts at the federal level are needed to safeguard millions whose lives and livelihoods are bound up with changing weather patterns.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Family Farming Eases Food Shortages in Eastern Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/family-farming-eases-food-shortages-in-eastern-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farming-eases-food-shortages-in-eastern-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/family-farming-eases-food-shortages-in-eastern-cuba/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 18:52:48 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138550 Damaris González and Omar Navarro describe their farm in eastern Cuba as an integral agroecological system. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

Damaris González and Omar Navarro describe their farm in eastern Cuba as an integral agroecological system. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

By Patricia Grogg
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

Meat and vegetables are never missing from the dinner table of Damaris González and Omar Navarro, since they get almost all of their food from their farm, La Revelación, on the outskirts of the city of Santiago de Cuba, 765 km east of the Cuban capital.

On the three hectares they have been working for the past seven years, the couple combine agroecological techniques with the rational use of natural resources, as they learned in the permaculture courses given in the city by the non-governmental ecumenical Bartolomé G. Lavastida Christian Centre for Service and Training (CCSC-Lavastida).

“I used to grow just one or two varieties, especially tubers (staples of the Cuban diet). If we didn’t sell them or if the harvest was lost, we didn’t have much to survive on,” Navarro told IPS.“We had to ‘deprogramme’ ourselves to start using these techniques, because when you have planted the same thing in the same way all your life, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to diversify crops and stop using chemicals.” -- Omar Navarro

The farmer is the coordinator of the local administrative committee of one of the food production microprojects organised by the religious organisation in rural areas in the eastern provinces of Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Guantánamo and Santiago de Cuba.

When the initiative got underway with a local church in 2009, González and Navarro, along with another 10 ecumenical activists, received nine months of training on permaculture, agroecology, gender, business administration, food preservation, nutrition and other areas.

“We had to ‘deprogramme’ ourselves to start using these techniques, because when you have planted the same thing in the same way all your life, it’s hard to believe it’s possible to diversify crops and stop using chemicals,” said Navarro, 52.

The microproject gave them economic support to improve the infrastructure on their farm and buy livestock, in exchange for a commitment to donate part of their production to vulnerable segments of society, such as terminally ill patients, people living with HIV/AIDS, or the elderly.

González, who is an engineer by profession but is now farming to boost her family’s income, believes their main achievement has been guaranteeing a balanced diet.

“We use vermiculture (worm farming) and composting of organic material to make natural fertiliser, without chemicals, so our food is healthier,” said González, who runs the family farm, where the couple live with their 11-year-old son.

They recently hired six workers who help them tend three fish farming tanks where they grow up to 5,000 red tilapia fry, rows of vegetables, different kinds of fruit, a seedbed, and 200 farm animals, including sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and seven cows.

“The community benefits from us being more productive because we sell the surplus at low prices compared to what is sold in the farmers’ markets,” added González, 48, as she showed IPS the booklet where she records the farm’s harvests by hand.

Fidel Pérez, who practices permaculture, grows giant oranges from China in his yard in Santiago de Cuba. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

Fidel Pérez, who practices permaculture, grows giant oranges from China in his yard in Santiago de Cuba. Credit: Courtesy Randy Rodríguez Pagés/SEMlac

With economic support and ongoing training, CCSC-Lavastida has been helping empower people in the countryside to produce food in an ecological manner, while encouraging the active participation of women, for the past 17 years.

Agronomist César Parra told IPS that the institution, founded in 1995, has set up 87 microprojects with support from international Christian organisations such as Bread for the World and Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action. Seventy percent of the microprojects involve food production and agriculture.

In 2014, 32 were still active, directly or indirectly benefiting some 600 families throughout the entire eastern region, the poorest part of the country.

Some of these groups have more than one system of permaculture – agriculture in harmony with local ecosystems, introduced in this Caribbean island nation in the 1990s in response to the ongoing economic crisis triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc.

“It’s about creating sustainable human settlements, following the ethics of caring for the earth, people and animals in a harmonious relationship and imitating the cycles of nature,” said Parra, CCSC-Lavastida’s projects coordinator.

Based on the premise that everything can be reused, these systems of permanent agriculture make use of organic waste and manure as fertiliser, harvest rainwater, diversify crops, reduce energy use, increase greenery, create seedbeds and install biodigesters and dry toilets, among other techniques.

The Christian centre has trained 40 people to spread this philosophy and system in the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo and Granma, who create gardens in urban patios, backyards and rooftops.

Fidel Pérez is one of those who has planted fruit and vegetables on every inch of soil around his house, in a neighbourhood in Santiago de Cuba.

Pérez, who runs a local church, told IPS that he manages to supply his family of seven with tubers, fruit, vegetables and different kinds of meat, with what he produces.

He estimates that he saves 17,000 Cuban pesos (710 dollars) a year, in a country where the mean monthly salary is 471 pesos and people spend between 59 and 74 percent of their monthly income on food, according to studies by local economists.

Figures from the non-governmental Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation indicate that more than 1,000 people have been trained in Cuba as promoters of permaculture.

“These people are assuming new lifestyles, with a closer connection to nature and greater sensibility and knowledge, to forge a beneficial relationship with their habitat,” says a recent article written by several specialists in the Foundation’s magazine, “Se puede”.

Experts agree that the adoption of permaculture by rural and urban families can help provide solutions to Cuba’s food sovereignty problems.

This is especially important when the authorities are attempting to boost agricultural production, as a matter of “national security.” In 2013, agriculture accounted for 3.7 percent of GDP, according to official figures.

The National Statistics Office reported that of 6.34 million hectares of farmland in Cuba, only 2.64 million were under cultivation in 2013.

Food imports absorbed 2.09 billion dollars in the first half of 2014, says a report by the Ministry of Economy and Planning to the Cuban parliament, which stated that 60 percent of that total could have been produced in this country.

The sustainable production of food and seeds is top priority for the period 2013-2018 in the cooperation agreements between Cuba and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), whose goals also include adaptation to climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Organic Farming in India Points the Way to Sustainable Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/organic-farming-in-india-points-the-way-to-sustainable-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farming-in-india-points-the-way-to-sustainable-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/organic-farming-in-india-points-the-way-to-sustainable-agriculture/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 09:25:43 +0000 Jency Samuel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138544 Using bio-fertilizers, farmers in Tamil Nadu are reviving agricultural lands that were choked by salt deposits in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS

Using bio-fertilizers, farmers in Tamil Nadu are reviving agricultural lands that were choked by salt deposits in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
NAGAPATNAM, India, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

Standing amidst his lush green paddy fields in Nagapatnam, a coastal district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a farmer named Ramajayam remembers how a single wave changed his entire life.

The simple farmer was one of thousands whose agricultural lands were destroyed by the 2004 Asian tsunami, as massive volumes of saltwater and metre-high piles of sea slush inundated these fertile fields in the aftermath of the disaster.

“The general perception is that organic farming takes years to yield good results and revenue. But during post-tsunami rehabilitation work [...] we proved that in less than a year organic methods could yield better results than chemical farming." -- M Revathi, the founder-trustee of the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers' Movement (TOFarM)
On the morning of Dec. 26, 2004, Ramajayam had gone to his farm in Karaikulam village to plant casuarina saplings. As he walked in, he noticed his footprints were deeper than usual and water immediately filled between the tracks, a phenomenon he had never witnessed before.

A few minutes later, like a black mass, huge walls of water came towards him. He ran for his life. His farms were a pathetic sight the next day.

The Nagapatnam district recorded 6,065 deaths, more than 85 percent of the state’s death toll. Farmers bore the brunt, struggling to revive their fields, which were inundated for a distance of up to two miles in some locations. Nearly 24,000 acres of farmland were destroyed by the waves.

Worse still was that the salty water did not recede, ruining the paddy crop that was expected to be harvested 15 days after the disaster. Small ponds that the farmers had dug on their lands with government help became incredibly saline, and as the water evaporated it had a “pickling effect” on the soil, farmers say, essentially killing off all organic matter crucial to future harvests.

Plots belonging to small farmers like Ramajayam, measuring five acres or less, soon resembled saltpans, with dead soil caked in mud stretching for miles. Even those trees that withstood the tsunami could not survive the intense period of salt inundation, recalled Kumar, another small farmer.

“We were used to natural disasters; but nothing like the tsunami,” Ramajayam added.

Cognizant of the impact of the disaster on poor rural communities, government offices and aid agencies focused much of their rehabilitation efforts on coastal dwellers, offering alternative livelihood schemes in a bid to lessen the economic burden of the catastrophe.

The nearly 10,000 affected small and marginal farmers, who have worked these lands for generations, were reluctant to accept a change in occupation. Ignoring the reports of technical inspection teams that rehabilitating the soil could take up to 10 years, some sowed seed barely a year after the tsunami.

Not a single seed sprouted, and many began to lose hope.

It was then that various NGOs stepped in, and began a period of organic soil renewal and regeneration that now serves as a model for countless other areas in an era of rampant climate change.

The ‘soil doctor’

One of the first organisations to begin sustained efforts was the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers’ Movement (TOFarM), which adopted the village of South Poigainallur as the site of experimental work.

The first step was measuring the extent of the damage, including assessing the depth of salt penetration and availability of organic content. When it became clear that the land was completely uncultivable, the organisation set to work designing unique solutions for every farm that involved selecting seeds and equipment based on the soil condition and topography.

Sea mud deposits were removed, bunds were raised and the fields were ploughed. Deep trenches were made in the fields and filled with the trees that had been uprooted by the tsunami. As the trees decomposed the soil received aeration.

Dhaincha seeds, a legume known by its scientific name Sesbania bispinosa, were then sown in the fields.

“It [dhaincha] is called the ‘soil doctor’ because it is a green manure crop that grows well in saline soil,” M Revathi, the founder-trustee of TOFarM, told IPS.

When the nutrient-rich dhaincha plants flowered in about 45 days, they were ploughed back into the ground, to loosen up the soil and help open up its pores. Compost and farmyard manure were added in stages before the sowing season.

Today, the process stands as testament to the power of organic solutions.

Organic practices save the day

Poor farmers across Tamil Nadu are heavily dependent on government aid. Each month the state government’s Public Distribution System hands out three tonnes of rice to over 20 million people.

To facilitate this, the government runs paddy procurement centres, wherein officials purchase farmers’ harvests for a fixed price. While this assures farmers of a steady income, the fixed price is far below the market rate.

Thus marginal farmers, who number some 13,000, barely make enough to cover their monthly needs. After the 90-135 day paddy harvest period, farmers fall back on vegetable crops to ensure their livelihood. But in districts like Nagapatnam, where fresh water sources lie 25 feet below ground level, farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture are at a huge disadvantage.

When the tsunami washed over the land, many feared they would never recover.

“The microbial count on a pin head, which should be 4,000 in good soil, dropped down to below 500 in this area,” Dhanapal, a farmer in Kilvelur of Nagapatnam district and head of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Association, informed IPS.

But help was not far away.

A farmer named S Mahalingam’s eight-acre plot of land close to a backwater canal in North Poigainallur was severely affected by the tsunami. His standing crop of paddy was completely destroyed.

NGOs backed by corporate entities and aid agencies pumped out seawater from Mahalingam’s fields and farm ponds. They distributed free seeds and saplings. The state government waived off farm loans. Besides farmyard manure, Mahalingam used the leaves of neem, nochi and Indian beech (Azadirachta indica, Vitex negundo and Pongamia glabra respectively) as green manure.

Subsequent rains also helped remove some of the salinity. The farmer then sowed salt-resistant traditional rice varieties called Kuruvikar and Kattukothalai. In two years his farms were revived, enabling him to continue growing rice and vegetables.

NGO’s like the Trichy-based Kudumbam have innovated other methods, such as the use of gypsum, to rehabilitate burnt-out lands.

A farmer named Pl. Manikkavasagam, for instance, has benefitted from the NGO’s efforts to revive his five-acre plot of farmland, which failed to yield any crops after the tsunami.

Remembering an age-old practice, he dug trenches and filled them with the green fronds of palms that grow in abundance along the coast.

Kudumbam supplied him with bio-fertlizers such as phosphobacteria, azospirillum and acetobacter, all crucial in helping breathe life into the suffocated soil.

Kudumbam distributed bio-solutions and trained farmers to produce their own. As Nagapatnam is a cattle-friendly district, bio solutions using ghee, milk, cow dung, tender coconut, fish waste, jaggery and buttermilk in varied combinations could be made easily and in a cost-effective manner. Farmers continue to use these bio-solutions, all very effective in controlling pests.

“The general perception is that organic farming takes years to yield good results and revenue,” TOFarM’s Revathi told IPS.

“But during post-tsunami rehabilitation work, with data, we proved that in less than a year organic methods could yield better results than chemical farming. That TOFarM was invited to replicate this in Indonesia and Sri Lanka is proof that farms can be revived through sustainable practices even after disasters,” she added.

As early as 2006, farmers like Ramajayam, having planted a salt-resistant strain of rice known as kuzhivedichan, yielded a harvest within three months of the sowing season.

Together with restoration of some 2,000 ponds by TOFarM, farmers in Nagapatnam are confident that sustainable agriculture will stand the test of time, and whatever climate-related challenges are coming their way. The lush fields of Tamil Nadu’s coast stand as proof of their assertion.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Understanding Education for Global Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-understanding-education-for-global-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-understanding-education-for-global-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-understanding-education-for-global-citizenship/#comments Tue, 30 Dec 2014 18:40:16 +0000 Kartikeya V. Sarabhai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138448

Kartikeya V.Sarabhai is the founder and director of the Centre for Environment Education headquartered in Ahmedabad, with 40 offices across India.

By Kartikeya V. Sarabhai
AHMEDABAD, India, Dec 30 2014 (IPS)

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) brings together concerns about the environment, economic development and social aspects. Since 1972, when the first U.N. Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden, there has been increasing awareness of the intricate link between conserving the environment and human development.

Photo courtesy of Purvivyas/cc by 3.0

Photo courtesy of Purvivyas/cc by 3.0

The fact that our lifestyles and the way we have developed have a major impact on the environment was known earlier. Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, in 1962, had been an eye-opener, especially in the United States where it was published.

But the 1976 U.N. Conference on the Human Habitat was perhaps the beginning of the realisation that development and environment had to be dealt with together. By the time of the first Rio conference in 1992, the deterioration of the environment was recognised as a global issue.

The conventions on biodiversity and climate change both were formulated at this conference. It was increasingly clear that no longer could countries solve their problems at the national level. With greater awareness especially on climate change one realised that what happens in one part of the planet has an impact on another.

Notwithstanding what President George W. Bush declared at Rio – that “The American way of life is not up for negotiations” – the world came to realise that ultimately these issues had to do with people’s lifestyles. The development paradigm that had emerged was carbon intensive and extremely wasteful.It is not laws alone that can change people’s behaviour but people themselves behaving with a sense of responsibility.

The global footprint measure was developed in 1990 by Canadian ecologist William Rees and Swiss-born regional planner Mathis Wackernagal at the University of British Columbia. It was a good way of knowing just how an individual’s action impacted the planet. Since the 1970s the total human footprint has exceeded the capacity of the planet.

While the global debate then and to a large extend even today seems based on the idea that making changes in policy and introducing new technologies can somehow shrink this footprint to sustainable levels, this assumption is widely questioned.

At the core of the change that is required is the transformation that happens in the way people relate to the planet and how we produce, consume and waste resources. It is not laws alone that can change people’s behaviour but people themselves behaving with a sense of responsibility. This sense of responsibility is at the heart of the concept of citizenship.

Global Citizenship therefore almost naturally emerges from an understanding of environment and sustainable development. ESD therefore becomes the foundation for Global Citizenship Education (GCE).

A Global Citizen is not someone who can be passive, but needs to contribute. ESD, unlike most formal education programmes, has the necessary action component built into it. ESD though shortened to three letters actually stands for four words. The missing word in the abbreviation is “for”, a word as important as the other three.

It is not Sustainable Development Education, which would indicate it is about teaching people about sustainable development (SD). What “for” does is, it puts an action goal at the end of the education process. It is not just to increase public awareness and knowledge about SD but in fact to act to achieve it.

The Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) of the U.N. secretary-general speaks of Global Citizenship as one of the three key concepts that the world needs to strive for in education today. GCE involves widening horizons and seeing problems from different points of view. Multi-stakeholder discussions are an important part of a GCE Programme. While we may strive for this, it is not always easy to understand and experience different points of view.

The Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in Ahmedabad, India, along with CEE Australia has launched the Global Citizenship for Sustainability (GCS) Programme which involves connecting children in schools in different countries around a nature-based theme.

For instance, Project 1600 connects eight schools on the coast of Gujarat in Western India with similar number of schools on the coast of Queensland in Australia. Through projects concerning the marine environment, children living in very different societies at different levels of development compare notes. The exchange forces students to think out of the box and understand issues from a very different perspective, from a different part of the globe.

Internships where students spend time in countries and environments that are very different from their own are also a very effective tool for GCE. Increasing global connectivity has also opened up possibilities for GCE that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

The work on ESD done during the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development led by UNESCO and partnered with a number of organisations across the globe has set the foundation towards GCE. Tools to measure GCE are still under development, as is the concept itself. The Brookings Institute through its Global Citizenship Working Group of the Learning Metrics Task Force 2.0 Program has made a beginning in these tools.

The continuous feedback and strengthening of the programme should lead to specific insights on GCE much as the last decade of work in ESD has taught the global community the finer points of creating a sense of responsibility to the planet while the same time engaging in a development process.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Climate Change Threatens Quechua and Their Crops in Peru’s Andeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-change-threatens-quechua-and-their-crops-in-perus-andes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-threatens-quechua-and-their-crops-in-perus-andes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-change-threatens-quechua-and-their-crops-in-perus-andes/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 20:23:26 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138439 Some of the “potato guardians” of the five Quechua communities helping to safeguard native varieties in a 9,200-hectare “potato park” in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, in the Peruvian highlands department of Cuzco. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Some of the “potato guardians” of the five Quechua communities helping to safeguard native varieties in a 9,200-hectare “potato park” in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, in the Peruvian highlands department of Cuzco. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PISAC, Peru , Dec 29 2014 (IPS)

In this town in Peru’s highlands over 3,000 metres above sea level, in the mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Quechua Indians who have lived here since time immemorial are worried about threats to their potato crops from alterations in rainfall patterns and temperatures.

“The families’ food security is definitely at risk,” agricultural technician Lino Loayza told IPS. “The rainy season started in September, and the fields should be green, but it has only rained two or three days, and we’re really worried about the effects of the heat.”

If the drought stretches on, as expected, “we won’t have a good harvest next year,” said Loayza, who is head of the Parque de la Papa or Potato Park, a biocultural conservation unit created to safeguard native crops in the rural municipality of Pisac in the southeastern department or region of Cuzco.“We are all joined together by potatoes, in our style of life, gastronomy, culture and spirituality. Potatoes are sacred, we have to know how to treat them, they are important for our livelihoods and they connect us to life." -- Lino Mamani

In the Parque de la Papa, which is at an altitude of up to 4,500 metres and covers 9,200 hectares, 6,000 indigenous villagers from five communities – Amaru, Chawaytire, Pampallaqta, Paru Paru and Sacaca – are preserving potatoes and biodiversity, along with their spiritual rites and traditional farming techniques.

The Parque de la Papa, a mosaic of fields that hold the greatest diversity of potatoes in the world, 1,460 varieties, was created in 2002 with the support of the Asociación Andes.

This protected area in the Sacred Valley of the Incas is surrounded by lofty peaks known as ‘Apus’ or divine guardians of life, which until recently were snow-capped year-round.

“People are finally waking up to the problem of climate change. They’re starting to think about the future of life, the future of the family. What will the weather be like? Will we have food?” 50-year-old community leader Lino Mamani, one of the ‘papa arariwa’ – potato guardians, in Quechua – told IPS.

He said that whoever is sceptical about climate change can come to the Peruvian Andes to see that it’s real. “Pachamama [mother earth, in Quechua] is nervous about what we are doing to her. All of the crops are moving up the mountains, to higher and higher ground, and they will do so until it’s too high to grow,” he said.

As temperatures rise, plant pests and diseases are increasing, such as the Andean potato weevil or potato late blight (Phytophthora infestans).

To prevent crop damage, over the last 30 years farmers have increased the altitude at which they plant potatoes by more than 1,000 metres, said Mamani. That information was confirmed by the Asociación Andes and by researchers at the International Potato Centre (CIP), based in Lima.

But the most dramatic effects for Cuzco’s Quechua peasant farmers have been seen in the last 15 years.

The lower-lying part of the “potato park” in the rural municipality of Pisac in the department of Cuzco, in Peru, where five Quechua communities are preserving the ageold crop. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The lower-lying part of the “potato park” in the rural municipality of Pisac in the department of Cuzco, in Peru, where five Quechua communities are preserving the ageold crop. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“Nature used to let us know when was the best time for each step, in farming. But now, Pachamama is confused, and we are losing our reference points among the animals and the plants, which don’t have a flowering season anymore,” Mamani lamented.

The soil is drier and the potato-growing season has already shrunk from five or six months to four.

“We are all joined together by potatoes, in our style of life, gastronomy, culture and spirituality. Potatoes are sacred, we have to know how to treat them, they are important for our livelihoods and they connect us to life,” the ‘papa arariwa’ said.

Mamani lives in the village of Pampallaqta. On his farm, which is less than one hectare in size, he grows 280 varieties of potato, most of which grow high up on the mountain.

But not only the potatoes are suffering the impact of climate change. Other traditional crops grown by the Quechua, such as beans, barley, quinoa and maize are also being grown at higher and higher altitudes because of the rising temperatures. “We need support in order to adapt our crops,” Mamani said.

Innovation versus extinction

The curator of the CIP germplasm bank, Rene Gómez, predicts that at this rate of prolonged drought and high temperatures for much of the year, followed by severe frost and plunging temperatures that freeze up the fields, potatoes are “absolutely at risk” in Peru’s highlands.

“I estimate that in 40 years there will be nowhere left to plant potatoes [in Peru’s highlands],” Gómez told IPS. He added that although it isn’t possible to halt climate change, alternatives can be developed in order to continue growing this crop, which has been planted in the Andes for thousands of years.

But he said that it will no longer be profitable to plant native varieties of potato 3,800 metres above sea level – the altitude of the lower-lying part of the Parque de la Papa.

“There are solutions – we have to use genes,” the scientific researcher said. “We have identified at least 11 drought- and frost-resistant cultivars.”

“We are also carrying out an experiment to interpret how the climate is changing, how potatoes are behaving at an altitude of 4,450 metres, and how they survive 200 mm of rainfall a year,” he said. Above that altitude, the highlands are inhospitable rocky ground.

Native potato varieties survive temperatures ranging from 2.8 to 40 degrees Celsius. But extreme temperature swings hurt the nutrients of the potato crop. In order to preserve their properties, potatoes need temperatures to remain within the range of four to 12 degrees.

An alliance combining scientific innovation with traditional Quechua know-how is taking shape to preserve Andean potato varieties. It includes the Asociación Andes, CIP and the Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) of the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres.

While the search is on for crop varieties that can be grown on arid, high-altitude land, native farmers are receiving assistance in the Parque de la Papa to adapt their crops.

For their part, local families continue to use traditional techniques for storing and drying their crops. For example, two bitter-tasting varieties of potato – moraya and chuño – that can withstand harsh weather conditions are freeze-dried using traditional techniques employed since the Inca era, and can be stored up to 10 years.

Indigenous villagers complain that many local men have to leave home to look for work in the cities, leaving all of the household work, weaving and farmwork to the women.

“Our worry now is whether we will have food in the future,” Elisban Tacuri, a villager, told IPS.

Ancelma Apaza, a local Quechua woman, told IPS it is more and more difficult to estimate how much food needs to be stored to provide for the family throughout the year. “We women participate in food production and conservation, but now it’s hard for us to know how much food to store, because we don’t know if the harvest is going to be good,” she said.

She added that in the Parque de la Papa they are struggling to maintain the culinary traditions inherited from their ancestors, now that they complete their diets with industrially produced food.

To preserve their sacred crop, the Quechua villagers involved in the park opened a community storeroom in 2011 for potatoes and seeds, which has a capacity of 8,000 kg. It is called “Papa Takena Wasi” – in Quechua “takena” means keep and “wasi” means home.

“We keep the potatoes that have cultural value and this storeroom makes it possible for us to share seeds with communities that need them,” said Mariano Apukusi, another “potato guardian”.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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REDD and the Green Economy Continue to Undermine Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:03:45 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138330 Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Dercy Teles de Carvalho Cunha is a rubber-tapper and union organiser from the state of Acre in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, with a lifelong love of the forest from which she earns her livelihood – and she is deeply confounded by what her government and policymakers around the world call “the green economy.”

“The primary impact of green economy projects is the loss of all rights that people have as citizens,” says Teles de Carvalho Cunha in a report released last week by a group of Brazilian NGOs. “They lose all control of their lands, they can no longer practice traditional agriculture, and they can no longer engage in their everyday activities.”The whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

Referring to a state-run programme called the “Bolsa Verde” that pays forest dwellers a small monthly stipend in exchange for a commitment not to damage the forest through subsistence activities, Teles de Carvalho Cunha says, “Now people just receive small grants to watch the forest, unable to do anything. This essentially strips their lives of meaning. ”

Her words are especially chilling because Teles de Carvalho Cunha is not just any rubber tapper – she is the president of the Rural Workers Union of Xapuri – the union made famous in Brazil when its founder, Chico Mendes, was murdered in 1988 for defending the forest against loggers and ranchers.

Mendes’ gains have been consolidated in tens of thousands of hectares of ‘extractive reserves,’ where communities earn a living from harvesting natural rubber from the forest while keeping the trees standing. But new policies and programmes being established to conserve forests in Acre seem to be having perverse results that the iconic leader’s union is none too happy about.

Conflicting views on the green economy

As Brazil has become a leader in fighting deforestation through a mix of  public and private sector actions, Acre has become known for market-based climate policies such as Payment for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes, that seek to harmonise economic development and environmental preservation.

Over the past decade, Acre has put into place policies favouring sustainable rural production and taxes and credits to support rural livelihoods. In 2010, the state began implementing a system of forest conservation incentives that proponents say have “begun to pay off abundantly”.

Especially as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continues to fail in its mission of bringing nations together around a binding emissions reduction target – the latest failure being COP20 in Lima earlier this month – REDD proponents highlight the value of “subnational” approaches to REDD based on agreements between states and provinces, rather than nations.

The approach is best represented by an agreement between the states of California, Chiapas (Mexico), and Acre (Brazil).

In 2010, California – the world’s eighth largest economy – signed an agreement with Acre, and Chiapas, whereby REDD and PES projects in the two tropical forest provinces would supply carbon offset credits to California to help the state’s polluters meet emission reduction targets.

California policymakers have been meeting with officials from Acre, and from Chiapas, for several years, with hopes of making a partnership work, but the agreement has yet to attain the status of law.

Attempts by the government of Chiapas to implement a version of REDD in 2011, shortly after the agreement with California was signed, met strong resistance in that famously rebellious Mexican state, leading organisations there to send a series of letters to CARB and California Governor Jerry Brown asking them to cease and desist.

Groups in Acre, too, sent an open letter to California officials in 2013, denouncing the effort as “neocolonial,”:  “Once again,” the letter read, “the former colonial powers are seeking to invest in an activity that represents the ‘theft’ of yet another ‘raw material’ from the territories of the peoples of the South: the ‘carbon reserves’ in their forests.”

This view appears to be backed up now by a  new report on the Green Economy  from the Brazilian Platform for Human, Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights. The 26-page summary of a much larger set of findings to be published in 2015 describes Acre as a state suffering extreme inequality, deepened by a lack of information about green economy projects, which results in communities being coerced to accept “top-down” proposals as substitutes for a lack of public policies to address basic needs.

Numerous testimonies taken in indigenous, peasant farmer and rubber-tapper communities show how private REDD projects and public PES projects have deepened territorial conflicts, affected communities’ ability to sustain their livelihoods, and violated international human rights conventions.

The Earth Innovation Institute, a strong backer of REDD generally and of the Acre-Chiapas-California agreement specifically, has thoroughly documented Brazil’s deforestation success, and argues that existing incentives – farmers’ fear of losing access to markets or public finance or of being punished by green public policies – have been powerful motivators, but need to be accompanied by economic incentives that reward sustainable land-use.

But the testimonies from Acre raise concerns that such economic incentives can deepen existing inequalities. The Bolsa Verde programme is a case in point: according to Teles de Carvalho Cunha, the payments are paltry, the enforcement criminalises already-impoverished peasants, and the whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

A related impact of purely economic incentives is to undermine traditional approaches to forest management and to alienate forest-dwellers from their traditional activities.

“We don’t see land as income,” one anonymous indigenous informant to the Acre report said. “Our bond with the land is sacred because it is where we come from and where we will return.”

Another indigenous leader from Acre, Ninawa Huni Kui of the Huni Kui Federation, appeared at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru this month to explain his people’s opposition to REDD for having divided and co-opted indigenous leaders; preventing communities from practicing traditional livelihood activities; and violating the Huni Kui’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consents as guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

One of the REDD projects the report documents (also documented here) is the Purus Project, the first private environmental services incentive project registered with Acre’s Institute on Climate Change (Instituto de Mudanças Climáticas, IMC), in June 2012.

The project, designed to conserve 35,000 hectares of forest, is jointly run by the U.S.-based Carbonfund.org Foundation and a Brazilian company called Carbon Securities. The project is certified by the two leading REDD certifiers, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community, Biodiversity Standard (CCBS).

But despite meeting apparently high standards for social and environmental credibility, field research detected “the community’s lack of understanding of the project, as well as divisions in the community and an escalation of conflicts.”

One rubber tapper who makes his living within the project area told researchers, “I want someone to explain to me what carbon is, because all I know is that this carbon isn’t any good to us. It’s no use to us. They’re removing it from here to take it to the U.S… They will sell it there and walk all over us. And us? What are we going to do? They’re going to make money, but we won’t?”

A second project called the Russas/Valparaiso project, seems to suffer similar discrepancies between what proponents describe and what local communities experience, characterised by researchers as “fears regarding land use, uncertainty about the future, suspicion about land ownership issues, and threats of expulsion.”

The company’s apparent failure to leave a copy of the project contract with the community did not help to build trust. Like the Purus Project – and like many REDD projects in other parts of the world whose track record of social engagement is severely lacking – this project is also on the road to certification by VCS and CCB.

Concerns like criminalising subsistence livelihoods and asserting private control over community forest resources, whether these resources be timber or CO2, is more than a misstep of a poorly implemented policy – it violates human rights conventions that Brazil has ratified, as well as national policies such as Brazil’s National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities.

The report’s conclusion sums up its findings: “In the territories they have historically occupied, forest peoples are excluded from decisions about their own future or—of even greater concern – they are considered obstacles to development and progress. As such, green economy policies can also be described as a way of integrating them into the dominant system of production and consumption.

“Yet, perhaps what is needed is the exact opposite – sociocultural diversity and guaranteeing the rights of the peoples are, by far, the best and most sustainable way of slowing down and confronting not only climate change, but also the entire crisis of civilization that is threatening the human life on the planet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Aboriginal Knowledge Could Unlock Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:43:45 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138306 William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
CAIRNS, Queensland, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were on the bite when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification.

“The land cannot support us anymore. The flowering cycles are less predictable. We have to now go much further into the sea to catch fish,” said Enoch, whose father was from North Stradbroke Island, home to the Noonuccal, Nughie and Goenpul Aboriginal people."Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity." -- Kelly Mackenzie

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent (548,400) of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. They have lived in harmony with the land for generations.

“But now pesticides from sugarcane and banana farms are getting washed into the rivers and sea and ending up in the food chain. We need to check the wild pig and turtles we kill for contaminants before eating,” Enoch told IPS.

With soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, indigenous people face the risk of being further disadvantaged and potentially dislocated from their traditional lands.

“We have already seen environmental refugees in this country during the Second World War. In the 1940s, Torres Strait Islander people were removed from the low-lying Saibai Island near New Guinea to the Australian mainland as king tides flooded the island”, said Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Global sea levels have increased by 1.7 millimeters per year over the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, northern Australia has experienced increases of around 7.1 millimetres per year, while eastern Australia has experienced increases of around 2.0 to 3.3 millimetres per year.

For indigenous people, their heart and soul belongs to the land of their ancestors. “Any dislocation has dramatic effects on our social and emotional wellbeing. Maybe these are some of the reasons why we are seeing great increases in self-harm,” Gooda, who is a descendant of the Gangulu people from the Dawson Valley in central Queensland, told IPS.

Displacement from the land also significantly impacts on culture, health, and access to food and water resources. Water has been very important for Aboriginal people for 60,000 years, but Australia is becoming hotter and drier.

2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Report. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature was +1.20 degree Centigrade above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 degree Centigrade above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 degree Centigrade above average.

“On the other side, during the wet season, it is getting wetter. One small town, Mission Beach in Queensland, recently received 300mm of rain in one night. These extreme climatic changes in the wet tropics are definitely impacting on Indigenous lifestyle,” said Gooda.

Researchers warn that climate change will have a range of negative impacts on liveability of communities, cultural practices, health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rosemary Hill, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Ecosystem Sciences) in Cairns said, “The existing poor state of infrastructure in indigenous communities such as housing, water, energy, sewerage, and roads is likely to further deteriorate. Chronic health disabilities, including asthma, cardiovascular illness and infections, and water, air and food-borne diseases are likely to be exacerbated.”

Environmental and Indigenous groups are urging the government to create new partnerships with indigenous Australians in climate adaptation and mitigation policies and also to tap into indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

“There is so much we can learn from our ancestors about tackling climate change and protecting country. We have to transition Australia to clean energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Our communities don’t have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity,” says the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) communications director, Kelly Mackenzie.

AYCC is calling on the Australian government to move beyond fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.

Indigenous elder in residence at Griffith University’s Nathan and Logan campuses in Brisbane, Togiab McRose Elu, said, “Global warming isn’t just a theory in Torres Strait, it’s lapping at people’s doorsteps. The world desperately needs a binding international agreement including an end to fossil fuel subsidies.”

According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia’s emissions are set to increase to more than 50 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 under the current Liberal-National Coalition Government’s climate policies.

The Copenhagen pledge (cutting emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020), even if fully achieved, would allow emissions to be 26 per cent above 1990 levels of energy and industry global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

It is to be noted that coal is Australia’s second largest export, catering to around 30 per cent of the world’s coal trade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that coal is good for humanity. His government has dumped the carbon tax and it is scaling back the renewable energy target.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth and final report has said that use of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply.

Dr. Hill sees new economic opportunities for indigenous communities in energy production, carbon sequestration, GHG abatement and aquaculture. “Climate adaptation provides opportunities to strengthen indigenous ecological knowledge and cultural practices which provide a wealth of experience, understanding and resilience in the face of environmental change,” she told IPS.

With the predicted change in sea level, traditional hunting and fishing will be lost across significant areas. A number of indigenous communities live in low-lying areas near wetlands, estuaries and river systems.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Elaine Price. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

“These areas are important culturally and provide a valuable subsistence source of food, particularly protein, unmet by the mainstream market,” said Andrew Picone, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Northern Australia Programme Officer.

Picone suggests combined application of cultural knowledge and scientific skill as the best opportunity to address the declining health of northern Australia’s ecosystems. Recently, traditional owners on the Queensland coast and WWF-Australia signed a partnership to help tackle illegal poaching, conduct species research and conserve threatened turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group together represent custodians of about a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home.

“Our younger generation is losing the knowledge of indigenous plants and birds. This knowledge is vital to preserving and protecting our ecosystem,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: How Shifting to the Cloud Can Unlock Innovation for Food and Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 12:57:25 +0000 Andy Jarvis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138266 Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

By Andy Jarvis
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The digital revolution that is continuing to develop at lightening speed is an exciting new ally in our fight for global food security in the face of climate change.

Researchers have spent decades collecting data on climate patterns, but only in recent years have cost-effective solutions for publicly hosting this information been developed. Cloud computing services make the ideal home for key climate data – given that they have a vast capacity for not only storing data, but analysing it as well.Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

This rationale is the basis for a brand new partnership between CGIAR, a consortium of international research centres, and Amazon web services. With 40 years of research under its belt, CGIAR holds a wealth of information on not just climate patterns, but on all aspects of agriculture.

By making this data publically available on the Amazon cloud, researchers and developers will be empowered to come up with innovations to solve critical issues inextricably linked to food and farming, such as reducing rural poverty, improving human health and nutrition, and sustainably managing the Earth’s natural resources.

The first datasets to move to the cloud are Global Circulation Models (GCM), presently the most important tool for representing future climate conditions.

The potential of this new partnership was put to the test this week at the climate negotiations in Peru, when the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) hosted a 24 hour “hackathon”, giving Latin American developers and computer programmers first access to the cloud-based data.

The challenge was to transform the available data into actionable knowledge that will help farmers better adapt to climate variability.

The results were inspiring. The winning innovation from Colombian team Geomelodicos helps farmers more accurately predict when to plant their crops each season. Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

The prototype programme combines data on historical production and climate trends, historical planting dates with current climate trends and short-term weather forecasts, to generate more accurate information about optimal planting dates for different crops and locations. The vision is that one day, this information could bedisseminated via SMS messaging.

Runners up Viasoluciones decided to tackle water scarcity, a serious challenge for farmers around the world as natural resources become more scarce. Named after the Quechua goddess of water, Illapa, the innovation could help farmers make better decisions about how much water to use for irrigating different crops.

The prototype application combines climate data and information from a tool that directly senses a plant’s water use, to calculate water needs in real-time. In times of drought, this application could prove invaluable.

Farmers are in dire need of practical solutions that will help protect our food supply in the face of a warming world. Eight hundred million people in the world are still hungry, and it is a race against time to ensure that we have a robust strategy for ensuring these vulnerable people are fed and nourished.

By moving agricultural data to the cloud, developing innovations for food and farming will no longer be dependent on having access to expensive software or powerful computers on internet connection speeds.

Making sense of this “big data” will become progressively easier, and one day, farmers themselves could even take matters into their own hands.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Glaciers and Fruit Dying in Peru with no Response from COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:14:06 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138248 Cayetano Huanca, who lives near the Ausangate glacier in the department of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes mountains. In just a few years, the snow and ice could be gone, something that has happened on other glaciers in the country. Credit: Oxfam

Cayetano Huanca, who lives near the Ausangate glacier in the department of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes mountains. In just a few years, the snow and ice could be gone, something that has happened on other glaciers in the country. Credit: Oxfam

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Snow-capped mountains may become a thing of the past in Peru, which has 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. And farmers in these ecosystems are having a hard time adapting to the higher temperatures, while the governments of 195 countries are wrapping up the climate change talks in Lima without addressing this situation facing the host country.

Some 100 km from a glacier that refuses to die – the Salkantay mountain in the department of Cuzco – there is a monument to passion fruit, which hundreds of local farmers depend on for a living, and which they will no longer be able to plant 20 years from now, according to projections.

The monument, which is in the main square in the town of Santa Teresa, near the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, shows a woman picking the fruit and farmers carrying it on their backs, cutting the weeds, and hoeing.“It’s important to assess how the retreat of the glacier affects the local population, to know how they can adapt, because the loss of these snow-capped peaks is irreversible.” -- Fernando Chiock

That scene frozen in time reflects real life in Santa Teresa, where passion fruit (Passiflora ligularis) grows between 2,000 and 2,800 metres above sea level. But due to the rising temperatures, farmers will have to move up the slopes. And once they reach 3,000 metres above sea level, they won’t be able to plant passion fruit anymore.

“There is a strong impact in this area because the locals depend on the cultivation of passion fruit for their livelihoods,” environmental engineer Karim Quevedo, who has frequently visited the Santa Teresa microbasin as the head of the agro-meteorology office of Peru’s national weather service, Senamhi, told IPS.

That microbasin is one of the areas studied by Senamhi as part of a project of adaptation by local populations to the impact of glacier retreat. The glacier that is dying next to the town of Santa Teresa is Salkantay, which in the Quechua indigenous language means “wild mountain”.

Salkantay, at the heart of the Vilcabamba range, supplies water to local rivers. But in the last 40 years the glacier has lost nearly 64 percent of its surface area, equivalent to some 22 sq km, according to the National Water Authority (ANA).

“It’s important to assess how the retreat of the glacier affects the local population, to know how they can adapt, because the loss of these snow-capped peaks is irreversible,” the head of the climate change area in ANA, Fernando Chiock, told IPS.

Both Chiock and Quevedo said it was crucial to take into account the direct effects on the local population and to prioritise funding to mitigate the impacts, at the end of the COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – whose final phase was attended by leaders and senior officials from 195 countries.

Monument to passion fruit in the town of Santa Teresa – a crop that local farmers will no longer be able to grow 20 years from now because of the rise in temperatures in this mountainous area of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes. Credit: Courtesy of Karim Quevedo

Monument to passion fruit in the town of Santa Teresa – a crop that local farmers will no longer be able to grow 20 years from now because of the rise in temperatures in this mountainous area of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes. Credit: Courtesy of Karim Quevedo

COP20, which began Dec. 1, was scheduled to end Friday, but is likely to stretch to Saturday.

“What is yet to be seen is how to bring what is agreed at this climate summit to the ground in local areas. One of the challenges is to form connections between the big treaties,” Quevedo told IPS in Voices for the Climate, an event held near the military base in Lima, known as El Pentagonito, where COP20 is being held.

The outlook is alarming, experts say. Since the 1970s, the surface area of the 2,679 glaciers in Peru’s Andes mountains has shrunk over 40 percent, from more than 2,000 sq km to 1,300 sq km, said Chiock.

Some glaciers have already completely disappeared, such as Broggi, which formed part of the Cordillera Blanca, the tropical mountain range with the greatest density of glaciers in the world, which like the Vilcabamba range forms part of the Andes mountains.

Around 50 years ago, Broggi was retreating at a rate of two metres a year, but in the 1980s and 1990s the pace picked up to 20 metres a year.

In 2005, monitoring of the mountain stopped because the surface of the glacier, equivalent to signs of life in a human being, disappeared completely.

Today, glacial retreat in Peru ranges between nine and 20 metres a year, according to ANA. At the same time, the melt-off has given rise to nearly 1,000 new high-altitude lakes, Chiock said.

In the short-term, the appearance of new lakes could sound like good news for local populations. But according to the ANA expert, these new sources of water must be properly managed, to avoid generating false expectations in the communities and to manage the risks posed by the lakes, from ruptured dikes.

Chiock explained that safety works are currently in progress at 35 lakes that pose a risk.

There is a sense of uncertainty in rural areas. New lakes appearing, glaciers dying, hailstorms destroying the maize crop, unpredictable rainfall patterns, heavy rains that affect the potato crop, intense sunshine that rots fruit, insects that hover like bubbles over a boiling pot.

“The climate patterns have changed,” Quevedo said. “You can’t generalise about what is happening; each town or village faces its own problems. But what is undeniable is that the climate has changed.”

Some crops have been affected more than others. With the high temperatures, potatoes have to be planted at higher altitudes because they need cold nights to flourish. In some areas, coffee benefits from intense sunshine, but in others the plants suffer because they also need shade.

The influence of the climate on crops is 61 percent, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

“These minor climate events are the ones that cause the greatest damage to the population, and they are the most invisible to the international community,” Maarten Van Aalst, the director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, who took part in the COP20, told IPS.

He said it shouldn’t take a hurricane sweeping away entire harvests, like in Haiti in January 2010, for governments to sit up and take notice.

But hopes are melting that they will do so before COP20 comes to an end here in Lima.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138241 A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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