Inter Press Service » Climate Change News and Views from the Global South Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:02:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Changing Climate Threatens World’s Smallholder Farmers Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:45:07 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planning Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.


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Q&A: Land Degradation Could Force 135 Million to Migrate in Next 30 Years Tue, 18 Oct 2016 10:30:33 +0000 Manipadma Jena A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI/BONN, Oct 18 2016 (IPS)

One of the critical challenges facing the world today is that emerging migration patterns are increasingly rooted in the depletion of natural resources.

Entire populations are being disempowered and uprooted as the land that they rely on for their survival and for their future no longer provides sustenance.

Many people will move within their own region or to nearby cities, driving unplanned urbanisation. Up to 135 million people are at risk of distressed migration as a result of land degradation in the next 30 years, says a United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) vision document.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) along with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change both envision land rehabilitation and restoration as significant actions in development and addressing climate change.

Governments from all over the world are currently meeting in Nairobi in order to agree on the strategic direction of the Desertification Convention. IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena interviewed Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, ahead of the ongoing fifteenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC15) in Nairobi. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Q: With as many as 170 countries affected by drought or desertification, how could these factors drive conflicts and forced migrations?

A. Two Somali proverbs, nabadiyocaano meaning ‘peace and milk’ and col iyoabaar which means ‘conflict and drought’, illustrate the strong connection between stability and access to pasture and water. The world’s drought-prone and water scarce regions are often the main sources of refugees.

But neither desertification nor drought on its own causes conflict or forced migration. But they can increase the risk of conflict and intensify ongoing conflicts. Converging factors like political tension, weak institutions, economic marginalisation, lack of social safety nets or group rivalries create the conditions that make people unable to cope. The continuous drought and water scarcity from 2006 to 2010 in Syria is a recent well-known example.

Droughts are natural phenomena, they are not fated to lead to forced migration and conflict. Severe droughts also occur in countries like Australia and the United States, but government intervention has made these experiences bearable.

For poor countries where safety nets do not exist, the intervention of the international community is vital.

In Mali, for example, unpredictable and decreasing rainfall seasons have led to a decline in harvests. More and more herders and farmers’ are moving into cities searching for employment. In Bamako, Mali’s capital, population in just over 20 years has grown from 600,000 to roughly   2 million with living conditions becoming more precarious and insecure. As Lagos fills up with those fleeing desertification in rural northern Nigeria, its population now 10 million. Disillusioned, unemployed youth are easy prey for smugglers, organised drug and crime cartels, even for Boko Haram.

Pastoralists face similar challenges when they are compelled to move beyond their accepted boundaries in search of water and pasture and risk clashing with other populations unwilling to share resources. Clashes between pastoralists and farmer are a serious challenge for governments in Somalia, Chad and Niger.

Q: Which other countries are showing signs of vulnerability to extreme droughts in the near future?

A: Drought occurs in almost every climatic region. With climate change, droughts are expected to spread to new areas and to become more frequent and more intense. The vulnerable regions are Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle-East and North Africa, South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, Brazil, India, U.S. and China. In the coming decades, most of the United States, the Mediterranean region, Southwest Asia, Western and Southern Africa and much of Latin America, especially Mexico and Brazil, will face extreme droughts.

The more important question, however, is “who is going to be affected and what can be done about it?” The livelihoods of the poor in developing countries will be the most impacted because they rely heavily on natural resources.  So, more investment is needed to incentivise them to adopt sustainable land management (SLM).

But frankly, the investments we have for land rehabilitation are insufficient. We must also improve land tenure security because farmers with secure ownership are more likely to adopt good practices. Improving access to markets and rural services will create alternative non-farm employment, reducing pressure on land and the impacts of droughts in turn.

Q: A lot now hinges on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) which requires a paradigm shift from ‘degrade-abandon-migrate’ to ‘protect-sustain-restore’. UNCCD aims to achieve LDN by 2030.  Given the tremendous and diverse pressures on land for economic growth, also from large populations in regions like Africa and Asia, where do you see their achievements in 14 years?

A. We want to move from business as usual to a future where the amount of productive land passing from one generation to the next remains stable.

In the current scenario, large numbers of people and a large share of national economies are tied to the land sector, particularly in the developing countries. So any degradation of the land reduces a country’s productivity. Unsustainable land use practices costs Mali about 8 percent of its gross domestic product, for example.

By 2030, along with a higher world population, a large middle class will emerge, accelerating the demand to draw more from these land-based sectors. For Africa and Asia to bridge these gaps, the farmers need to keep every inch of their land productive. This switch to sustainable land management however needs strong government support – to move farmers to scale up these good practices, to recover degraded lands and to prevent losing the most productive lands to urbanisation.

Reforms would move credit, market access and rural infrastructural development to ignite sustainable growth in agriculture. This is what it will take, to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.

The Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative that seeks to restore degraded lands and create green jobs in the land-based sectors is a good example of this vision. The Desertification Convention is working with partners around the world to develop initiatives that are linked to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Q: Which countries are faring better in turning around land degradation and what is the key factor driving this achievement?

A. A 2008 global assessment showed that most of the land restoration since 1983 was in the Sahel zone. But we have seen a rise in global attention to land degradation through diverse initiatives. that include the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change,the Bonn Challenge on Forest and Landscape Restoration and the New York Declaration on Forests. There are also regional initiatives such as Initiative 20×20 in the Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa’s Great Green Wall and initiative AF100, also in Africa.

Once the SDGs were adopted last year, our ambition for 2016 was to have at least 60 countries committing to set voluntary national targets to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. We have surpassed that target. Today, we have more than 100 country commitments.

This achievement is due, in part, to the success of a pilot project that enabled 14 countries to assess and politically communicate the potential returns each would get by reversing land degradation in target areas. Armenia, Belarus and Ethiopia could quantify how they could meet their national obligations under the climate change agreement by pursuing land degradation neutrality.

Some common patterns among the countries that tend to fare better in fighting land degradation and drought (DLDD) is strong government leadership that values the socio-economic benefits accruing to their people and political commitment to make effective policies. They also have active champions of good land use practices which can be NGOs, development and private sector partners as well as small and large farmers.

Q: UNCCD is open to private business funding for projects under LDN. Which type of projects would businesses -for- profit show investment interest?

A. There is a growing appetite in the private sector for sustainable land use projects that can contribute to land degradation neutrality. More industry players have committed to LDN-related initiatives and other environmental targets. Companies committing to reduce the ecological impacts of their commodity supply chains rose from 50 in 2009 to nearly 300 by 2014, Supply Change reported in 2016. Many businesses dealing in agricultural and/or forestry commodities get raw materials from the land, and may be interested in investing in projects that make their supply chains more sustainable.

But there is no dedicated public funding pool investing globally in projects to combat land degradation, and public financing alone is not sufficient to protect our planet’s ecosystems. The private sector needs to step up. This is what created the need and opportunity for a new dedicated funding source –the LDN Fund. It combines public and private capital in support of the SDG target of land degradation neutrality.

The sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry (including agroforestry), land rehabilitation and conservation, and the ecotourism sectors can support profitable investments. Forestry has attracted 77 percent of all capital raised for LDN investments to date. Agriculture is expected to see the strongest increase in investments and to grow by nearly 350 percent by 2021. It is clear that projects that incorporate at least some component of food and/or timber production are more likely to generate a stable cash flow are more appealing to private investors in LDN.

In the developed countries, many of the conservation activities receiving private investment are backed by government legislation. A strong regulatory framework provides certainty to the market and helps to create end buyers. As a result, the investments attract steady flows of private capital.

Q: Do governments need to put in place smallholder-safeguard mechanisms for private investments in land?

A. Safeguard mechanisms that recognise the land rights of smallholders are vital, even when the farmers have no formal tenure. Smallholdings support billions of livelihoods, which makes these households extremely sensitive to land use change.

In developing countries, government policies designed to attract investment are often biased towards large-scale farming, and hardly offer the protection to smallholders require. Private investors should have their own safeguards but governments have a responsibility to implement and enforce mechanisms to protect smallholders. The LDN Fund is designed to align with progressive global environmental and social standards.

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Indigenous Land Rights Bring Economic, not just Environmental Benefits Mon, 17 Oct 2016 03:46:52 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

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

By Lyndal Rowlands
Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Q&A: We Won’t Go Far Until Climate Issues Are Mainstreamed in Policy Fri, 14 Oct 2016 12:10:07 +0000 Charles Mkoka Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Director of Programmes Implementation and Communication, in Nairobi, Kenya during the Second Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Forum. Credit: Charles Mkoka/IPS

Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Director of Programmes Implementation and Coordination, in Nairobi, Kenya during the Second Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Forum. Credit: Charles Mkoka/IPS

By Charles Mkoka
NAIROBI, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

Two years ago at the 31st African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, heads of state and government endorsed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) programme on agriculture and climate change with the bold vision of at least 25 million smallholder households practicing Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) by 2025.

This means sustainable food systems and broad-based social and environmental resilience from the household level up. CSA also supports the aspirations and goals in Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the AU Malabo Declaration as well as the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and COP21 Paris climate agreement.

As a result of farmers embracing Climate-Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

As a result of farmers embracing Climate-Smart Agriculture, some fields are still green and alive even as drought rages in the south of Madagascar. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

IPS correspondent Charles Mkoka caught up with Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Director of Programmes Implementation and Coordination, at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya during the Second Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Forum this week to shade more light on some of the initiatives her institution is implementing. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What does the CSA Alliance bring to agriculture and rural development on the African continent?

A: As you know, 2025 is the African Union decision to reach 25 million farmers that are practicing CSA on the continent in order that agriculture remains relevant to the changing weather and climate patterns.  NEPAD being the technical arm, it is part of our responsibility to translate all the decisions into practical actions on the ground. In that respect we have developed partnership and programmes that are targeted to bring support to farmers.

Q: NEPAD cannot do this mammoth task alone considering its footprint is invisible in some states. In terms of synergy, who are you working with on the ground?

A: In terms of partnership we entered in the NEPAD/International Non Governmental (INGOs) Alliance. This is an alliance between NEPAD and five INGO’s working through communities and community-based groups on the ground. As NEPAD, we cannot be present in every country but we realise the role of subsidiary organisations to work with others who have the first engagement with farmers. The alliance can structure their programmes into providing concentrated support to the farmers. This support would either be providing new technologies of farming, inputs that farmers need or availability of credit. But also to adopt practices that help them cope with weather patterns or adapt to innovations that reduce greenhouse gases.

The second area of partnership is the CSA forum. You have seen the last two days that there is a lot of knowledge but this knowledge is sitting on computers. It is not shared for others to utilize. This platform creates space to bring all those working on agriculture, climate change and climate smart agriculture to share experience and knowledge generated through research.

Q: Can you tell our readers what other programmes you’re involved in at the secretariat level as far as issues of building climate change resilience and rural development are concerned across the continent?

A: Resilience-building among farmers is one target coming out of the Malabo Declaration. The declaration reaffirmed the continent’s resolve towards ensuring, through deliberate and targeted public support, that all segments of our populations, particularly women, the youth, and other disadvantaged sectors of our societies, must participate and directly benefit from the growth and transformation opportunities to improve their lives and livelihoods.

So we are working with member states to review the Agricultural Investment Plans, so that issues of climate change can be mainstreamed in their lives. It is clear that we are not going to go far if we don’t ensure that climate change issues are mainstreamed in national development and sectoral policies.

Zambia, for instance, was an early adopter of conservation agriculture, which is an example of climate smart agriculture. According to reports, farmers – particularly women – appreciated the increase in yields as a result of CSA. Yields have translated into increased income, which has translated into improved social economic conditions for their families.

Peter Mcharo's two children digging their father’s maize field in Kibaigwa village, Morogoro Region, some 350km from Dar es Salaam. Mcharo has benefitted greatly from conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Orton Kiishweko/IPS

Peter Mcharo’s two children digging their father’s maize field in Kibaigwa village, Morogoro Region, some 350km from Dar es Salaam. Mcharo has benefitted greatly from conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Orton Kiishweko/IPS

Q: Despite the experimentally proven results in the case of Zambia as you have stated, why is there low uptake of CSA across the continent?

A: The programmes we have try to address those obstacles. These include land ownership, particularly for smallholder farmers, access to finance, access to technologies to take up CSA techniques are some of the challenges.

So through our Gender Climate Change Agriculture Support Programme we hope to reach a significant number of households and women farmers to contribute to the target.  Furthermore, through our Climate Fund programme, we hope to continue to finance grassroots initiatives for the 2025 target. It is our belief that government themselves will put in place investments that will support farmers in their countries to ensure they take on board interventions on CSA so they withstand and cushion shocks brought  about by climate variability.

Q: More women are involved in food production on the continent. However, data shows that in terms of the policy framework embracing gender dimension little is being done by countries to provide an enabling environment for women participation especially when it comes to land ownership. What is your take on this?

A: I have always said that I think it will always be smart for any government to invest in women and make their condition better.

Even in the difficult conditions that they work, women contribute 80 percent of the food we consume in our households on the continent. True that they use these resources to support their families so that brings social cohesion in our communities and countries.

But also, we want to invest in women in terms of supporting their economic empowerment. They will also increase their political participation and empowerment. It is really important that countries give particular attention to policies that favour women, such as policies that make it easier to form women cooperatives. In some countries to register a women’s cooperative they have to pay more money than if it was a men’s cooperative. Why?

Why that kind of discrimination and inequality? The platform has to be equal for both men and women. So we need to develop policies that cut across the board for all stakeholders.

The issue of land is a big question and challenge. We can learn from other countries such as Rwanda and Ethiopia. These countries have developed policies that allow for co-ownership of land, so that a woman who is married in a village will not be chased away not to farm when the husband dies, for instance.

Q: In your speech, you hinted at the need to utilise local indigenous knowledge in the face of climate change, together with scientific-backed data. Why is this crucial in resilience-building?

A: We tend to forget what we have been doing over the years and get good results from that. Much as it is important to embrace new knowledge from science, I think we have also good knowledge from what our ancestors have been doing over the years. Such kind of knowledge we should document and replicate.

We should believe that our farmers have knowledge. They have ideas that can be used to cope with climate change. In Cameroon, for instance, fishermen when I visited them described what they had noticed over the years in their area. They explained about the changes in the water level, changes in the seasonal patterns. As such we need to engage with farmers. They have rich information and knowledge that can help us as technocrats to make informed decisions as well.

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Six-year-old Australian Girl Uses Video to Reach out to World about Climate Issues Fri, 14 Oct 2016 03:56:07 +0000 Dan Bloom By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

When Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood tweets, the world listens.

And when the 76-year-old writer chanced upon a short video of a 6-year-old girl in Australia named “Ruby, the Climate Kid,” talking about how she admires environmental activists like David Suzuki, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Sir David Attenborough in a YouTube video she made with her mum Natalie, Atwood turned to one of her popular social media platforms – Twitter – and tweeted the link to her 1.3 million Twitter followers.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has also seen the video now and social media is spreading the word tweet by tweet and update by update.

Meet ”Ruby, the Climate Kid,” as she calls herself in the video. With several videos already uploaded to YouTube about protecting the planet and other ecological issues, Ruby plans to continue making short videos in the future and slowly build a fan base, her mum told IPS. These things take time, but with a Tweet from Margaret Atwood making waves across the seas – Atwood also ”Facebooked” theRuby video link– there’s a big future for this young girl with a mind for science.

Ruby is a six-year-old Gamilaraay girl, fiercely passionate about saving the planet and alerting everyone to how dire the situation is, even if they have grown complacent, Independent Australia reported last week, in an article Rubypenned — with a little help from her mother, Natalie Cromb, who serves as the Indigenous Affairs editor for the news publication. According to David Donovan, IA’s editor, the online journal bills itself as “the journal of democracy and independent thought.”

Ruby‘s mum says that, from a very young age, her daughter has been influenced by people like Attenborough, Tyson and Suzuki. And now she has a new friend in Dr Atwood.

Natalie told a reporter:

“She is an avid reader of environmental newsletters and non-fiction books about wildlife. She was appalled to find out that five animals have been declared extinct since she was born and has been determined to make a difference ever since.”

In between school – Ruby is currently in Grade One – saving the planet with YouTube videos and making her parents laugh, she enjoys spending time with her dad and mum, family and friends at their home on Tharawal country.

When Natalie told Ruby the news that a famous Canadian novelist named Margaret Atwood, who was once 6-year-old herself and did science projects with her brother and sister in those long ago days before YouTube existed, Ruby told her mum:

“But she’s so smart, how does she know about me?”

Explaining that Atwood had seen the video online and enjoyed watching it and listening to Ruby‘s words and Tweeted it to her one million followers, Ruby told her mum:

“I hope she likes it and thinks that I have good ideas to save our planet.”

Natalie explained why Ruby makes videos as ”the Climate Kid” and writes about the planet, noting:

”From a very young age, Ruby has shown a demonstrable interest in the world around her and she has observed and learnt a great deal.

”She watches Sir David Attenborough, David Suzuki and Neil deGrasse Tyson documentaries which inspire her and educate her greatly. She has a great affinity for planet life which I think is because of her culture and she genuinely believes she can help save this planet.”

Ruby is now planning to make a short video to speak directly to Margaret Atwood in Canada.

An early peak at the transcript looks something like this, according to sources:

”Dear Margaret Atwood,

I am so happy you saw my video about saving our sick planet. And you Tweeted the link to your one million followers and facebooked the link, too. 

You are so kind. I guess you were six years old once, so you understand me, just a little six year old girl in Australia. I can’t believe you watched my video on Youtube!

I know you care about the oceans, too. You are concerned about our warming oceans and ocean acidification.

I support you, Margaret Atwood. You are my new hero. Thank you. You are 76 and I am six. There is no difference! We are kindred spirits. 

I love you, Margaret Atwood.”

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Hit by Extreme Weather, South Asia Balances Growth and Food Security Thu, 13 Oct 2016 12:46:20 +0000 Amantha Perera A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man rides his bicycle through a dusty village in the Mahavellithanne area, about 350 km northeast of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, where daytime temperatures were hitting 38C this week. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
POLONNARUWA, Sri Lanka, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka is literally baking these days.

During the first week of October, the Metrological Department reported that maximum daytime temperatures in some parts of the country were between 5 to 2C above average. They hit 38.3C in some parts of the North Central Province, a region vital for the staple rice harvest.South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

The prolonged dry spell has already impacted over 500,000 people, with government agencies and the military providing them with safe drinking water brought in from other areas. When those supplies are not sufficient or delayed, the affected communities can buy water from private dealers who sell safe drinking water in one-litre bottles at a price between Rs four to 10 (three to seven cents).

“It has been like this for over three months now,” said Ranjith Jayarathne, a farmer from the region.

Ironically, a little over three months back, the area was fearing floods. In early May, heavy rains brought in by Cyclone Roanu left large parts of the country inundated, caused massive landslides, and left over half million destitute and over 150 dead or missing.

It is not only Sri Lanka that is facing the acute impacts of changing weather. A study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found the entire South Asia region stands to lose around 1.3 percent of its collective annual GDP by 2050 even if global temperature increases are kept to 2 degrees Celsius.

After 2050, the losses are predicted to rise sharply to around 2.5 percent of GDP. If temperature increases go above 2 degrees Celsius, losses will mount to 1.8 percent of GDP by 2050 and a staggering 8.8 percent by 2100, according to the analysis.

Coping is not going to be cheap. South Asia needs around 73 billion dollars annually from now until 2100 to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change if current temperature trends continue.

In its regional update, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that this year, above-average monsoon rains, coupled with a succession of typhoons and tropical storms from June to early August, have caused severe localized floods in several countries in the subregion, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, displacement of millions of people and much damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

Losses of livestock, stored food and other belongings have also been reported. Affected countries include Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

If current climate patterns continue, like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh will face severe fallout. The ADB study said Bangladesh is likely to suffer an annual economic loss from climate risks of about 2 percent of GDP by 2050. That is expected to balloon to 8.8 percent by 2100.

Annual rice production could fall by 23 percent by 2080 in a country where agriculture employs half of the labour force of around 60 million. Dhaka could see 14 percent of its territory underwater in case of a one-metre sea level rise, while the South Eastern Khulna region and the delicate eco-system of the coastal Sundarbans could fare far worse, the report said.

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women wait for water in the village of Chenchuri, in Eastern Bangladesh, about 300 km from Dhaka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Bangladesh’s other South Asian neighbours also face mounting risks, according to ADB assessments.

Nepal could lose as much as 10 percent of GDP by 2100 due to melting glaciers and other climate extremes, while in neighbouring India, crop yields could decline 14.5 percent by 2050, the bank said.

India’s 8,000 kilometre-long coastline also faces serious economic risk due to rising sea level, it said. Currently 85 percent of total water demand for agriculture is met through irrigation, and that need is likely to rise with temperature increases, even as India’s groundwater threatens to run short.

Sri Lanka has already seen its rice and other harvests fluctuate in recent years due to changing monsoon patterns. ADB data warns that yields in the vital tea sector could halve by 2080.

Death and mayhem could be the most visible impact of changing climates, but according to experts, extreme weather events have also caused major disruptions in the island’s agriculture and food sectors.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s rapid development has been scuttled by fickle weather events. Though the country has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2010, “improvements in human development, and the nutritional status of children, women and adolescents have remained stagnant. The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity.”

Nearly 4.7 million (23 percent of the population) people are undernourished, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, and underweight and anaemia affect nearly a quarter of children and women. According to WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, 6.8 million people (33 percent) cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet.

Experts say that despite cyclic harvest losses due to erratic weather patterns in the past decade, Sri Lanka is yet to learn from them. “People are yet to fathom the extent of extreme weather events,” Kusum Athukorala, Co-chair of the UNESCO Gender Panel on the World Water Development Report, told IPS.

Athukorala, who is an expert in community water management, said that Sri Lanka needs a national water management plan that links all relevant national stake-holders and a robust community awareness building programme.

In a classic example of lack of such national coordination, the Irrigation Department is currently reluctant to release waters kept in storage for the upcoming paddy season for domestic use in the drought-hit areas. Department officials say that they can not risk forcing a water shortage for cultivation.

Experts like Athukorala contend that if there was active coordination between national agencies dealing with water, such situations would not arise. She also stresses the need for community level water management. “The solutions have to come across the board.”

Officials in South Asia do understand the gravity of the impact but say that their governments are faced with a delicate balancing act between development and climate resilience.

“Right now, the priority is to provide food for 160 million (in Bangladesh),” said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Forest and Environment. “We have to make sure we get our climate policies right while not slowing down growth.”

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Climate Change Adaptation – Key to Reaching Zero Hunger in Latin America Wed, 12 Oct 2016 19:37:58 +0000 Orlando Milesi Two farmers in Cobquecura in central Chile show visitors changes made in their subsistence crops to withstand the effects of global warming, with the support of public policies to strengthen food security in times of climate change. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Two farmers in Cobquecura in central Chile show visitors changes made in their subsistence crops to withstand the effects of global warming, with the support of public policies to strengthen food security in times of climate change. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Oct 12 2016 (IPS)

Climate change is leading to major modifications in agricultural production in Latin America and the Caribbean, and if mitigation and adaptation measures of the productive system are not urgently adopted, threats to food security will be exacerbated.

This could reverse the significant progress made in the region by means of plans to achieve the Zero Hunger goal, the experts told IPS.

For example, to maintain coffee yields, crops had to be moved from 1,000 to between 1,200 and 2,000 metres above sea level, while many Chilean vineyards had to be moved south, to get more sun and rain.

Large companies can afford to buy other land, but many family farmers find their livelihood at risk and wonder if the time has come to change crops or even to leave their land and move to a city, in order to survive.“If the climate is no longer suitable for production, you have to move to other areas where the agroecological and climate conditions are adequate. For large companies this is not a big problem, but it is for small-scale producers with less technology, lower levels of investment and a more reduced capacity for stockpiling.” -- Adrián Rodríguez

“Climate change puts us in a situation of insecurity. If in the past we were able to more or less estimate average temperatures or humidity for a particular area, now we have lost the capacity to make forecasts based on a certain degree of probability,” Jorge Meza, an Ecuadorian expert in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office, told IPS.

“Considering that the effects could be either positive or negative, it has been estimated that by 2030 the impacts from climate change on the regional economy could reach an average of 2.2 per cent of GDP in damage,” he said.

“Some of the effects could be beneficial, like an increase in rainfall that would mean more water for crops,” said Meza, the senior forestry officer in the Santiago office.

But in general terms, he said, if the losses amount to 2.2 per cent of GDP, “there will be countries with zero economic growth, and beyond the economic factor, there will be a strong social impact, of four to five per cent.”

FAO’s aim is to underscore the links between climate change mitigation and adaptation and food security, with the slogan “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too”, for this year’s World Food Day, celebrated Sunday Oct. 16.

One example to be considered is the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) forecast for Central America.

If the necessary climate change mitigation and adaptation measures are not taken, production of basic grains could be reduced 25 per cent by 2050, the regional U.N. agency estimates.

“This is alarming for two reasons: first because it means a shortage of food, and second because the remaining food – that 75 per cent – will become more expensive. Both phenomena will have an impact on the poor: with less food available, and more costly food, there will be reduced possibilities of access to basic grains.” Meza said.

 A family farm in the state of Rio de Janeiro,Brazil, with a planting system adapted to the manifestations of climate change in the area. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

A family farm in the state of Rio de Janeiro,Brazil, with a planting system adapted to the manifestations of climate change in the area. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Viviana Espinosa, a 60-year-old Chilean woman, grows a variety of crops for family consumption.

At her home in the Cajón del Maipo region, in the foothills of the Andes mountains, about 17 km from Santiago, Espinosa plants food that she puts on her table and also distributes among her children and grandchildren.

“Food is increasingly expensive. For example, the cost of a kilo of tomatoes soared to 2,500 pesos (3.7 dollars) in September. If I plant at home, I not only save that expense, but in addition, I get a natural, organic product, free of pesticides,” she told IPS.

Apart from tomatoes, this married mother of three grows beets, lettuce, carrots and onions.

“My goal now is for everything that I plant to be organic, and I hope the weather will be favourable. In November 2015 heavy rains destroyed everything we planted,” she said.

Climate change is seen in Latin America in some 70 annual weather events, including hurricanes, drought, fires, landslides, and mainly floods, which affect an average of five million people.

Meanwhile, one third of the 625 million people in Latin America live in high-risk areas, exposed to climate events that pose a threat to their livelihood.

At the same time, climate change has more long-term effects, such as declining productivity in agriculture and a greater need to shift crop production areas.

“They say that if you don’t move and continue planting in the same area, you will probably have lower yields, and that could require more inputs or technologies and more resistant seeds,” Costa Rican economist Adrián Rodríguez, head of the Agricultural Development Unit in the ECLAC regional office, told IPS.

“From the point of view of family farming or the production of crops that play an important role in food security, an increase in food prices could affect farmers and consumers,” he said.

He added that there is another effect that has already been seen: the need for relocalisation of productive activities.

“If the climate is no longer suitable for production, you have to move to other areas where the agroecological and climate conditions are adequate. For large companies this is not a big problem, but it is for small-scale producers with less technology, lower levels of investment and a more reduced capacity for stockpiling,” he said.

In 2015, Latin America became the first region in the world to reach the two global anti-hunger goals: the prevalence of malnutrition fell to 5.5 per cent and the total number of malnourished people dropped to 34.3 million.

Thus, the region reached the target set in the Millennium Development Goals – which were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals this year – and also at the last World Food Summit.

However, the challenge now is to reach zero hunger, a goal that could be affected by climate change, which has an impact on the four pillars of food and nutritional security: stability in food production, availability of food, physical access and affordability of food, and adequate use of food.

Meza called for mitigation actions that take into consideration a change in the energy sector towards renewable sources and, in agriculture, a shift towards organic practices, avoiding deforestation, the use of animal waste to generate biogas, and improvements in the diets of livestock with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, among other measures.

Rodríguez said mitigation should start by providing farmers with timely meteorological information while developing varieties of crops more resistant to drought, moisture and variability in availability of water and sunlight, and optimising the use of water with more efficient irrigation systems.

He also proposed strengthening research based on the knowledge of “family farmers and indigenous people, who have traditional varieties better suited to certain climates or soils…It is important to take this knowledge into account.”

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The Beating Pulse of Food Security in Africa Wed, 12 Oct 2016 13:32:18 +0000 Busani Bafana Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MASVINGO, Zimbabwe, Oct 12 2016 (IPS)

Elizabeth Mpofu is a fighter. She is one of a select group of farmers who equate food security with the war against hunger and shun poor agricultural practices which destroy the environment and impoverish farmers, especially women.

Mpofu grows maize, legumes and different beans on her environmentally-friendly 10-hectare farm in Masvingo Province, about 290 kms southeast of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.“Pulses are the perfect food for Africa but their production is challenged by imperfect policies.” -- Charles Govati

Despite a region-wide drought in Southern Africa, she harvested 150 kg of dried beans this year. Although the number was still far less than what she harvests in a good season, dried peas and beans have armed farmers like Mpofu to battle food and nutritional insecurity at the household level.

The dried beans and peas belong to a class of food legumes known as pulses, widely considered a revolutionary food because of their many benefits. Pulses are rich in protein, drought resistant, offer an alternative cash crop and provide a fuel source. They are a perfect food in Africa, challenged by high rates of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, particularly among children under five years old.

The World Food Programme says the African region has the highest percentage of hungry population in the world, with one person in four undernourished, while over a third of children in Africa are stunted.

Celebrating the Year of Pulses

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines pulses as legumes with dry, edible seeds that have low fat content such as chickpeas, kidney beans, butter beans, black eyed peas, lentils, pigeon beans and cow peas among others.

Legumes used as vegetables such as green peas and beans or those used for oil extraction such as soybean and groundnuts are not classified as pulses.

“Pulses are the key to food security and nutrition in Africa, taking into consideration the climate crisis being faced on the continent,” Mpofu told IPS. “Pulses are providing a diversity of food for my family and also are important in improving soil health, especially in promoting an agroecology farming system.”

Pulses on display at a farmer's market in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Pulses are power crops, offering nutritional and income security for farmers in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pulses on display at a farmer’s market in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Pulses are power crops, offering nutritional and income security for farmers in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Mpofu, a member of the International Coordination Committee (ICC) and the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, an international peasants’ movement with a membership over 200 million farmers, is one of six special Ambassadors for the Africa region nominated by the FAO raise public awareness about the contribution of pulses to food security, and the positive impacts they can have on climate change, human health and soil biology.

“Without these pulses a woman cannot call herself a mother of a family because you do not have a complete dish to feed your family,” said Mpofu, a mother of three. “There is need to create awareness of the importance of pulses to build a strong united voice which will enable women to lobby for policies that promote peasant agroecology and food sovereignty.”

Noting that farmers are challenged by lack of information, Mpofu says most have to make do with poor inputs, for example, growing commercial hybrid seeds rather than native varieties that have proven to be resilient for generations.

“The principles of keeping and producing native seeds is our way of advocating for food sovereignty through the promotion of our indigenous seeds and agroecology farming methods, and these principles can work in promoting the growing and consumption of pulses especially in Africa where we face challenges of food insecurity,” said Mpofu.

Recognising the importance of pulses to global food and nutritional security and environmental sustainability, the 68th United Nations General Assembly voted in 2013 to declare 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYOP).

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said at the 2015 launch of IYOP that pulses are important for the food security of millions, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where they are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers.

The IYOP is positioning pulses as a key contributor to meeting Sustainable Development Goal #2 of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition while promoting sustainable agriculture.

In Malawi, farmers like Janet Mingo do not go hungry even when her maize crop fails — which it has done often owing to drought. The reason: protein rich pigeon peas (Cajanus Cajan) Mingo intercrops with maize on her quarter of a hectare plot in Chikalogwe village in the southern Balaka District, one of the driest regions of the country.

Pigeon peas are a nutritious legume which also improve crop yields by fixing nitrogen into the soil. More strategically for Mingo, pigeon peas are a key cash crop. Each season, Mingo harvests up to 1500 kg of pigeon pea from her plot, earning enough money to buy maize and cover other household needs.

“I now sell my maize crop and pigeon peas through the Agriculture Commodity Exchange,” said Mingo, who was introduced to pigeon pea by her local extension officer. “Life is hard but I do not feel the pinch.”

Mphatso Gama, the principal agricultural officer for Machinga Agriculture Development Division in Southern Malawi and a member of the National CA Taskforce, told IPS that farmers who used to rely entirely on maize have diversified into pigeon pea as a second crop. As a result, both their food security and income has improved.

“The drought-resilient pigeon has been a lifesaver,” Mphatso said. “While intercropping the nitrogen-fixing legume with maize has boosted yields, importantly pigeon peas have become a viable cash crop for farmers in Malawi, where it has a ready market and is a good source of protein for families.”

Tapping the trade power of pulses

Gavin Gibson, former executive director of the Global Pulse Confederation, told IPS that pulses are part of the traditional diets of the greater part of the world’s poorest population.

Gibson said of the 60 to 65 million tonnes of pulses produced annually, until very recently only around 7 to 10 million tonnes were traded between countries.  The rest were consumed domestically in countries where pulses are traditionally grown.

India, where pulses have been consumed for thousands of years as a staple food, is the biggest producer and consumer of pulses.  Africa is still finding its feet in ramping up its production of pulses, but is making progress.

“We think that this is likely to change quite quickly for a number of reasons, not least of which is the rapid emergence of new origins in Northern Europe and Africa,” Gibson said.

“We strongly believe — and will be forcefully promoting and driving — the view that increased demand from new market sectors that will rapidly emerge from the work of this group will of necessity force measures to be taken by governments and local communities alike to overcome present logistical and educational barriers in developing countries.”

Pulses, a climate-smart food

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which has developed more than 80 percent of cowpea varieties released to farmers in Nigeria through its breeding programmes, says pulses such as cowpea are an alternative source of protein from the expensive animal sources.

Cowpea – a widely grown food and animal feed legume in the semi arid tropics in Africa and Asia – is one of the most drought-tolerant crops adapted to the dry areas of poor soils. But there is more. Pulses helping fix nitrogen in the soil thrive under uncertain growing conditions, making them climate smart.

“There is no doubt that pulses are very important in food and nutrition security in Africa,” says Christian Fatokun, a cowpea breeder with IITA. “However, they are a part of the solution to food and nutritional security in Africa. Apart from being good sources of plant based protein they also help in providing nitrogen in the soil for companion or following crops because they are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen.”

Radical policies for pulse production

While strategic to ensuring food security in Africa, pulses are not being prioritised as an important crop, argues Charles Govati, a development specialist and chair of the Agriculture Supply Services Consortium (ASSC) in Malawi.

“Pulses are the perfect food for Africa but their production is challenged by imperfect policies,” Govati told IPS. “There too much lip service paid to pulses yet there are challenges of low production, poor soils, pests and diseases which affect their production. Farmers focus on growing more for income and less for food and nutrition, besides we need structured markets in Africa to boost production if we are serious about pulses in ensuring food security.”

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$90tn Infrastructure Investment Could Combat Climate Change: Report Wed, 12 Oct 2016 02:50:44 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Coffee Producers in Costa Rica Use Science to Tackle Climate Change Wed, 05 Oct 2016 18:41:04 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz 2 Making Policy out of Scientific Bricks, not Straw Mon, 03 Oct 2016 20:04:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services]]>

Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 3 2016 (IPS)

Given the enormity of the challenges confronting humanity, the world’s investment in science, technology and innovation is woefully inadequate.

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Zakri Abdul Hamid

That was a key message I helped deliver Sunday September 18 to Ban Ki-moon in a summary report of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board — a group of two dozen scientists from around the world who met with Mr. Ban for one final meeting in New York before he steps down December 31.

In 2014, we had been asked to take stock of global challenges and provide recommendations related to science, technology and innovation (STI) that would enlighten the work and decisions of the United Nations.

And, at the end of our mission, the SAB’s labelled science an essential component – in many cases the bedrock – of an effective strategy for policy and decision-making that deserves to be valued more highly and used effectively at all levels and at three crucial phases: understanding the problems, formulating policies, and ensuring that those policies are implemented effectively. “Science,” the report says, “makes policy out of brick, not straw.”

Science is indeed a “game changer,” a good example being faster-than-expected improvements in the efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines, raising the hope that the world can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels thanks to scientists and engineers. However, to become the game-changer it could be in dealing with nearly all of the most pressing global challenges, science requires more resources.

In fact, all nations must invest more in science technology and innovation. Sadly, today just 12 countries — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America — dedicate the previously recommended benchmark of 2.5% or more of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development (R&D).

This simply is not enough given the literally vital interests at stake. We have called on all countries, even the poorest, to invest at least 1% of their GDP on research. And the most advanced countries should spend at least 3%.

Reinforcing science education, most especially in developing countries, and improving girls’ access to science courses, must also be part of the effort. To ensure a continuing flow of creative scientists, countries should strongly promote education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for all children beginning at an early age.

Meanwhile, science should be accorded greater weight in political decision-making. To quote the report: “Decisions are often taken in response to short-term economic and political interests, rather than the long-term interests of people and the planet.”

Illustrating the point well: almost 25 years passed between the scientific community sounding its first alarm about climate change and the world’s adoption, in December 2015, of the Paris Agreement on that subject.

Enabling fair access to and the effective worldwide use of data has emerged as a new area in which the UN can play an important role.

The burgeoning flow of scientific data – the data revolution – has great potential for good if its availability, management, use, and growth are handled effectively.

The United Nations and its agencies can facilitate the gathering of all types of data while overseeing both quality and access. In its report, the SAB also calls for international collaborative projects in this area.

One other point worth underlining: Science has value beyond issues that are essentially “scientific.” To quote the report: “When tensions arise among nations, their leaders can respond far better if they understand and agree upon the scientific evidence for the root causes of those tensions.”

Our report was presented to Ban Ki-moon by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who chaired the Scientific Advisory Board.

It is hoped that whoever this year earns the trust of UN member nations and assumes the mantle of Secretary-General will promote the messages of this report internationally and help ensure that they’re accorded the importance they deserve.

Link to report:

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To Effectively Combat Climate Change, Involve Women Fri, 30 Sep 2016 16:33:52 +0000 Esther Ngumbi Photo courtesy of Esther Ngumbi.

Photo courtesy of Esther Ngumbi.

By Esther Ngumbi
ATLANTA, Georgia, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

London’s Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames is famously known as the “Ladies Bridge,” for it was built largely by women during the height of World War II.  On another continent, women fighting a different war have built an equally remarkable structure: a 3,300-meter anti-salt dyke constructed by a women’s association in Senegal to reclaim land affected by rising levels of salt water.

These women are on the front-line of the fight against climate change, and their ingenuity and resolve resulted in a singular victory. The project allowed the revitalization of rice-growing activities and the re-generation of natural vegetation over 1,500 hectares, and benefiting over 5,000 people in Senegal.Women are a minority on every major committee of the United Nations’ own top climate change decision making group.

Yet, women continue to be excluded from climate change solutions for agriculture.  A look at United Nations report on female representations in main climate change decision bodies shows that women are a minority on every major committee of the United Nations’ own top climate change decision making group. For example, women hold only 6 percent of positions in the Advisory Board of the Climate Technology Centre and Network. At the same time, women smallholder farmers have limited access to agricultural training, credit, seeds, and inputs – all of which are essential for the development and adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices.

Most affected by climate change are the world’s 1.3 billion poor people, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers, women and their families. Furthermore, women make up an average of 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce and produce as much as 90 percent of the food supply in African countries, where they are also mainly responsible for providing water and fuel for their families.  All this makes them exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Not only does women’s disempowerment prevent us from understanding the true extent to which climate change is disrupting the way of life for our most at-risk communities, it also perpetuates the antiquated narrative that women are victims, rather than agents, of change.

But, as seen in Senegal, women bring novel perspectives and solutions to the fight against climate change. Furthermore, studies have found that women in leadership improve organizations’ financial performance, strengthen the organizational climate, increase corporate social responsibility and reputation, leverage talent and enhance innovation and collective intelligence.  Therefore, across every level of society, women’s leadership in addressing climate change must be supported.

While there are signs of change—including the recently announced appointment of Patricia Espinosa as Executive Secretary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—much remains to be done, whether in the Board room or on the threshing floor.

Small-scale women farmers must beassisted with tools, technologies and other resources to effectively deal with the changing climate. These include portable modern stoves that do not require large amounts of firewood and biogas digesters that can turn waste from animals into gas for cooking.

Water conservation technologies, such as micro-dams, rain storage systems,  and drip irrigation technologies that  grow more crop per drop are a prerequisite for dealing with more variable rainfall. Such climate-smart agriculture techniques could potentially allow small-scale women farmers to grow crops and feed their families throughout the year and avoid the “hungry season.”

When women gain access to such resources and tools on a large scale, whole communities and regions can benefit. In India, for example, the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group and the Women’s Earth Alliance launched a yearlong India Women, Food Security, and Climate Change Training program.  Through this program, women were trained on a wide array of conservation agricultural practices including agroforestry, conservation tillage and mixed farming. These practices strengthen resilience of the land base to extreme events, broaden sources of livelihoods, and have positive implications for climate change adaptation.

As a result of the initiative, over 5,000 women were trained and over 6,000 trees were grown. The trainees were further tasked with implementing what they had learned. Many of the 5,000 trained women launched their own small-scale agribusinesses and continued to be leaders in the fight against climate change, reaching out to more than 750,000 people.

Another example is the work of late Nobel Prize winner Prof. Wangari Maathai. Through the greenbelt movement, she empowered women to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, and provide food and firewood. Since its inception, the organization has planted over 51 million trees, helping to protect Kenya’s forests. This program not only addresses climate change, but it also creates jobs for women while improving water and food security.

Efforts towards empowering women with tools and resources to fight climate change must be intensified and accelerated at local, national and regional levels.  Echoing the words of former President of Finland Tarja Halonen: “Women are powerful agents whose knowledge skills and innovative ideas support the efforts to combat climate change.” Including women in top decision-making organs on issues of climate change and empowering them on ground to take action is essential, and will surely facilitate a more stable and prosperous planet.

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Wave Energy on the Horizon in the Pacific Islands Fri, 30 Sep 2016 14:27:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

Waves are ubiquitous in the more than 20 island states scattered across 165 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. But only this year, following a ground-breaking study by oceanographic experts, are they now seen as an economically viable source of renewable energy in the region.

The significance of the wave energy cost analysis report recently released by the Pacific Community (SPC) is that it presents tangible costs of purchasing, installing, operating and maintaining wave energy devices in the region for the first time and concludes that “the costs of generating energy using waves are on par with other renewable energies, such as wind and solar.”Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed of the Renewable Energy Group, University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji, agrees that ocean energy is an important alternative given “the cost of electricity generation in Pacific Island countries is currently very high, considering that most are dependent on imported fossil fuels.”

In the Cook Islands and Tonga, for example, imported petroleum products account for an estimated 90 percent and 75 percent of the national energy supply respectively, while fossil fuel imports account for about 10 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Yet today only 20 percent of households in the Pacific Islands region, home to more than 10 million people, have access to electricity. Hardship, including poor access to basic services, persists for many islanders with most of the 14 Pacific Island Forum countries not achieving Millennium Development Goal 1, the eradication of poverty.

Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

“Wave energy is available 90 percent of the time at a given site compared to solar and wind energies, which are available 20-30 percent of the time. The power flow in waves is up to five times compared to the wind that generates waves, making wave energy more persistent than wind energy,” Dr Ahmed told IPS.

Waves are formed when wind, as it traverses the ocean, transfers energy to the water.

However, sea conditions vary across the Pacific and optimum sites for pursuing wave energy, according to the report, lie south of latitude 20 degrees South. Specifically French Polynesia, Tonga, Cook Islands and New Caledonia benefit from exposure to the larger southern ocean swells.

The SPC study analysed the costs of using a Pelamis wave energy converter, which is typically installed 2-10 kilometres offshore and capable of meeting the annual electricity demand of about 500 homes.

The cost of generating wave energy is estimated to be 209-467 dollars per MWh (megawatt hour) on Eua Island, Tonga, and 282-629 dollars per MWh in South Raratonga, Cook Islands, comparing well with the cost of solar and diesel generation which can reach a maximum 700 dollars per MWh and 500 dollars per MWh, respectively.

Given the large numbers of Pacific Islanders who live along coastlines and the need for standalone power generation in rural communities, where the power deficit is greatest, “wave energy is certainly one of the strong candidates for powering remote islands,” Dr Ahmed said. In New Caledonia and Fiji only 45.5 percent of the rural population is electrified, declining to 17.8 percent in Vanuatu and 12.6 percent in the Solomon Islands.

Yet Associate Professor Anirudh Singh of the USP’s School of Engineering and Physics, who is also involved in Project DIREKT, the Small Developing Island Renewable Energy Knowledge and Technology Transfer Network, remains cautious about the report’s findings.

“The energy density available in waves is generally quite low in the Pacific compared, for instance, with the Northern Hemisphere countries and, secondly, despite all assurances to the contrary, the technology has still not been adequately market-tested,” Singh commented.

He continued that wave energy would be appropriate for rural coastal communities “once the technology of the single wave energy device has been perfected, but that will take some time.”

Work on ocean energy technology began in the 1970s, but most devices are yet to achieve commercial application, even though prototypes are being tested around the world. The Pelamis, which can produce grid-connected electricity, is only one of two wave energy devices to have reached commercial readiness, the report claims.

New concepts are also being evolved by the USP’s ocean energy research team, including a rectangular Oscillating Water Column (OWC) which channels bi-directional wave flow onto the blades of a Savonius rotor (wind turbine).

“An Oscillating Water Column (OWC) device can be constructed locally with local materials, except for the turbine. Its operation and maintenance costs are also low and it has a very long life. It will certainly compete with other renewable energy sources in locations of good potential,” Dr Ahmed claimed.

Sites with significant wave energy potential include Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, the country’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and nearby Eua Island. The Tonga Government’s strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels includes the renewable options of landfill gas, wind and solar PV without storage. But, according to the country’s Energy Roadmap (2010-2020), ocean energy ‘could provide energy throughout the Tongan archipelago when proven cost effective technology becomes available.’

Numerous challenges will have to be overcome before the potential of ocean energy is transformed into reality, including lack of local technical expertise in renewable energies and securing private sector investment for the commercial scale up of the technology. Building investor confidence, according to the World Bank, also requires clarity from governments in the region on investment options, incentive schemes and associated policy, governance, legal and regulatory frameworks.

The SPC report’s recommendations are yet to be acted upon. But it is now clear that wave energy could play a key role in increasing people’s access to health, education and economic opportunities, particularly in rural coastal communities, and reduce the financial strain of expensive fossil fuels on small Pacific Island economies.

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Take a Deep Breath? But 9 in 10 People Worldwide Live with Excessive Air Pollution! Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:08:51 +0000 Baher Kamal Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre

Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

The warning is sharp and the facts, alarming: 92 per cent of the world’s population live in places where levels exceed recommended limits. And 6.5 million people die annually from air pollution.

And the warning comes from the leading United Nations agency dealing with health, which rolled out its most detailed profile of the scourge ever in a bid to slash the deadly toll.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” the Geneva-based UN World Health Organization (WHO) top environmental official Maria Neira on 27 September said of the new air quality model, which includes interactive maps that highlight areas within countries exceeding WHO limits.

The world’s population reached 7.35 billion last year, according to UN figures.

What to Do Then?

“Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions,” Dr. Neira added.

Nearly 90 per cent of the deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three occurring in the South-east Asia and Western Pacific regions.
“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” WHO’s Assistant Director General Flavia Bustreo said for her part. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last,” she added.

Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. But not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

“The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combating it,” Dr. Bustreo said.
Developed in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom, it represents WHO’s most detailed outdoor air pollution-related health data ever, based on satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3,000 locations, both rural and urban.

Indoor Air Pollution as Deadly as Outdoor Exposure

Some three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6 per cent of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

Ninety-four per cent of the deaths are due to non-communicable diseases – notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

“This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than six million deaths – one in nine of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution,” said Dr. Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

The Ambient Air quality guidelines of WHO limit annual mean exposure to particulate matter with a diametre of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, posing the greatest health risks.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, adopted at a UN summit in 2015, call for substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from air pollution.

The issue of sustainable cities, which is one of the SDGs, will be at the heart of a media and civil society organisations training workshop, organised by IPS and the UN Foundation, scheduled to take place in Quito on October 27-28.

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

The Quito workshop is part of a series of IPS-UNF training events in two European and one Asian country, all of them taking place during October and November, under the common title: Decoding the Future.

Disconnection Between People and the Environment

Anyway, no region is safe. For instance, in prosperous Europe, air pollution, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and disconnection between people and the environment are increasingly affecting human health in the pan-European region, according to the latest report by the UN Environment Programme and the UN Economic Commission in Europe.

The report, which was released on June 8, calls for greater cooperation and a more integrated approach to tackle the transboundary challenges in the pan-European region, which comprises the 53 countries spanning Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia, and Israel.

Of these challenges, air pollution is the greatest threat with more than 95 per cent of the European Union (EU) urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation guidelines, according to latest Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) assessment released today by the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributed to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012, according to the assessment.
UNEP and UNECE have alerted that an urgent shift from incremental to transformational change will help to reverse some of these indicators.

“The GEO-6 assessment for the pan-European region highlights how the transition to an inclusive green economy in the region must be built on resilient ecosystems, sound management of chemicals and clean production systems, and on healthy consumption choices,” Jan Dusik, Head of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe, said.

The report also finds that environmental challenges in the region have become more systemic and complex, while resilience to these will be affected by megatrends largely outside the region’s control.

“This report provides fresh information on the region’s emerging environmental issues and it will help governments shape their future policy,” said UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach.

Other challenges discussed in the assessment include climate change, considered one of the largest threats to human and ecosystem health, and to achieving sustainable development in the pan-European region.

“It is also an accelerator for most other environmental risks, with impacts affecting health through floods, heat waves, droughts, reduced agricultural productivity, exacerbated air pollution and allergies and vector, food and water-borne diseases.”

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Starting Line Draws Nearer for Global Climate Agreement Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:14:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The Paris Climate Agreement is on the verge of coming into force after 31 nations officially deposited their instruments of ratification here Wednesday, more than doubling the number of countries which have joined so far to reach 60.

However the treaty will not yet enter into force, since these 60 countries represent only 48 percent of global carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement requires at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in order for the deal to take effect.

Convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the High Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change brought world leaders together to act upon commitments made to reduce global greenhouse emissions last year.

“What once seemed impossible now seems inevitable. When this year ends, I hope we can all look back with pride knowing that we seized the opportunity to protect our common home,” said Ban to delegates.

Director of Strategy and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Alden Meyer pointed out the significance of the event to IPS, stating: “Political leaders see this as an important issue for their public.”

Similarly, Greenpeace International’s Climate and Energy Policy Advisor Kaisa Kosonen said how “inspiring” it was to see so many countries ratifying the agreement so soon.

“It truly tells you that times have changed. If one compares the process we had at Copenhagen and you think about where we are today when the agreement is looking likely to enter into force…it is giving the agreement a very good start,” she told IPS.

“Getting an agreement on climate change was one of the most difficult tasks the world has ever faced" -- Nick Nuttall, UNFCCC.

During the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009 (COP15) in Denmark, global leaders failed to commit to concrete actions to reduce emissions. The Paris Agreement now obligates governments to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Many believe that the treaty will be ratified by the end of the year, less than a year since the agreement was signed, which would make it the speediest agreement to enter into force.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Spokesperson for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Nick Nuttall to IPS after noting the breakneck speed in which the treaty would come into force.

“Getting an agreement on climate change was one of the most difficult tasks the world has ever faced…that’s a strong political signal that all governments are on board to actually make good on their pledges in Paris.”

Of the countries that have joined are some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions including China and the United States, which together account for over one third of global emissions.

However many of the countries which joined the agreement early, were small island states many of which see climate change as an existential threat. Although these states face increased natural disasters and rising sea levels, their own carbon emissions barely make a dent on a global scale.

China, which represents just over 20 percent of global emissions, has ambitiously committed to reduce carbon dioxide levels by 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The East Asian nation also aims to expand energy consumption coming from non-fossil energy to 20 percent by then. The U.S. meanwhile plans to cut up to 28 percent of the country’s emissions below 2005 levels by 2025.

Meyer commented on the importance of the move by the U.S., stating: “The United States is very wealthy but is obviously not immune as we’ve seen from Superstorm Sandy, the recent flooding in Louisiana, the droughts and heat waves in the West…no country, no community is immune.”

More countries are expected to ratify the agreement by the end of this year including Australia, Canada and the 28 members of the European Union (EU).

If these promises are fulfilled, the agreement will pass the second threshold and go into effect within 30 days.

But this is just the beginning, Nuttall stated. “The Paris Agreement is a framework agreement to combat climate change but it needs some nuts and bolts put in.”

Meyer echoed similar sentiments, telling IPS: “Having the agreement in place is only meaningful if countries implement [the agreement]. It is really actions on the ground that make a difference and the jury is still out on that.”

Nuttall highlighted the need for a “rule book” for member states to put the climate treaty into action, which many hope will be achieved during the upcoming Climate Conference (COP22) in Morocco.

Meyer particularly pointed to the challenge of achieving the two degree Celsius goal, telling IPS that the pledges by themselves do not add up to meet the temperature target. But even if the international community achieves this goal, the impacts of climate change will drastically increase which will require further action.

“The other side of this discussion has to be how we increase resilience to climate impacts and how we help countries and communities that are facing impacts cope with those impacts,” Meyer told IPS.

“This is a moment which we should celebrate, hoist a glass of champagne but get back to work in the morning because there’s still a lot of work to do,” he continued.

Already obstacles are arising as trade policies continue to clash with climate action.

“It’s clear that all policies that still favor fossil fuels or prevent countries from prioritizing renewable clean energy are harmful and should not be supported,” Kosonen said, referring to a new controversial global trade deal Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa).

According to leaked documents, the trade deal under negotiation between the EU and 22 countries may threaten the expansion of clean, renewable energy which could undermine the achievement of the Paris Agreement.

Meyer told IPS it was important for heads of State to engage and ensure that trade deals are “climate compatible.”

However, the world is waiting for the final ratification of the Paris Agreement as it is still uncertain where, how far and how fast it will go.

“The direction is clear, the commitment is clear but…can a family of nations working with the private sector and being supported by cities and regions rev up the action sufficiently quickly that we have a good chance of peaking these emissions very soon? That we will have to wait and see,” Nuttall stated.

Kosonen noted there is no room for complacency.

“Time is not on our side on this. This is the moment when we come together and decide this is what we want to do,” she concluded.

In December 2015, the international community descended on the French Capital of Paris to sign an agreement to reduce global warming. Over 180 countries have signed the agreement.

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Microsensor-Fitted Locust Swarms? Sci-fi Meets Conservation Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:23:08 +0000 Manipadma Jena The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fossil Fuels: At What Price? Wed, 07 Sep 2016 14:06:16 +0000 John Scales Avery The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.]]>

The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.

By John Scales Avery
OSLO, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

We often read comparisons between the prices of solar energy or wind energy with the prices of fossil fuels. It is encouraging to see that renewables are rapidly becoming competitive, and are often cheaper than coal or oil. In fact, if coal, oil and natural gas were given their correct prices renewables would be recognized as being incomparably cheaper than fossil fuels.

A petrochemical refinery in Grangemouth, Scotland, UK.| Author: John from wikipedia | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

A petrochemical refinery in Grangemouth, Scotland, UK.| Author: John from wikipedia | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Externalities in pricing

The concept of externalities in pricing was first put forward by two British economists, Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) and Arthur C. Pigou (1877-1959).

In his book “The Economics of Welfare”, published in 1920, Pigou further developed the concept of externalities in pricing which had earlier been introduced by Sidgwick. He proposed that a tax be introduced to correct pricing for the effect of externalities.

An externality is the cost or benefit of some unintended consequence of an economic action. For example, tobacco companies do not really wish for their customers to die from cancer, but a large percentage of them do, and the social costs of this slaughter ought to be reflected in the price of tobacco.

The true environmental costs of fossil fuel use are much greater than those of smoking. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels within one or two decades, we risk a situation where uncontrollable feedback loops will lead to catastrophic climate change regardless of human efforts to prevent the disaster.

If we do not act very quickly to replace fossil fuels by renewables, we risk initiating a 6th geological extinction event. This might even be comparable to the Permian-Triasic extinction, during which 96 per cent of all marine species and 70 per cent of all vertebrates were lost forever.

Subsidies to fossil fuel companies

Far from being penalized for destroying the global environment and threatening the future of all life on earth, fossil fuel companies currently receive approximately $500,000,000,000 per year in subsidies (as estimated by the IEA).

They use part of this vast sum to conduct advertising campaigns to convince the public that anthropogenic climate change is not real.

Betrayal by the mainstream media

If we turn on our television sets, almost nothing that we see informs us of the true predicament of human society and the biosphere.

John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery

Programs like “Top Gear” promote automobile use. Programs depicting ordinary life show omnipresent motor cars and holiday air travel. There is nothing to remind us that we must rapidly renounce the use of fossil fuels.

A further betrayal by the mainstream media can be seen in their massive free coverage of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is an infamous climate change denier.

Despite the misinformation that we receive from the mainstream media, we must remember our urgent duty to leave fossil fuels in the ground. If threats to the future are taken into account, the price of these fuels is prohibitive.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Believe It or Not, Pulses Reduce Gas Emissions! Tue, 06 Sep 2016 16:55:30 +0000 Baher Kamal A key message of the 2016 International Year of Pulses is that pulses are highly nutritious—the little seeds are packed with nutrients, and are a fantastic source of protein. Photo: Courtesy of FAO

A key message of the 2016 International Year of Pulses is that pulses are highly nutritious—the little seeds are packed with nutrients, and are a fantastic source of protein. Photo: Courtesy of FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

Lentils, beans, chick peas, and other pulses often produce negative “collateral social effects” on people hanging around, just a couple of hours after eating them. But, believe it or not, they contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. How come?

See the facts: it is estimated that globally, some 190 million hectares of pulses contribute to five to seven million tonnes of nitrogen in soils. As pulses can fix their own nitrogen in the soil, they need less fertilizer, both organic and synthetic and, in this way, they play a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And pulses are very popular-the global production of pulses increased from 64 million hectares in 1961 to almost 86 million in 2014.

These facts, which have been developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), also tell that, additionally, when included in livestock feed, pulses’ high protein content contributes to increase the food conversion ratio while decreasing methane emissions from ruminants, thus at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This good news reveals how far this UN specialised agency is concerned about the impact of climate change on food security.

Climate change has a huge impact on global food production and food security, it says. “Changing weather patterns can cause an increase in natural disasters like droughts, floods, hurricanes, which can impact every level of food production.”

Unless urgent and sustainable measures are established, climate change will continue to put pressure on agricultural ecosystems, particularly in regions and for populations that are particularly vulnerable, warns FAO while informing about the so called climate-smart varieties of pulses.

Lovers of peas, pinto beans, lentils and their leguminous cousins can now boost their appetites and cooking skills thanks to a colorful new book featuring recipes from international top chefs passionate about one of the world’s most versatile super foods: pulses. The book was launched in May 2016 by FAO. Photo: Courtesy of FAO

Lovers of peas, pinto beans, lentils and their leguminous cousins can now boost their appetites and cooking skills thanks to a colorful new book featuring recipes from international top chefs passionate about one of the world’s most versatile super foods: pulses. The book was launched in May 2016 by FAO. Photo: Courtesy of FAO

On this, it emphasises the fact that pulses have a broad genetic diversity from which improved varieties can be selected and bred. This diversity is a particularly important attribute because more climate-resilient strains can be developed for use in areas prone to floods, droughts and other extreme weather events.

Pulses and Agroforestry

Added to all the above, agroforestry systems that include pulses such as pigeon peas grown at the same time as other crops, do help sustain the food security of farmers, by helping them to diversify their sources of income, FAO reports.

And “agroforestry systems are more able to withstand climate extremes as pulses are hardier than most crops and help to nourish the soil. When using these systems, farmers see an increase in crop productivity that extends to subsequent crop yields.”

It is significant that the United Nations has declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses and held in April this year in Marrakesh, Morocco, an International Conference on Pulses for Health, Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture in Drylands that came out with the “Morocco Declaration on Pulses as Solutions toFood and Nutrition Security, Agricultural Sustainability and Climate ChangeAdaptation.

The conference gathered world science experts to find a path forward for boosting pulses production in developing countries through measures in science, research for development investments, policy and markets.

The Morocco Declaration recommends to increase global pulses production by 20 per cent from the current level by 2030 through closing the yield gaps, expansion in new niches that include intensification of rice fallows with pulses, and short season windows in existing intensive cropping systems.

It recognises that pulses production has significantly lagged behind the rising demand in the developing world in spite of many benefits of pulses, which are a “win-win for people and the environment – healthier soils, low carbon and water footprints, and greater household nutritional security, while also generating extra income for farmers.”

But What Are Pulses?…

In case you do not have enough information, FAO has elaborated the following set of facts.

To start with, pulses are a type of leguminous crop that are harvested solely for the dry seed. Dried beans, lentils and peas are the most commonly known and consumed types of pulses.

But they do not include crops, which are harvested green (e.g. green peas, green beans)—these are classified as vegetable crops. Also excluded are those crops used mainly for oil extraction (e.g. soybean and groundnuts) and leguminous crops that are used exclusively for sowing purposes (e.g. seeds of clover and alfalfa).

You probably already eat more pulses than you realise! Popular pulses include all varieties of dried beans, such as kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans and broad beans. Chickpeas, cow peas, black-eyed peas and pigeon peas are also pulses, as are all varieties of lentils.

Staples dishes and cuisines from across the world feature pulses, from hummus in the Mediterranean (chick peas), to a traditional full English breakfast (baked navy beans) to Indian dal (peas or lentils).

… And Why Are They Important?

Pulses are essential crops for a number of reasons. They are packed with nutrients and have a high protein content, making them an ideal source of protein particularly in regions where meat and dairy are not physically or economically accessible.

Pulses for sale at Rome's Esquilino market. Photo: Courtesy of FAO

Pulses for sale at Rome’s Esquilino market. Photo: Courtesy of FAO

Pulses are low in fat and rich in soluble fibre, which can lower cholesterol and help in the control of blood sugar. Because of these qualities they are recommended by health organisations for the management of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart conditions. Pulses have also been shown to help combat obesity.

For farmers, pulses are an important crop because they can be both sold and consumed by the farmers and their families. Having the option to eat and sell the pulses they grow helps farmers maintain household food security and creates economic stability.

Furthermore, the nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses improve soil fertility, which increases and extends the productivity of the farmland. By using pulses for inter cropping and cover crops, farmers can also promote farm biodiversity and soil biodiversity, while keeping harmful pests and diseases at bay.

Pulses can contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing dependence on the synthetic fertilisers used to introduce nitrogen artificially into the soil.

Greenhouse gases are released during the manufacturing and application of these fertilisers, and their overuse can be detrimental to the environment. However, pulses fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil naturally, and in some cases free soil-bound phosphorous, thus significantly decreasing the need for synthetic

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Eastern Gorilla, Our ‘Closest Cousin’, Added to Endangered Species List Sun, 04 Sep 2016 22:26:42 +0000 Guy Dinmore Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. Photo courtesy of IUCN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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