Inter Press Service » Climate Change Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:28:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Activists Criticise Offshore Drilling as Obama Prepares for Arctic Summit Sun, 30 Aug 2015 18:06:23 +0000 Leehi Yona Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

A one-day summit taking place here on Aug. 31 hopes to bring Arctic nations together in support of climate action against a backdrop of criticism of offshore oil drilling in the region.

The meeting on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, is being organised by the U.S. State Department and will be attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to address the conference.

The conference comes at a time of significant changes to the ever-shifting Arctic: this year’s forest fires in Alaska reached record highs, blazing so rapidly that many were left unmanaged. Last week, thousands of walruses hauled up on Alaskan shores as the ice they depend on as habitat disappeared.“Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities” – Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska

“The evidence for climate change in the Arctic is visible from space as we observed declining sea ice and melting glaciers, and in the lived lives of Arctic residents who see coastlines eroding from sea level rise and reduced access to traditional foods from the land and sea,” said Ross Virginia, Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College and co-lead scholar of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

“These changes will be more evident to the rest of us,” he added. “The challenge is to learn from the Arctic and to work with the Arctic to adapt and prevent further climate change.”

The GLACIER summit is also taking place at a time of great public focus on the issue of climate change. Critiques of Arctic drilling, as well as the upcoming United Nations climate change negotiations in December in Paris, have helped bring global warming to the political forefront.

“In visiting the U.S. Arctic, President Obama is clearly demonstrating that the United States is an Arctic nation with a stake in the region’s future,” said Margaret Williams, Managing Director of U.S. Arctic Programs at the World Wildlife Fund. “This trip provides the President with the perfect opportunity to define his vision of how all nations should work in unison to manage and conserve our shared Arctic resources.”

The conference has drawn the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which both praise the conference’s potential for ambitious leadership but also criticise Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

“The President needs to align his energy policy with his climate policy and put an end to Shell’s drilling for unburnable oil in the Arctic,” Turnbull said.

Dan Ritzman, Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, stressed that the drilling decision “went against science, common sense, and the will of the people.” Many environmental groups pointed to the irresponsibility of drilling in the Arctic, one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change.

A senior State Department official responded to this criticism on Aug. 28 by stating that many “citizens of Alaska, and in particular, Alaskan natives” desire more drilling in an effort to develop their communities.

However, indigenous activists rejected the official statement. Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska, said: “Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities. Obama needs to start listening to the peoples of the Arctic who oppose Arctic drilling.”

One of the aims of the GLACIER conference is to be a stepping stone towards COP21, the U.N. climate change conference to be held in Paris in December. COP21 hopes to usher in a binding, ambitious agreement on climate change.

Observers said that GLACIER may be an important moment on the road to Paris because it hopes to bring together a small subset of countries – including China, Canada, India, Japan, Russia, the United States and many European nations – which together account for the overwhelming majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Some suggested that the conference could be a moment for these polluting countries to step up their carbon emission reduction commitments.

“On climate change, President Obama has been good, but not good enough,” according to marine biologist Richard Steiner. “The U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent in the next 15 years is about half of what is urgently needed.”

Steiner said: “It is like we are on a sinking boat, taking on two gallons of water a minute, and we are bailing 1 gallon a minute. We are still sinking. We urgently need a U.S. and global commitment at the Paris climate summit of at least 60 percent carbon reduction by 2030. Otherwise, we’re sunk.”

With these challenges ahead, the GLACIER summit has high expectations for international cooperation on climate change. Among the diversity of opinions, one clear message has rung out – the need to engage young people in Arctic climate change discussions

“A real priority should be engaging youth at all aspects of the climate problem – education, research, leadership and activism,” said Virginia. “It is vital that they are ‘at the table’ and that they help shape the questions to be addressed by policy-makers. After all, they have the most at stake.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Water, Climate, Energy Intertwined with Fight Against Poverty in Central America Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:41:18 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
MANAGUA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Central America’s toolbox to pull 23 million people – almost half of the population – out of poverty must include three indispensable tools: universal access to water, a sustainable power supply, and adaptation to climate change.

“These are the minimum, basic, necessary preconditions for guaranteeing survival,” Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, a leading Nicaraguan environmental think tank, told IPS.

These three tools are especially important for agriculture, the engine of the regional economy, and particularly in rural areas and indigenous territories, which have the highest levels of poverty.

Campos stressed that this is the minimum foundation for starting to work “towards addressing other issues that we must pay attention to, like education, health, or vulnerable groups; but first these conditions that guarantee minimal survival have to be in place.”

In Central America today, 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And the region is facing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which the international community will launch in September, with the concept of survival very much alive, because every day millions of people in the region struggle for clean water and food.

Everyone agreed on the vulnerability of the region and its people at the Central American meeting “United in Action for the Common Good”, held Aug. 21 in the Nicaraguan capital to assess the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs are the pillar of the agenda and will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with a 2030 deadline for compliance.

The issues of reliable, sustainable energy, availability and sustainable management of water, and urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts are included in the SDGs. But the experts taking part in the gathering in Managua stressed that in this region, the three are interlinked at all levels with the goal of reducing poverty.

“In our countries, our fight against poverty is complex,” Campos said.

This region of 48 million people, where per capita GDP is far below the global average – 3,035 dollars in Central America compared to the global 7,850 dollars – needs to come up with new paths for escaping the spiral of poverty which entraps nearly one out of two inhabitants.

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

According to the 2012 report “The Economics of Climate Change in Central America” by the U.N. Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “reduction of and instability in the availability of water and of agricultural yields could affect labour markets, supplies and prices of basic goods, and rural migration to urban areas.”

That would have an impact on subsistence crops like maize or beans or traditional export products like coffee, which are essential in the region made up, from south to north, of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. (U.N. agencies also include the Dominican Republic, an island nation, in the region.)

Poverty laid out in the SDGs

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, is divided into two.

The first of the 17 SDGs is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the second is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The sixth is “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, the seventh is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and the 13th is “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

A key area is the so-called Dry Corridor, an arid strip that runs from Guatemala to Costa Rica, which according to experts has grown.

“We are modifying land use, which is associated with the climate phenomenon, and as a consequence the Dry Corridor is not limited to the Corridor anymore: we are turning the entire country into a kind of dry corridor,” Denis Meléndez, executive secretary of Nicaragua’s National Forum for Risk Management, told IPS.

The “Outlook for Food and Nutritional Security in Central America” report published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2014 says this could hinder compliance with the goal of eliminating hunger in the region.

The first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in a global summit in 2000 – now to be replaced by the SDGs – is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, cutting in half the proportion of extremely poor and hungry people by 2015, from 1990 levels.

FAO reported that the countries of Central America have come close to meeting the goal, with the proportion of hungry people being reduced from 24.5 to 13.2 percent of the total, but the percentage is still more than double the Latin American average of 6.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people goes beyond agriculture, access to water, or sustainable energy.

According to ECLAC, two out of three inhabitants of the region live in shantytowns or slums in unsanitary conditions, where climate change will drive up the prevalence of diseases associated with poverty, such as malaria and dengue.

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

“Because climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity is facing at the present and in the coming decades, we have to think about adaptation not necessarily as a cross-cutting issue, but in terms of ‘what goes around, comes around’,” Francisco Soto, the head of El Salvador’s Climate Change Forum, told IPS.

This impact has been acknowledged by governments in the region, and in 2010 the Central American Integration System (SICA) described it in its Regional Climate Change Strategy as a phenomenon that would “make social challenges like poverty reduction and governance more difficult to fight.”

Experts like Andrea Rodríguez of Bolivia stressed at the meeting that every government anti-poverty project should take into account the impacts of climate change.

“If this is not taken into consideration, we won’t be able to find an effective solution, because climate change and development are like twins – they go hand in hand and have to be addressed simultaneously in order for aid and cooperation to be effective,” she told IPS.

Rodríguez, a legal adviser to the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Climate Change Programme, insisted on the need to jointly plan long-term investment in energy infrastructure and sustainable development.

“The only way to combat climate change and contribute to economic development is by leaving aside fossil fuels and looking for cleaner alternatives,” she said.

Civil society organisations grouped in the Central American Alliance for Energy Sustainability (ACCESE) propose small-scale renewable installations as a solution for meeting the growing demand for energy while at the same time empowering vulnerable communities.

In the region, 15 percent of the population does not have electricity, and up to 50 percent cook with firewood, according to figures provided by ACCESE. This portion of the population is mainly found on islands and in remote mountainous and rural areas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: How Will Wall Street Greet the Pope? Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:14:17 +0000 Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson, author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, is President of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), Certified B Corporation

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Millions in the New York City area are excited about Pope Francis’ visit on Sep. 25 to address the U.N. General Assembly as worldwide consensus grows on the need to shift global investments from fossil fuels to clean, efficient, renewable energy in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) scheduled to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Private investments worldwide in the clean energy transition now total 6.22 trillion dollars while successful U.S. students’ divestment networks have forced over 30 college endowments to divest.  Over 200 institutions have divested worldwide, including the U.S. cities of Minneapolis and Seattle, Oxford in the United Kingdom and Dunedin in New Zealand.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, in a faith-based consortium, are calling on Pope Francis to urge divestment for all religious and civic groups.  Islamic Climate Change Symposium leaders cited the Quran earlier this month in calling 1.6 billion Muslims to act in phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.

Backlash from traditional Wall Streeters has joined some U.S. Catholic organisations with millions still invested in fossil energy, fracking and oil sands.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks.

Reuters reports that Catholic dioceses in Boston, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota in the United States have millions of dollars in oil and gas stocks, making up between 5-10 percent of their holdings.  It has been reported that Chicago’s Archbishop Blasé Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, will re-examine over 100 million dollars in fossil fuel investments.

Wall Street is also re-examining its positions on fossil fuels.  A survey of asset managers in Institutional Investor, July 2015, found that 77 percent expected the carbon-divestiture movement to continue and gain momentum.  Yet, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed that the models on climate change “aren’t that good” and has no plans to invest in renewable energy.

Recently, many large companies have been calling for and budgeting for carbon pricing – favoured by most economists.  Britain’s BG Group, BP, Italy’s ENI, Shell, Norway’s Statoil and France’s Total sent an open letter to world governments and the United Nations in June asking them to accelerate carbon pricing schemes.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks

The ethical investing movement now accounts for one-sixth of all holdings on Wall Street and the U.N. Principles of Responsible Investing counts signatory institutions with 59 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Hybrid approaches include venture philanthropy and “impact” investing, while a recent CFA Institute survey found almost three quarters of investment professionals use environmental, social and governance information in their investment decisions.

Against this backdrop, Timothy Smith, pioneer founder of the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and now Senior Vice-President of Walden Asset Management, says that the “visit of the Pope in the wake of his prophetic Encyclical on climate is a clarion call – to ramp up our efforts to combat climate change with concrete actions,” adding that “it’s not the Pope’s job to present a specific game plan for Americans.  That is our job.”

Through ICCR, religious investors have worked for two decades on these issues.  Firms like Walden, Ceres and others have joined up to combat climate change, promoting efficiency and renewable resources.  All this new activity within the climate debate provides the greatest challenge yet to business-as-usual capitalism.

Many financiers in the global casino still see themselves as “masters of the universe” because they control capital flows, most investments, pension funds, influence monetary policies, capture politicians and regulators, while funding friendly academics and think tanks.

The recent jitters of stock markets have again revealed their fragility and the increasing turbulence and volatility caused by computerized algorithms accounting for over half of all activity.  High-frequency trading (HFT), “flash crashes”, are continuing with little regulation.  Foundations are crumbling from these many new challenges as small investors flee. 

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, local and cryptocurrencies, credit unions and cooperative enterprises are flowering along with hybrid start-ups in the “shareconomy” – AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Task Rabbit and the growth of farmers markets, swap sites for tools, clothes and second-hand exchanges.

Many reformers of capitalism try to change its culture, of short term gain and speculative trading.  The U.N. Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System will release its report to the General Assembly on Sep. 25, with global research on current practices and potential reforms.

A promising new effort to mobilise U.S. public opinion is JUSTCapital, founded by luminaries Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and hedge fund philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones.  CEO Martin Whittaker says: “We are addressing some of the core questions affecting capitalism and corporations in the 21st century.  We are applying policy, research and surveys to define ‘just business behaviour’ in the eye of the public, using this definition to evaluate and rank the performance of the largest publicly traded American companies.”

While such caring financiers are quietly exploring reforms, the biggest threat is the fragility of global market structures from automation, algorithms, HFT and artificial intelligence which financiers still believe they can control.

Yet these same computers can now run markets more efficiently than humans.  Matching and trading buy and sell orders in transparent computerised black boxes makes human traders redundant, as well as reducing insider trading, speculating, front-running, naked short-selling, fixing interest rates and today’s widespread greed and corruption.

Capitalism’s greatest challenge is its reliance on rollercoaster national money systems and currencies.  Central bankers and governments’ tools fail along with economic theories as social movements are now aware of money-printing and the politics of money creation and credit-allocation, revealed in all its favouritism and inequalities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Hands Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Climate Change Shrinking Uganda’s Lakes and Fish Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:04:31 +0000 Wambi Michael Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 22 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is reducing the size of several species of fish on lakes in Uganda and its neighbouring East African countries, with a negative impact on the livelihoods of millions people who depend on fishing for food and income.

Studies conducted on inland lakes in Uganda, including Lake Victoria which is shared by three East African countries, indicate that indigenous fish species have shrunk in size due to an increase in temperatures in the water bodies.

“What we are seeing in Lake Victoria and other lakes is a shift in the composition of fish. In the past, we had a dominance of bigger fish but now we are seeing the fish stocks dominated by small fish. This means they are the ones which are adapting well to the changed conditions,” said Dr Jackson Efitre, a lecturer in fisheries management and aquatic sciences at Uganda’s Makerere University.

“So if that condition goes on, he added, “the question is would we want to see our fish population dominated by small fish with little value?”

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive … If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death” – Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO)
In Uganda, the fisheries sector accounts for 2.5 percent of the national budget and 12.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). It employs 1.2 million people, generates over 100 million dollars in exports and provides about 50 percent of the dietary proteins of Ugandans.

Efitre was one of the researchers for a study on ‘Application of policies to address the influence of climate change on inland aquatic and riparian ecosystems, fisheries and livelihoods”, which examined the influence of climate variability and change on fisheries resources and livelihoods using lakes Wamala and Kawi in the Victoria and Kyoga lake basins as case studies.

It also looked at the extent to which existing policies can be applied to address the impacts of and any challenges associated with climate change.

The study’s findings showed that temperatures around the two lakes had always varied but had increased consistently by 0.02-0.03oC annually since the 1980s, and that rainfall had deviated from historical averages and on Lake Wamala – although not Lake Kawi – had generally been above average since the 1980s.

According to the study, these findings are consistent with those reported by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and 2014 for the East African region.

Mark Olokotum, one of the study’s researchers, climate changes have affected the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

“These are fishers who depend on the environment. You either increase on the number of times you fish to get more fish or get more fishing gear to catch more fish. And once that happens, you spend more time fishing, earn much less although the price is high, and there are no fish so people have resorted to eating what is available,” he said.

Olokotum told IPS that the water balance of most aquatic systems in Uganda is determined by rainfall and temperature through evaporation.

He said that about 80 percent of the water gain in Lake Wamala was through rainfall while 86 percent of the loss was through evaporation, resulting in a negative water balance and the failure of the lake to retain its historical water levels.

“Therefore, although rainfall in the East African region is expected to increase as a result of climate change, this gain may be offset by increased evaporation associated with increases in temperature unless the increases in rainfall outweigh the loss through evaporation,” Olokotum explained.

These changes have made life more difficult for people like Clement Opedum and his eight sons who have traditionally depended on lakes as a source of food and income.

Opedum’s living has always come from the waters of Lake Wamala. In the past, sales of tilapia fish from the lake to neighbouring districts were brisk; and some would be bought by traders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, sustaining his family and other fishermen.

Those days are now gone. Over the years, the lake has steadily retreated from its former shores, leaving Opedum and his neighbours high and dry, and faced with the prospect that the lake could vanish entirely.

Charles Lugambwa, another fisherman in the same area, has been obliged to turn to farming, and he now grows yams, sweet potatoes and beans on land that was previously under the waters of the lake.

Lugambwa told IPS that apart from tilapia fish, other species have started disappearing from the lake in 30 or so years he has lived there.  “In 1994, the lake dried up completely but came back in 1998 following heavy rains,” he told IPS. “We used to catch very big tilapia but now they are quite tiny even though they are adult fish.”

Scientists and researchers argue that the causes of lake shrinking include water evaporation, increased cultivation on banks, cutting down of trees and destruction of wetlands, while the reduction in the size of tilapia has been linked to increased lake water temperature as a result of global warming.

Dr Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, senior research officer at the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFFIRI) told IPS that the response to the impacts of climate change in Uganda had been concentrated on crops, livestock and forestry with almost no concern for the fisheries sector.

“It is high time government took the bold step to bring aquatic ecosystems and fisheries fully on board in its climate change responses,” he said.

According to Ogutu-Ohwayo, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the East African Community Policy on Climate Change commit states to building capacity, generating knowledge, and identifying adaptation and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of climate change, however these have barely been implemented.

Ogutu-Ohwayo who was part of the lake study research team, told IPS that Uganda has a water policy which provides for protection and management of water resources, and “we must apply these policies to manage the water resources of lakes Wamala, Kawi and other lakes through integrated approaches such as protecting wetlands, lake shores and river banks and controlling water extraction.”

Like other East African nations, Uganda has relied heavily on capture fisheries, or wild fisheries, with a tendency to marginalise aquaculture as far as resource allocation and manpower development is concerned.

With climate change leading to a decline in the size and stocks of wild fish and capture fisheries, fisheries experts are saying wild fish and capture fisheries from lakes alone can no longer meet the demand for fish, both for local consumption and export.

Fish processing plants around Lake Victoria, for example, are now operating at less than 50 percent capacity, while some have closed down.

Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO), told IPS that aquaculture could be used as one of the adaptation measures to help communities that have depended on fish to supplement capture fisheries.

He noted, however, that the development of aquaculture in most Eastern African countries is constrained by low adoption of appropriate technologies, inadequate investment in research and inadequate aquaculture extension services.

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive and that is why we are asking government to invest in aquaculture,” said Rutaisire. ”If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death,” he warned.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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UAE Wins Hearts and Minds at World Exhibition in Milan Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:44:36 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

By Jaya Ramachandran
MILAN, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

She only turned nine last June. But Mahra Mustafa has become a celebrity at the Expo Milan. She stars as Sara in ‘The Family Tree’, a short film on the UAE’s heritage being screened at the United Arab Emirates pavilion. Sara is in fact the face of young, dynamic and innovative Emirates.

Thousands of Italians and foreign visitors, who throng the UAE pavilion day in and day out, are enchanted by the 12-metre tall sinuous rippled walls that provide an unforgettable experience and give an idea of what the Emirates would offer during the Dubai Expo in 2020.“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities.” -- Nawal Al Hosany

The Dubai Expo from Oct 20, 2020 through Apr 10, 2021, will launch the UAE’s Golden Jubilee celebration and “serve as a springboard from which to inaugurate a progressive and sustainable vision for the coming decades”, according to information posted on its website.

The organisers proudly announce: “This will be the first time that a World Expo is staged in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region.”

While Expo Milan from May 1 to Oct 31 is focussing on ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, Dubai’s World Expo will have ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ as its theme, echoing the powerful spirit of partnership and co-operation that has driven the UAE’s success in pioneering new paths of development and innovation, the organisers say.

“Through this theme, Expo 2020 Dubai will serve as a catalyst, connecting minds from around the world and inspiring participants to mobilise around shared challenges during a World Expo of unprecedented global scope,” the organisers add.

As compared to Expo Milan, which expects to welcome 20 million visitors during six months, Expo 2020 Dubai awaits 25 million visits, 70 per cent from abroad – if only to feel and experience Sara’s ‘The Family Tree’.

“People got so excited seeing movies on Dubai, the feedback we got was that people want to visit before Expo 2020,” ‘The National’, UAE’s English-language publication, quoted Amal Al Kuwaiti, a contract engineer with the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company who worked as a volunteer at the UAE pavilion in Milan.

The architects worked closely with the UAE’s National Media Council to create the pavilion and connect it to the Milan theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, notes The National.

“Many were surprised to see the country with not much water, how people searched for food. Then suddenly they see videos of the Burj Khalifa (a skyscraper in Dubai) and they are thrilled. Even people who have been to Dubai long ago want to see the changes,” he added.

“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities,” Nawal Al Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar, told The National newspaper. He was involved in building the UAE pavilion.

Describing the highlights of the ‘The Family Tree’, the Gulf News writes: Sara is transported back in time, during the generation of her grandparents. Sara gets to live and witness what life was like before modernisation and development in the area, living in the harsh desert conditions, facing many challenges such as finding food and water, and dealing with sandstorms and wild animals.

“The movie’s special effects, story, and professional direction is on par with any Hollywood major production,” claims the Gulf News with some justification.

It is not only the film but also Sara’s rap song that ties in to the Milan Expo theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life: “We have land and food and energy/The sun, the sand and the big blue sea/The people, the animals/I’m beginning to see/Are all interconnected like a tapestry . . .”

The song is for sale on iTunes and the proceeds are going to victims of Nepal’s earthquakes.

When the film The Family Tree ends, visitors are invited to switch to an interactive  ‘Future Talk’, with the presentation being delivered by Sara. The main message of the talk is to encourage people to live their lives in a more sustainable and energy-friendly manner, so that we can have a better future in feeding the planet.

The UAE pavilion also highlights the importance of date palms, a major component of Emirati culture and tradition. The exhibition, ‘The Secret Life of Date Palms’, informs about the date palm features, its form, fruit, hydration, metamorphosis, shade and shadow. As part of the exhibition visitors also get to experience and see the date palms for themselves, with an oasis garden and date palm trees present at the pavilion.

Walking along the sinuous rippled walls, visitors pass by 12 media cubes. These refer to 12 challenges the UAE faces in respect of land, energy, water and food. Then follow the 12 media cubes with 12 solutions. One of the challenges the Emirates face is that it barely gets any rain, and so the solution in providing clean drinking water to its population is through new methods of desalinated seawater using renewable energy.

The media cubes also offer visitors an insight into the UAE and its culture, with five short Discovery films about the UAE. ‘Flavors of the Emirates’ is a short film about the traditional and cultural foods of the UAE.

Another short film, “Helping Feed the Planet”, touches on the UAE’s generous contribution in giving aid to 140 countries around the world, with the short movie going to Ethiopia where schoolchildren are provided with healthy food thanks to a programme funded and organised by Dubai Cares.

Emiratis acting as volunteers and ambassadors at the pavilion are also present to help guide and further explain the culture and history of the UAE, making the tour as interactive as possible for visitors.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Islamic Declaration Turns Up Heat Ahead of Paris Climate Talks Wed, 19 Aug 2015 18:39:07 +0000 Kitty Stapp Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit:

Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit:

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who has taken a vocal stance on climate change, Muslim leaders and scholars from 20 countries issued a joint declaration Tuesday underlining the severity of the problem and urging governments to commit to 100 percent renewable energy or a zero emissions strategy.

Notably, it calls on oil-rich, wealthy Muslim countries to lead the charge in phasing out fossil fuels “no later than the middle of the century.”

The call to action, which draws on Islamic teachings, was adopted at an International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul.

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet,” the Islamic Declaration on Climate statement says.

“This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost…We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavor and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race.”

The symposium’s goal was to reach “broad unity and ownership from the Islamic community around the Declaration.”

Welcoming the declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said, “A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other.

“Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.”

Supporters of the Islamic Declaration included the grand muftis of Uganda and Lebanon and government representatives from Turkey and Morocco.

The UNFCCC notes that religious leaders of all faiths have been stepping up the pressure on governments to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions and help poorer countries adapt to the challenges of climate change, with a key international climate treaty set to be negotiated in Paris this December.

In June, Pope Francis released a papal encyclical letter, in which he called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight against climate change.

The Church of England’s General Synod recently urged world leaders to agree on a roadmap to a low carbon future, and is among a number of Christian groups promising to redirect their resources into clean energy.

Hindu leaders will release their own statement later this year, and the Buddhist community plans to step up engagement this year building on a Buddhist Declaration on climate change. Hundreds of rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis.

The Dalai Lama has also frequently spoken of the need for action on climate change, linking it to the need for reforms to the global economic system.

Interfaith groups have been cooperating throughout the year. The Vatican convened a Religions for Peace conference in the Vatican in April, and initiatives such as our Our Voices network are building coalitions in the run-up to Paris.

Reacting to the Islamic Declaration, the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative Head of Low Carbon Frameworks, Tasneem Essop, said, “The message from the Islamic leaders and scholars boosts the moral aspects of the global climate debate and marks another significant display of climate leadership by faith-based groups.

“Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one. It affects the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone, especially the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities.”

Edited by Kanya D’ Almeida

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Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceans Mon, 17 Aug 2015 19:07:25 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Fishing boats crossing the Chacao Channel off the coast of the Greater Island of Chiloé in Chile’s southern Los Lagos region. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Latin America should assume a position of global leadership by adopting effective measures to protect the oceans, which are threatened by illegal fishing, the impacts of climate change, and pollution caused by acidification and plastic waste.

“The whole world is lagging in terms of effective measures to protect the oceans, and Latin America is no exception,” Alex Muñoz, executive director of Oceana – the world’s largest international organisation dedicated solely to ocean conservation – in Chile, told Tierramérica.

But, he added, “We hope the region will take on a leadership role in this area, creating large protected marine areas, eliminating overfishing and creating better systems to combat illegal and unreported fishing.”

The perfect occasion for that, he said, would be the second international Our Ocean Conference, to be held Oct. 5-6 in Valparaiso, a port city 120 km northwest of Santiago, Chile.“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact.” -- Alex Muñoz

In the conference, 400 government representatives, scientists, members of the business community and environmental activists from 90 countries should “commit to carrying out concrete actions to tackle the grave threats that affect the oceans,” Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz, told Tierramérica.

“The big global themes should be addressed from a broad, inclusive perspective,” the minister said.

The central pillar of the global system for governance of the oceans is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), adopted in 1982, to be completed with a treaty to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction, as the U.N. General Assembly decided in June.

But, the foreign minister argued, “as a complement, we see as indispensable initiatives making possible a more detailed and direct analysis of the efforts that governments are making to protect this valuable resource.”

The first edition of the international conference on oceans, held in 2014 in Washington, gave rise to alliances and voluntary initiatives for more than 800 million dollars, aimed at new commitments for the protection of more than three million square km of ocean.

In Valparaíso, meanwhile, the participating countries will report the progress they made over the last year and undertake new commitments.

“These meetings generate healthy competition between countries to make announcements that otherwise wouldn’t be made,” said Oceana’s Alex Muñoz.

“We only have a few years to curb the deterioration of the ocean, especially of the fish stocks, and these conferences help us accelerate marine conservation policies with a global impact,” he said.

He added that since the 2014 conference, “many governments have been motivated to create large marine parks or to sign accords to fight illegal fishing, like the New York United Nations accord, which hadn’t been ratified for a number of years.”

He was referring to the U.N. accord on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, signed in 1995.

Chile, he pointed out, is one of the countries that signed the agreement after the first Our Ocean Conference.

In this year’s conference in Valparaíso “we hope important announcements will be made on the creation of large new protected marine areas,” said the Oceana director, who added that Chile, as host country, “should set an example with a large marine park in the Pacific ocean.”

Threatened riches

Oceans cover more than70 percent of the planet’s surface, but only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected. Between 50 and 80 percent of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface, and 97 percent of the planet’s water is salty, according to U.N. figures.

Phytoplankton generates about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and the vast variety of highly nutritious products provided by the oceans contributes to global food security.

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Fisherpersons in Duao cove in Chile’s central Maule region. The degradation of the world’s oceans is a threat to the livelihoods of the more than two million small-scale fishers in Latin America. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A study published in April by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the oceans conceal some 24 trillion dollars of untapped wealth.

Oceans are also an inspiration for artists and for poets like Chile’s 1971 Nobel Literature prize-winner Pablo Neruda (1904-1973).

In the poem “The Great Ocean” he wrote: “If, Ocean, you could grant, out of your gifts and dooms, some measure, fruit or ferment for my hands, I’d choose your distant rest, your brinks of steel, your furthest reaches watched by air and night, the energy of your white dialect downing and shattering its columns in its own demolished purity.”

But the WWF study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.

Latin America, where five of the world’s 25 leading fishing nations are located – Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, in that order – is not free from these dangers.

In Chile, 16 of the 33 main fisheries are in a critical situation due to over-exploitation, according to a government report.

Climate phenomena threaten large-scale anchovy fishing in Peru, the world’s second largest fishing nation after China.

Illegal fishing, meanwhile, is jeopardising some species of sharks, like the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), found along Central America’s Pacific coast, as well as the Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides), and sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea).

Foreign minister Muñoz said illegal fishing is a 23 billion dollar industry – “very close to the amount moved by drug trafficking.”

To this is added the severe problem of pollution from plastic waste faced by the world’s oceans. In 2010 an estimated eight million tons of plastic were dumped in the sea, killing millions of birds and marine animals.

Plastic represents 80 percent of the total marine debris in the world’s oceans.

Ocean acidification, meanwhile, is one of the consequences of climate change, and its effects could cause major changes to species and numbers of fish living in coastal areas over the next few years.

The foreign minister stressed that these conferences must continue to be held, due to “the urgent need to protect our seas and to follow up on government commitments and the progress they have made, while they pledge to carry out further actions.”

At this year’s conference, he said, the main focuses will include the role of local island communities and philanthropy at the service of marine protection and conservation, and there will be a segment on governance, exemplified in the system for the regulation of the high seas.

He also announced that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the creator of the initiative, confirmed a third edition of the Our Ocean Conference, to be held once again in Washington in 2016.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Zimbabwe’s Forest Carbon Programme Not All It Seems Fri, 14 Aug 2015 10:47:42 +0000 Ignatius Banda Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The efficacy of attempts to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks in Zimbabwe is increasingly coming under scrutiny as new research warns that the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding.

It all comes down to the question of land and of whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land.

Even where they do “own” land, say researchers, these communities often find themselves competing with other players driven by different economic considerations, nullifying the very ideals being pushed under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

“Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected … multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers” – Ian Scones
Despite the country’s agrarian reform programme, under which land was redistributed to millions of landless local communities, the state remains the biggest landowner, raising questions about community empowerment and the ownership of forests.

With researchers pointing to a spike in the demand for land based not only on rural population growth but also on people reportedly moving to rural areas, there is no doubt that any increase in the rural population brings with it increased demand for natural resources.

“The demand on natural resources for land is growing year on year at a rate which is not sustainable,” says Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, and this will mean reforestation in the millions, with these trees being planted on plots that do not belong to local communities at a time when some farmers are decimating forest cover by using firewood to cure their tobacco.

The promise held out by REDD+ was that through reforestation and by reducing emissions, communities would then have access to or earn certified emission reduction credits to be sold to or traded with the worst polluters to meet their own emission reduction targets, yet it is clear that like any economic transaction, those who owns the means of production profit most.

Land is still owned either by the state or big business, with little cascading to the “bottom billion” as some economists have called the world’s poor, and landowners and the rich industrialised countries benefit at the expense of rural communities.

According to Ian Scoones, co-editor with Melissa Leach of a recently published book titled Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa, “carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected.”

Scoones says that “multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects is not straightforward.”

On Zimbabwe’s REDD+ project, which has covered 1.4 million hectares under Carbon Green Africa, Scoones says that “as notional ‘traditional’ and ‘administrative’ owners of the land, they [rural communities] should have the authority. But they are pitched against powerful forces with other ideas about resource and economic priorities.”

Civil society organisations (CSOs) here argue that this explains why rural communities get the shorter end of the stick.

Meanwhile, a recent brief from Zimbabwe’s climate ministry noted that “rich countries have barely kept the promise” of meeting their pledges, casting doubts on whether rural communities will in fact trade any anticipated carbon credits for cash.

The rural poor could well be saying “show us the money” by 2020, the year targeted in Cancun, Mexico, for emission reduction pledges.

Climate and environment ministry officials agree that land ownership under REDD+ has remained a sticking point in its dialogue with CSOs on how local communities may derive premium dividend from forest carbon projects.

“CSOs represent the interests of local communities and lack of safeguards has made this issue an area of divergence between governments and CSOs,” says Veronica Gundu, acting deputy director in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

“They (CSOs) are pushing for clarity on land ownership and the benefits to the local communities because they view the current regime of implementation to be beneficial only to the project implementers and leaving out the locals,” Gundu told IPS.

However, Wentzel of Carbon Green Africa which is implementing Zimbabwe’s sole REDD+ project in the Zambezi valley, told IPS: “As it stands the people of these districts are the rightful beneficiaries of revenue generated from their natural resources even if they are not titled land owners.”

Edited by Phil Harris 

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Tiny Island Nation Pleads for Global Moratorium on New Coal Mines Thu, 13 Aug 2015 16:03:21 +0000 Thalif Deen Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses the High-level Event on climate change in July 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses the High-level Event on climate change in July 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen

The tiny island of Kiribati in the Central Pacific, with a population of about 103,000, has long been identified as one of the U.N. member states threatened with physical extinction due to sea-level rise triggered largely by climate change.

Expressing these fears, Kiribati President Anote Tong has called on world leaders, on the eve of a summit meeting at the United Nations next month, for “a global and immediate moratorium on all new coal mines and coal mine expansions.”“I have now seen first-hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati. It is not some scientific modelling or projection - it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse." -- Kumi Naidoo

In a letter to the leaders of the 193 member states, he has urged them to back his call to action in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks in December.

Speaking on behalf of “a nation faced with a very uncertain future”, he says: “It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour.”

“The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 (Conference of Parties) in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions now will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical,” he says in the letter.

The president, who is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on September 30, already has strong backing from Greenpeace International,

Asked how coal and coal mining impacts on climate change, Leanne Minshull, Senior Portfolio Manager, Climate and Energy at Greenpeace International, told IPS a third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal.

“And it’s used to produce nearly 40 percent of the world’s power,” she pointed out.

Coal mining, the first step in the dirty lifecycle of coal, causes deforestation and releases toxic amounts of minerals and heavy metals into the soil and water, she said.

“Coal mining’s effects persist for years after coal is removed. Coal also causes damage to people’s health and communities around the world. While the coal industry itself isn’t paying for the damage it causes, the world at large is,” said Minshull.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, including widespread drought, flooding and massive population displacement caused by rising sea levels, she noted, “we need to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C (compared to pre-industrial levels). To do this, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and from there go down to zero.”

The world’s top hard coal producers include China, the United States, India, Australia and South Africa.

Speaking from Kiribati, where is currently on a visit, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Dr. Kumi Naidoo, said the people of Kiribati are refusing to be silenced by reckless governments and corporations that are perpetuating climate change, and which in turn is causing rising sea levels.

“I join President Tong in calling on all leaders of similarly threatened islands to stand together and demand climate justice,” Naidoo said.

“I have now seen first-hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati. It is not some scientific modelling or projection – it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse,” he added.

Asked about the power wielded by the coal mining lobby and corporations that are in the coal mining business, Minshull told IPS the fossil fuel industry as a whole has a long history in the U.S. of disseminating misinformation on the impacts of climate change and using underhanded tactics to gain positive legislative outcomes for their industry.

She said Greenpeace put out an excellent report last year exposing the influence of the fossil fuel industry including coal.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says “for nearly three decades, many of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies have knowingly worked to deceive the public about the realities and risks of climate change.”

Their deceptive tactics are now highlighted in seven “deception dossiers“— collections of internal company and trade association documents that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.

Naidoo said, “We know the science and we know the end of the age of coal is coming. Scrambling to dig up more dirty coal can only be driven by ignorance or sheer disregard for the millions of people at risk from burning it.”

“We need international leadership on this issue and a planned retreat from coal involving a just transition for existing workers and developed in consultation with affected communities,” he declared.

An assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed that the sea level rise projected for this century will present ‘severe flood and erosion risks’ for low-lying islands, with the potential also for degradation of freshwater resources.

Every high tide now carries with it the potential for damage and flooding. In some places the sea level is rising by 1.2 centimetres a year, four times faster than the global average.

This means that 80 per cent of coal reserves must remain unused if we are to have any chance at protecting nations like Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Philippines, according to Greenpeace.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Impressive Relief Effort Alleviating Hardship in Flood-Affected Myanmar Wed, 12 Aug 2015 22:48:12 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

With the rainy season still far from over, flood-affected communities in the Sagaing Region and other parts of northern and western Myanmar are preparing for more hardships, while the government continues what the United Nations has called an “incredible” relief effort.

In a statement released on Aug. 12 upon her return from the Kale Township in Sagaing, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Renata Dessallien referred to the people in this Southeast Asian nation of 53 million as being among “the most generous in the world”, adding she was “humbled by the spontaneous public outpouring of solidarity and assistance to flood-affected communities.”

Everyone from ordinary citizen volunteers and residents to NGO workers and celebrities have lent their hand to communities whose homes have been buried under mud and debris, and to families who have lost houses, crops, livestock and most of their belongings.

A situation report issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Aug. 11 revealed that 1.1 million people have been “critically affected” by monsoonal floods and landslides since mid-July, while 689,000 acres of farmland have been damaged.

The death toll as of Aug. 10, according to Myanmar’s National Natural Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), stands at 103, but on-going search and rescue operations led by the government may push the number higher.

An estimated 240,000 households have been displaced. Those living in makeshift shelters, cut away from their farmland, are now completely reliant on emergency relief supplies, from food and medicines to shelter and alternative livelihood options.

Aid workers say the biggest priority is ensuring displaced communities have access to healthcare and sanitation facilities, and the government is leading efforts to provide the necessary services and supplies.

Quoting government statistics, OCHA noted that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has so far provided over 390,000 dollars worth of food supplies, relief items and cash assistance.

“Civil society organisations, individual donors and the private sector have provided in kind and cash assistance, contributing over 435,000 dollars as of Aug. 9,” the agency added.

In a bid to ensure longer-term food security in affected areas, the government has announced plans to distribute paddy seeds and other farm machinery and equipment that will help agricultural communities to get back on their feet.

Waters are now receding in many areas, but mud and debris left behind by the floods will need to be cleared; to this end the government will issue specialized equipment, including pumps, to families who rely on the land for subsistence.

The U.N. has already poured 10 million dollars into the effort, representing half the total international response thus far. Among other things, the funds are being used to construct 10,000 emergency shelters, while an estimated 213,000 people have already benefited from food aid.

But increased financing is needed to provide additional services such as psychological counseling for people who have been deeply traumatized by the disaster, and education facilities for children impacted by the closure of roughly 1,200 schools.

While the challenge is daunting, Dessallien expressed optimism that it can be surmounted, stating that the “caring and generosity, dedication and courage” shown by both government officials and civil society “are showing the true spirit of Myanmar.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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Latin America Has Enormous Untapped Potential for Green Infrastructure Wed, 12 Aug 2015 16:59:07 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz One of the 31 wind parks operating in Mexico. By 2020 installed wind power capacity should have climbed to 15,000 MW. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

One of the 31 wind parks operating in Mexico. By 2020 installed wind power capacity should have climbed to 15,000 MW. Credit: Courtesy of Dforcesolar

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

Latin America is facing a two-pronged challenge: double power generation by 2050 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The only solution? Green energy.

Studies show that these two goals could be within the reach of Latin America, because this region still has huge untapped potential in terms of renewable energy.

Along with transportation and land-use change, electricity generation is one of the region’s unresolved challenges in the fight against climate change.

With regard to energy production, Latin America is the planet’s greenest region, due to its long-time emphasis on hydroelectricity. But the question now is how to keep increasing the proportion of renewable energies in the face of growing domestic demand. “When you look at it as a whole, the region’s infrastructure continues to be built like in the 20th century, even though the 21st century has a completely different outlook and requirements.” --- Joseluis Samaniego

“When you look at it as a whole, the region’s infrastructure continues to be built like in the 20th century, even though the 21st century has a completely different outlook and requirements,” Joseluis Samaniego, a Mexican expert who is the director of the Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

Electricity is key to the design of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank study “Rethinking Our Energy Future”, the region will need to increase its installed power capacity two-fold by 2050.
However, it remains dependent on fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas which generate greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

This raises the question of what kind of infrastructure Latin America will include in its energy future. According to the IDB study, Latin America’s renewable energy generation capacity – wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass – is so extensive that only four percent of the total technical potential would be needed to meet the region’s needs by 2050.

But in recent years, the region has invested in dirtier energy sources. Although hydroelectric plants have been the main source of electricity across much of Latin America for decades, the latest figures show that its share is shrinking.

The Itaipú hydropower dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay is the second-largest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Itaipú hydropower dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay is the second-largest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE) reported that it represented just 38 percent in 2013, surpassed by natural gas, which now provides 40 percent.

The countries of Latin America will have to revert that process if they want to set forth more ambitious and realistic targets in their INDCs. Only a robust energy policy will make it possible to set adequate goals, experts agree.

Untapped clean energy potential

Latin America only uses 22 percent of its hydropower potential. Experts say that in the future, countries in the region will need to do more to tap the potential of their rivers and other clean energy sources, to make their energy mix more sustainable and diversified.

A study published in 2008 by REN21, a global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network, said hydropower could be overtaken by other sources in the region, like solar and wind.

The countries in the region have a hydroelectric potential of 2.8PWh (petawatt-hour), surpassed by geothermal (nearly three PWh), wind (11 PWh) and solar (close to 31 PWh).

That potential is enormous compared to regional demand. In 2014 the countries of Latin America consumed a total of 1.3 PWh of electricity and experts expect demand to be less than 3.5 PWh by 2050.

So far, only Mexico has formally presented its INDCs, while Chile, Colombia and Peru have shown progress.

All countries must present their national commitments by Oct. 1, to be incorporated in the new binding universal treaty to be approved at the December climate summit in Paris.

“Latin America, like the rest of the world, should focus on developing electric power infrastructure with renewable sources and with the least possible environmental impact, in an attempt to depend less and less on fossil fuels,” Santiago Ortega, a Colombian engineer who specialises in renewable energy sources, told IPS.

Ortega, who is also a professor at the Engineering School in the northwest Colombian region of Antioquia, called for a balance in renewable energy generation between local, less-invasive projects and megaprojects like large dams that make it possible to store up energy, providing a reliable supply.

“Financial resources will always be scarce, and they must be invested in the most intelligent way possible,” said Ortega.

Otherwise, the global energy future will be costly. With a business-as-usual high-carbon economy, about 90 trillion dollars, or an average of six trillion a year, will be invested in infrastructure in the world’s cities, agriculture and energy systems over the next 15 years, according to the New Climate Economy report “Better Growth, Better Climate”.

But the report adds that only around 270 billion dollars a year would be needed to accelerate the global transition to a low-carbon economy, through clean energy, more compact cities, better public transport systems and smarter land use.

Experts like Costa Rican economist Mónica Araya say “the shift that is happening around the world, and we won’t be an exception, is towards energy diversification and decentralisation.”

But electricity is only part of the region’s energy mix, where fossil fuels still reign supreme.

OLADE figures from 2013 indicate that oil represents 49 percent of primary energy in the region, natural gas 26 percent, and coal seven percent.

Only six percent of primary energy comes from hydropower. Biomass, nuclear and other renewable sources complete the picture.

What does Latin America do with 80 percent fossil fuels, if the electricity supply is largely green?

According to Pablo Bertinat, director of the Observatory of Energy and Sustainability at the National Technological University in Argentina, nearly half of that energy goes to the transport sector.

“In transport, infrastructure is key,” Bertinat told IPS. “A large part of the public monies in the region goes into infrastructure works largely aimed at consolidating energy-intensive modes of transportation.”

As an example, Bertinat pointed out that while 75 percent of cargo in Argentina is moved by truck, the proportion is just 20 percent in France or the United States, which put a priority on rivers or railways.

Changes are also needed in cities, and Araya calls for modern, clean collective public transport, with electrification of private fleets of taxis or cargo vehicles.

“We lack imagination,” Araya, who heads the Costa Rican think tank Nivela, told IPS. “Neither the political class nor the business community have woken up to the need to invest in clean, modern public transit and cargo transport.”

These efforts in the energy industry will also require proposals from other fields. The main regional sources of greenhouse gases are land use and forestry (47 percent), followed by the energy industry (22 percent), agriculture (20 percent), and garbage (three percent).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Protests Greet Japan’s Relaunch of Nuke Power Mon, 10 Aug 2015 22:41:50 +0000 Kitty Stapp A reporter stands at a roadblock outside Fukushima's 20 kilometre exclusive zone in March 2011. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

A reporter stands at a roadblock outside Fukushima's 20 kilometre exclusive zone in March 2011. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Protesters rallied outside Japan’s Sendai nuclear plant a day ahead of its planned opening and four years after the Fukushima disaster galvanised opposition to nuclear power in the country.

In a statement, Kyushu Electric Power Co. said it will begin bringing online the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai facility on Aug. 11, start power generation as early as Aug. 14 and return it to normal operations next month.

“We will continue to seriously and carefully cooperate with the country’s inspections, making safety our top priority, cautiously advancing the restart process,” the company said in the statement.

However, local activists say that there is no adequate plan in place to quickly evacuate tens of thousands of residents in the event of a Fukushima-style meltdown.

Triggered by a massive March 2011 earthquake, Fukushima was the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

It led to a complete shutdown of Japan’s nuclear power plants in 2013, which will end Tuesday, if the Sendai facility opens as planned.

Nuclear power had previously provided 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.

Although the new plant meets overhauled safety regulations, opponents point out that Japan records more earthquakes than any other country — and the reactor that opens tomorrow is 60 kilometres from an active volcano in the country’s northwest.

“There are schools and hospitals near the plant, but no one has told us how children and the elderly would be evacuated,” Yoshitaka Mukohara, a representative of a group opposing the Sendai restart, told the Guardian.

“Naturally there will be gridlock caused by the sheer number of vehicles, landslides, and damaged roads and bridges.”

The Shinzo Abe government’s energy plan relies heavily on nuclear power, setting a goal to have it meet more than 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs by 2030.

“We believe it is important for our energy policy to push forward restarts of reactors that are deemed safe,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

But Jan Vande Putte, a specialist in radiation safety and an energy campaigner with Greenpeace Belgium, notes that, “Japan has been nuclear-free for over a year, and no electricity blackouts have occurred. The Japanese government should turn its back on nuclear power and instead opt for an energy policy based on improving energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy.

“This would protect its citizens from a repetition of the horrors of Fukushima and set the country on track to meet its climate commitments by 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Caribbean Artists Raise Their Voices for Climate Justice Mon, 10 Aug 2015 12:13:37 +0000 Kenton X. Chance Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Award-winning St. Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte says human beings would treat the environment differently if they see the Earth as their "mother". Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Award-winning St. Lucian poet and playwright Kendel Hippolyte thinks that Caribbean nationals should view the Earth as their mother.

“For me, the whole thing is so basic: the earth that we are living on and in is our mother and there are ways that we are supposed to treat our mother and relate to our mother,” the 64-year-old, who has won the St. Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold) for Contribution to the Arts, told IPS.“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us -- 1.5 to Stay Alive!" -- Didacus Jules

Caribbean residents are expected to accord the highest levels of respect to their mothers. Therefore, Hippolyte’s approach could see many of the region’s nationals engaged in more individual actions to adapt to and mitigate against climate change.

“And if we deal with our mother as a person is supposed to deal with his or her mother, then so much falls into place,” Hippolyte tells told at a climate change conference last month dubbed “Voices and Imagination United for Climate Justice”.

Hippolyte is one of several artists from across the Caribbean who have agreed to use their social and other influences to educate Caribbean residents about climate change and what actions that they can take as individuals.

The conference focused on the establishment of an informal grouping of Caribbean artists and journalists who will be suitably briefed and prepared to add their voice — individually or collectively — to advocacy and awareness campaigns, with an initial focus on the climate change talks in Paris in December.

The artists include Trinidad and Tobago calypsonian David Michael Rudder, who is celebrated for songs like “Haiti”, a tribute to the glory and suffering of Haiti, and “Rally ‘Round the West Indies”, which became the anthem of Caribbean’s cricket.

British-born, Barbados-based soca artist Alison Hinds and Gamal “Skinny Fabulous” Doyle of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have also signed on to the effort.

Ahead of the 2015 climate change summit in Paris this year, Caribbean negotiators are seeking the support of the region’s artists in spreading the message of climate justice.

They say that the region has contributed minimally to climate change, but, as small island developing states (SIDS), is being most affected most its negative impacts.

Countries that have contributed most to climate change, the argument goes, must help SIDS to finance mitigation and adaption efforts.

St. Lucia’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, James Fletcher, told IPS that at the world climate change talks in Paris this year, SIDS will be pushing for a strong, legally-binding climate accord that will keep global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels.

Caribbean negotiators have put this redline into very stark terms, using the rubric “1.5 to stay alive”.

If global temperature rise is capped at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation temperatures, most countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) — a 15-member bloc running including Guyana and Suriname on the South American mainland, Jamaica in the northern Caribbean, and Belize in Central America — will still see their total annual rainfall decrease between 10 and 20 per cent, Fletcher says.

And even with a 2-degree Celsius cap, the Caribbean is projected to experience greater sea level rise than most areas of the world, he tells IPS.

He says that some models predict that a 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures will lead to a one-metre sea level rise in the Caribbean.

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Caribbean negotiators say capping global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialisation levels is necessary to protect infrastructure, such as in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

This will translate to the loss of 1,300 square kilometres of land — equivalent to the areas of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines combined, Fletcher told IPS.

Over 110,000 people, a number equivalent to the population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, will be displaced.

In a region highly dependent on tourism, 149 tourism resorts will be damaged, five power plants will be either damaged or destroyed, 1 per cent of all agricultural land will be lost, 21 airports will be damaged or destroyed, land surrounding 21 CARICOM airports will be damaged or destroyed, and 567 kilometres of roads will be lost.

The countries of the Caribbean, famous for sun, sea and sand, have at the national level been rushing to implement mitigation and adaptation measures.

But Hippolyte believes that there is much that can be done at the individual level and says while a lot of information is available to Caribbean nationals, there needs to be a shift in attitude.

“A lot of the information about what we need to do is out there, but in a way, it is here, it is in the brain,” he says, pointing to his head.

“And to me, where I see the arts coming in, and where I see myself and other artists coming in to take the information, the knowledge,” he says, pointing again to his head, “and to bring it here — into the heart,” he says.

“And if that information goes into the heart, then it goes out into the hands and into the body into what we do and what we actually don’t do,” Hippolyte tells IPS.

Speaking at the climate justice event, Didacus Jules, director general of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a nine-member political and economic sub-group within CARICOM, told IPS that “justice lies in the protection of the vulnerable whether they be the individual poor or the marginal state”.

Most of the infrastructure in small island development states is along the coast and threatened by sea level rise, Jules points out.

“The negative impacts of climate change are also influencing how we interact with each other as a people given that we have to compete for limited resources,” he tells IPS.

“The climate justice message must therefore be spread in every corner of this region (the Caribbean) and not only promoted by global media that does not always have the interests of SIDS at the forefront.”

He says that Caribbean artists can play a role in spreading the message of climate justice.

“We have seen the power of our Caribbean artists and musicians. Caribbean music is a global force with an impact outlasting any hurricane that we have experienced,” Jules said.

He said that despite the vulnerabilities and challenges that SIDS face, “rallying in the region by using our voices can send a strong signal to let the world know that we are fully aware of the implications of not having a legally binding international agreement on climate change and the impacts it can have on SIDS in our region.

“The bottom line is that the impacts of climate change threaten our very existence,” Jules tells IPS.

“We will clamour if we must, but they will hear us — 1.5 to Stay Alive! The Alliance of Small Island States has made it clear that it wants below 1.5° Celcius reflected as a long-term temperature goal and benchmark for the level of global climate action in the Paris agreement this year,” Jules said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Road to Paris and the Path to Renewable Energy Fri, 07 Aug 2015 20:33:25 +0000 Jed Alegado

Jed Alegado (@jedalegado) is a climate campaigner based in the Philippines. He holds a master's degree in Public Management from the Ateneo School of Government and is also one of the climate trackers for Adopt a Negotiator's #Call4Climate campaign.

By Jed Alegado
MANILA, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

Renewable energy is now being seen by many people around the world as a cost-effective development solution both for developed and developing nations. Countries have slowly been realising that the use of coal and the huge amount of carbon emissions it generates harms the environment and impacts our daily activities.

Jed Alegado

Jed Alegado

In fact, according to Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century, “last year, for the first time in 40 years, economic and emissions growth have decoupled”.

“If you look back 10 years ago, renewable energies were providing 3 per cent of global energy, and now they provide something close to 22 per cent, so that has really sky-rocketed,” noted Lins.

This is being led most obviously by countries like Uruguay, which aims to generate 90 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015, and Costa Rica, which maintained 100 percent renewable energy generation for the first 100 days of this year.

These countries are not alone and are fast becoming the norm rather than the ‘alternative’. Even small developing countries such as Burundi, Jordan and Kenya are leading the world in investments in renewable energies as a percentage of GDP.Recently, the Philippine government gave the go-ahead for the construction of 21 coal-powered projects despite President Aquino’s promise in 2011 to “nearly triple the country’s renewables-based capacity."

Philippines’ dependence on coal

In 2008, the Philippines has enacted the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 aiming to “increase the utilization of renewable energy by institutionalizing the development of national and local capabilities in the use of renewable energy system…and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.”

However, after seven years of its implementation, the Philippines hasn’t yet fully maximised the use of renewable energy, according to Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), an NGO based in the Philippines promoting the use of local science and technology practices.

Recently, the Philippine government gave the go-ahead for the construction of 21 coal-powered projects despite President Aquino’s promise in 2011 during the launch of the Philippine government’s National Renewable Energy Plan to “nearly triple the country’s renewables-based capacity from around 5,400 MW in 2010 to 15,300 MW in 2030.”

In the next five years, the new coal plants that are expected to be constructed are the following: Aboitiz company Therma South Inc.’s 300-megawatt(MW) plant in Davao City (2016); the 400-MW expansion of Team Energy’s Pagbilao coal-fired power plant in Quezon (2017); the 600-MW Redondo Peninsula Energy, Inc. plant in Subic, Zambales (2018); San Miguel Corp. Global’s 300-MW plant in Davao (2017) and a 600-MW plant in Bataan (2016).

While the government has provided incentives to companies to make use of renewable energy, the private sector is not keen on doing so because of the profit generated by coal. Furthermore, they are also looking at the short-term gain of using it – the relatively cheaper price of harnessing the so-called “dirty energy.”

The path to low-carbon development

A report titled “Powering up against Poverty: Why Renewable Energy is the Future” released last week by the international development organisation Oxfam argues that renewable energy is in fact a more affordable energy source than coal for poor people in developing countries.

The report argues that as a result of the changing energy landscape around the world, the decreasing price of renewable energies, and the often remote location of the majority of people who don’t have access to electricity, renewable energy may actually offer a more reliable and effective energy source.

Furthermore, the report stated that, “Four out of five people without electricity live in rural areas that are often not connected to a centralized energy grid, so local, renewable energy solutions offer a much more affordable, practical and healthy solution than coal.”

“But as well as failing to improve energy access for the world’s poorest people, burning coal contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year due to air pollution and is the single biggest contributor to climate change.”

This supports statements made this year by the World Bank, IMF and former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who have all argued that renewable energy and not fossil fuels are key to improving energy access and reducing inequality, especially in developing countries.

The road to Paris and beyond

If the Philippines wants to show to the world that our country is the rallying point against climate change especially in the global climate talks, our government needs to walk the talk on renewable energy. Indeed, climate adaptation practices are not enough. We need to show other countries and lead the way towards climate change mitigation by leading the path to sustainable development and use of renewable energy.

Similarly, countries under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Conference of the Parties must agree on a fair and legally binding agreement in Paris on December. We cannot afford another failed climate negotiations like the one in Copenhagen in 2009 to happen again.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Takes Lead on Climate Change Ahead of U.N. Talks in Paris Fri, 07 Aug 2015 18:38:32 +0000 Nora Happel The Clean Power Plan could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Credit: Bigstock

The Clean Power Plan could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Credit: Bigstock

By Nora Happel

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama formally unveiled the details of his Clean Power Plan (CPP), a comprehensive carbon-cutting strategy he described as “the biggest and most important step…ever taken to combat climate change” in a prior video address posted on Facebook.

As set down in the final rule from Aug. 3 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CPP requires power plant owners to reduce their CO2 emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Between 2005 and 2013, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 15 percent, meaning the U.S. is about halfway to the target."These polluters are resorting to the same dirty and desperate playbook of doomsday predictions they have used since President Nixon first signed the Clean Air Act in 1970." -- Sara Chieffo

States are allowed to create their own plans on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs). Initial versions of these plans will have to be submitted by 2016, final versions by 2018.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, told journalists at a U.N. press conference in New York: “The Plan is an example of the visionary leadership necessary to reduce emissions and to tackle climate change.”

At a meeting between President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Oval Office on Tuesday, the U.N. chief commended Obama’s leadership role in addressing climate change: “I would like to congratulate you and highly commend your visionary and forward leadership announcement of yesterday on a Clean Power Plan. […] The U.S. can and will be able to change the world in addressing [the] climate phenomenon.”

The U.S. is the world’s biggest CO2 emitter after China. Yet, the praise given to Obama for his efforts in cutting CO2 emissions seems to suggest a shift in the perception of the U.S. as one of the largest climate offenders to a model and leader in combating climate change.

The announcement of the plan follows a series of recent diplomatic achievements by the U.S. government such as the Iranian nuclear deal and the normalisation of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Many observers attribute these significant moves by the U.S. president shortly ahead of the end of his presidency to his endeavors in building a legacy on the foreign policy front.

The CPP could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Sara Chieffo, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), told IPS: “This historic plan puts in place the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants – the nation’s single largest source of the pollution fueling climate change.

“When taken together with other major advancements by the Obama Administration, like increasing fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and investments in renewable energy, the Clean Power Plan represents a significant reduction in carbon pollution by 2030, as well as a boon to public health.

“By taking these steps the Obama Administration is demonstrating true leadership in reducing carbon pollution, strengthening the growing movement for global action.”

However, as for the Iran nuclear deal and the agreement with Cuba, Obama’s success in implementing the CPP and the legacy built upon it will be largely dependent on Congress and the courts.

Following widespread criticism, the CPP underwent various modifications until the final rule was published on Monday. Compared to former versions, the final rule is now focusing much more on fossil fuel-fired power plants as CO2 emitters and less on states achieving their targets, as explained by Jody Freeman in an article for Politico.

“[R]evisions to the final rule will make it harder for opponents to argue it intrudes on state sovereignty. This has been one of the highest-profile claims against the draft plan, which asked states to meet individual, state-level emissions targets. But the new structure of the final version lets states meet their obligation simply by applying the EPA’s uniform national rates for coal and gas units to the power plants in their jurisdiction—the most straightforward compliance plan imaginable.”

Prior to the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, legal discussions have centered on another EPA regulation already in place since 2011, the mercury and air toxic standards (MATS) meant to limit hazardous air pollutant emissions from fuel-fired power plants.

In a June 29 ruling on Michigan vs. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the EPA regulation with a 5-4 majority, stating the EPA did not properly consider the costs of the regulation as required by the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the D.C. Circuit for further consultations and proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.

The 2011 initiative by EPA to regulate emissions of toxic air pollutants has been challenged by industry groups and about 20 states. Although the Supreme Court decision can be seen as a major setback for the EPA and its environmental initiative, it also facilitates the Clean Power Plan by preventing the existence of a double-regulation, “[o]ne of the challengers’ primary legal arguments against the Plan”, as pointed out by Brian Potts and Abigail Barnes in a recent Forbes article.

“Ironically, this decision could pave the way for another landmark (and nearly just as expensive) EPA regulation, the Clean Power Plan—but only if the agency lets its beloved mercury rule die on the vine.”

Indeed, there is optimism that the Clean Power Plan in its final version will be able to stand firm in the face of the lawsuits expected to be brought against it.

Sara Chieffo told IPS, “With a coalition of public health officials, faith leaders, businesses, and the millions of concerned citizens from across the country calling for climate action, the only ones challenging the Clean Power Plan are big polluters and their allies in Congress and state legislatures.

“These polluters are resorting to the same dirty and desperate playbook of doomsday predictions they have used since President Nixon first signed the Clean Air Act in 1970. But time and again, history has proven that cleaning up our air is good for our health and our economy.

“We are confident that elected officials across the country are going to side with their constituents’ overwhelming support for climate action, instead of polluters who are putting their profits ahead of our health,” she added.

The announcement of Obama’s Clean Power Plan comes a few months ahead of the much anticipated Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris. As stated by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the U.S. government’s initiative will play a vital role in turning the Conference in Paris into a success.

“President Obama’s leadership by example is essential for bringing other key countries on board and securing a universal, durable and meaningful agreement in Paris in December,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Post-2015 Development Agenda Adopted Amidst Closed-Door Deals Fri, 07 Aug 2015 12:41:13 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala

At about a quarter to seven on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 2, the member states of the United Nations adopted the post-2015 development agenda outcome document, titled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda.”

As governments endorsed the 29-page product resulting from almost two years of transparent and relatively democratic negotiations, the final 48 hours had witnessed a very different story, that of a sharp turn towards closed-door consultations and last-minute bargaining chips.What transpired requires a moment to reflect on the reality of vested interests and deeply unequal power between negotiating governments.

The 2030 Agenda is arguably the most ambitious and expansive development agenda that has ever been set in motion. It will be in effect for 15 years (2015-2030) and is to be implemented on all levels ranging from the global and multilateral level (such as the World Bank), regional (such as regional commissions and funds) and national (both government level and development agencies).

The main meat of the 2030 agenda is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets covering economic, social and environmental issues ranging from inequality, poverty, climate change, infrastructure, energy, industrialisation, consumption and production, health, education, ecosystem, biodiversity and oceans.

These SDGs will be the first global development paradigm to be marked by universality, meaning that all countries are to take action toward sustainable development, including the rich and powerful. This distinguishes the SDGs from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000-2015, which was based on an explicitly donor-recipient model of aid from the rich countries to the poor.

For all 193 governments of the U.N. to come to an agreement on this agenda was a breathtaking feat of conflict and compromise. However, over the first weekend of August, the otherwise open and recorded negotiations went into radio-silence in the back-rooms as the United States reportedly issued an ultimatum without which they refused to adopt the document.

The U.S. wanted to replace the word “ensure” with the word “promote” in two goals that talked about ensuring that the profits and patents reaped from the world’s natural biodiversity are shared fairly with the countries and communities from which they are extracted. The legal agreement on biodiversity clearly states the word “ensure.” By injecting the much weaker word “promote,” the U.S. tried to dilute hard-won legal language to something that is nebulous at best and unenforceable at worst.

This amendment essentially lets rich and powerful countries, whose corporations and research institutions extract the vast majority of biodiversity resources of the world, off the hook from their legal commitments to equitably share benefits and rewards that come from these resources. Developing countries were infuriated because most of this extraction happens in their countries, specifically, from the seeds, plants, forests and land on which most indigenous peoples across the world live in.

The negotiating group of 134 developing countries had repeatedly stated that the global goals were not to be re-opened for negotiation at the last minute, that they were sacrosanct. The fact that this firm position was flagrantly violated as a last-minute take-it-or-leave-it deal filled the air of the U.N. conference room with a palpable distrust and tension. People rushed in and out of conference rooms, furiously whispering in each other’s ears while working day and night to reach a consensus, no matter what.

Similarly, the progressive language on debt was also undermined, reportedly by the European Union this time. Up until the morning of Sunday, Aug. 1, the document said: “We recognize the need to assist developing countries … through debt financing, debt relief, debt restructuring and sound debt management, as appropriate.” This language recognised the sound development economics arguments called for by numerous economists and developing countries, on the urgent need to address external debt if any development goals are to be achieved.

By late afternoon, this was inserted: “Maintaining sustainable debt levels is the responsibility of the borrowing countries…”  Plucked out of the outcome document of the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa last month, this sentence harmfully faults borrowing countries for their debt burdens without due attention on the complex role of lenders and creditors, a point that has been repeatedly emphasised in the Greek case.

It’s a stark regression from the notion of co-responsibility between lenders and borrowers in previous U.N. documents from Monterrey in 2002 and Doha in 2008.

The fear of such retrogression in language from the Addis Ababa document drove developing countries to keep insisting until the last hour that it not be annexed to the 2030 Agenda as developed countries called for. In the end, the Addis Ababa text was not annexed. But the compromise was this sort of selective importation of language. Other attempts were also proposed by developed countries in the final hours but were steadfastly fought back, such as removing reference to “policy space,” arguably the most vital demand of developing countries.

Although policy space is mentioned twice in the 2030 agenda and once in the SDGs, it is qualified with language from the Addis Ababa text in one of these three mentions. This language is: “…while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments.” This negates the very point of policy space, which is to address the very “international rules and commitments” that constrain the ability of a state to formulate and carry out development-oriented policies and pathways.

On the other side of the North-South firewall, African and Arab countries called for the removal of a critical paragraph recognising human rights as a principal aim of sustainable development and a commitment to non-discrimination for all. While the paragraph was saved from this late Friday night intervention, the essential term “discrimination” was scrapped and the word “fulfill” was demoted to “promote.”

Issues such as ethnicity, migration status, culture, economic situation or age as a protected status were also scrapped although “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status” remain.

African and Arab diplomats argued against the recognition of LGBT rights and objected to the inclusion of “all social and economic groups,” while many Latin American countries, the European Union and the U.S. firmly opposed the offense against human and civil rights.

It is now more than two decades since the U.N. reaffirmed the interdependence of human rights and development at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and more than 20 years since the U.N. first recognised sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

The 11th hour turn from openness to opacity reflects a crisis of multilateralism in the world’s primary locus of multilateralism, the U.N. After all, the U.N. is supposed to be the most democratic and universal institution that exists to date, one in which every nation has a vote, unlike the rich country-dominated IMF or World Bank.

The private bilateral consultations over the weekend of Aug. 1-2 were, according to many independent observers, a manufactured crisis that opened the door to text that endangers global development and law.

The problem is that backroom dealings and pressure campaigns have ominous implications for the legitimacy and fairness of international negotiations, not to mention the political will of governments to take the sustainable development goals seriously.

The new global development agenda has powerful potential to make an ambitious and universal dent of urgently needed progress in our economies, societies and environments.  At the same time, process is also important. What transpired this first weekend of August requires a moment to reflect on the reality of vested interests and deeply unequal power between negotiating governments.

(Note: As of Aug. 6, 3:00 p.m., the final outcome document of the post-2015 development agenda has not yet been officially published by the U.N. Secretariat. The last draft available is the Aug.1  draft without the changes noted above.  There is some speculation and concern as to why there is a delay of four days, which is only compounding the lack of transparency in the final hours of negotiation.)

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Making the World’s Indigenous Visible in the SDGs Thu, 06 Aug 2015 23:36:26 +0000 Aruna Dutt Chief Wilton Littlechild, Advisor to the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), addresses a press conference on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Chief Wilton Littlechild, Advisor to the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), addresses a press conference on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Aruna Dutt

As the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples approaches on Sunday, Aug. 9, concerns are growing that they will not fully benefit from the newly drafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a policy brief on the SDGs and the Post-2015 Agenda, the Indigenous Peoples Major Group said that there was a failure to recognise indigenous peoples as distinct groups under the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which resulted in the absence of targeted measures to address their specific situations related to poverty and severely limited favorable outcomes."Disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples are related to dispossession and exacerbated by powerlessness and poverty." -- Roberto Mukaro Borrero

They added that there was also culturally-blind implementation of the MDGs resulting in “inappropriate development programmes for indigenous peoples including discriminatory actions related to education, health and basic services.”

Any project not including the participation of Indigenous Peoples is making their needs invisible. The lack of dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and their participation in any process constitutes the main barrier,” Sandra del Pino, Regional Advisor on Cultural Diversity at the World Health Organization (WHO) for The Americas, told IPS.

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples living in more than 70 countries. They continue to be among the world’s most marginalised population groups, according to the WHO. The need for more participation and inclusion of Indigenous communities and their perspectives is one of the main purposes of the international day.

The health status of indigenous communities varies significantly from that of non-indigenous population groups in countries all over the world, which is one reason why health is the main theme of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“The focus of this international day is to analyse how indigenous people have access to health services, what are the causes of exclusion, and how we can contribute to reduce those gaps existing in child and maternal health, nutrition, communicable diseases, etc.,” says del Pino.

“Children born into indigenous families often live in remote areas where governments do not invest in basic social services such as health care, quality education, justice and participation, and indigenous peoples are at particular risk of not being registered at birth and of being denied identity documents.”

Health is defined in WHO’s Constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, which is similar to the values behind traditional healing systems in Indigenous communities. According to WHO estimates, at least 80 percent of the population in developing countries relies on these traditional healing systems as their primary source of care.

“Many factors have an impact on indigenous populations’ health, including geographic barriers, language, and lack of education,” Del Pino told IPS.

“However, of all the barriers faced by indigenous peoples, it is perhaps the cultural barriers that present the most complicated challenge. This is because there is little understanding of the social and cultural factors deriving from the knowledge, attitudes, and practices in health of the indigenous peoples.”

Roberto Mukaro Borrero, an indigenous Taino leader and representative of the International Indian Treaty Council and the United Confederation of Taino People, told IPS that in order  to create more understanding, there needs to be an increased focus on cooperative and informed partnership building among traditional healers, non-traditional health professionals, health service agencies, organisations, and communities. 

“These partnerships should recognise the clear relationship between the social disadvantages experienced by Indigenous Peoples and their current status of health,” Borrero said. “Disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples are related to dispossession and exacerbated by powerlessness and poverty.”

“Governments must implement the commitments made to indigenous peoples within international agreements such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, among others,” said Borrero.

“These agreements were developed to improve the well-being of indigenous peoples around the world; however, political will including adequate resource allocation is a pre-requisite to success.”

Climate change and environmental hazards also have a disproportionate impact on the health of indigenous peoples.

“In many cases indigenous communities are more exposed to these disasters because they live in most vulnerable and isolated areas,” Del Pino said.

“Another cause of Indigenous peoples being among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change is their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources. For example, in the Amazon, the effects of climate change include deforestation and forest fragmentation, and consequently, more carbon released into the atmosphere, exacerbating and creating further changes.”

She added, “Droughts in 2005 resulted in fires in the western Amazon region. This is likely to occur again as rainforest is replaced by savannas, thus having a huge effect on the livelihoods of the Indigenous peoples in the region. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by vulnerable indigenous communities.”

“The inclusion of target 17.18 of the SDGs –  to improve the quality, coverage and availability of disaggregated data –  is in response to one of the lessons commonly drawn from the MDGs: the need for the SDGs to make visible the most vulnerable populations,” Del Pino said.

It is an essential component to meet the objective of “no one should be left behind” and “no target should be met, unless met for all groups” in the new post-2015 agenda, she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Trans Fat Substitute May Lead to More Deforestation Thu, 06 Aug 2015 17:57:36 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest. Credit: Courtesy of Wetland International

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest. Credit: Courtesy of Wetland International

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Aug 6 2015 (IPS)

Following growing concerns in the United States about the risks of trans fat since 1999, demand for palm oil, a cheap substitute for trans fat, more than doubled over the last decade and is expected to increase, eliciting concerns about deforestation in several Southeast Asian countries that provide 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.

Trans fat is a partially hydrogenated oil added to many frozen and baked goods that improves shelf life and adds flavour. The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed banning trans fat after studies showed it may cause cardiovascular diseases. FDA banned the use of trans fat last month.

The ban, along with the burgeoning demand by China and India, are among the reasons many experts say motivate the rise in demand for palm oil. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global demand for palm oil is likely to grow by 60 percent in 2050 from 1999. Palm oil imports in the United States increased by more than 80 percent since 1999, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Palm oil has a lot of same properties that hydrogenated oil has, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a common replacement,” Lael Goodman, a tropical forest analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists told IPS in an interview. “As companies are looking around on what to use instead of these partially hydrogenated oils, palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil in the market now.”

Palm oil plantations, according to the United Nations Environment Programme and Greenpeace International, is the leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Although United States imports most of its palm oil from Malaysia, Malaysia’s production growth is slowed by limited land and labor, according to USDA. Indonesia has emerged as the largest exporter since 2011.

Source: World Resources Institute

Source: World Resources Institute

The concerns come at a time when Indonesia is expecting to double its palm oil production by 2020 in response to the rise in demand, although it is already suffering from one of the world’s highest deforestation rates.

Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia, strengthened the country’s moratorium against deforestation earlier this year. However, the moratorium, which was introduced in 2011, has failed to control the expansion of oil palm plantations in primary forest and peat lands, according to USDA.

A study by researchers from University of Maryland and World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, D.C. based think tank, revealed that Indonesia lost over 6 million hectares of primary forest from 2000 to 2012, an area half the size of England.

“We don’t have the data for 2014 or 2015 yet and there was a decrease in 2013, but the end result is still that the deforestation rate is at one of the highest rate it’s been in the country’s history,” James Anderson, communications manager for WRI’s Forests Program, told IPS.

The country is also notorious for causing haze pollution in Southeast Asia for forest burning activities that are often linked to land clearing for palm oil plantations.

“Up to 20 percent of land that are on fire have been traced back to palm oil,” Goodman said. “When peat soils are cleared– these are very carbon-rich soils– they can burn for months or even years. It puts a lot of particulate matter into the air that spreads across Asia and it is a huge health issue every year.”

The fires usually peak around September every year. In 2013, Malaysia and Singapore were badly hit by the haze pollution. The Singapore Meteorological Service expects haze pollution from Indonesia to be as bad this year with the incoming El Nino season.

Goodman said companies, under pressure from the public, have begun to focus on deforestation-free palm oil.

“There is a very great corporate attention to where palm oil comes from,” she said. “A lot of those pledges started in 2015, some of them don’t start until 2020. We are really just starting to see what’s going to make a difference hopefully in the next few years.”

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 as a certification body for the production of sustainable palm oil. The nonprofit’s website said that it has over 2,000 members, representing 40 percent of the palm oil industry, and it certifies 20 percent of the world’s palm oil production.

Several companies, such as Dunkin’ Brands, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s have made commitments to purchase deforestation-free palm oil in recent years.

Global Forest Watch (GFW), an initiative convened by WRI, tracks forest fires and forest clearings in Indonesia. The service offers real time maps of deforestation and hotspots for users. According to WRI, companies using the system include Unilever and members of the RSPO.

“A lot of companies lack the tools to actually implement the commitments simply because it is very difficult to trace their supply chains to know if the palm oil is coming from a place that is actually deforested,” Sarah Lake, corporate engagement research analyst for GFW told IPS.

The GFW service, she said, was offered free-of-charge to companies to receive alerts and monitor their land for deforestation or fires.

“Our approach isn’t necessarily to reduce the use of palm oil,” Lake said. “It can be perfectly sustainable. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re sourcing palm oil that isn’t linked to environmentally problematic behaviour.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Taps Private Sector to Fund Development, Advocate Social Causes Wed, 05 Aug 2015 18:56:58 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the International Business Forum of the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development, hosted by the Ffd Business Sector Steering Committee. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the International Business Forum of the UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development, hosted by the Ffd Business Sector Steering Committee. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

When the United Nations seeks outside financial assistance either for development needs or to advocate social causes, it invariably turns to the private sector these days.

Perhaps the most demanding is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appeal to private investors to help the United Nations reach its 100-billion-dollar target per year to battle the devastating consequences of climate change.“We believe that youth can make a difference, especially in the achievement of the post 2015 agenda: but giving voice to them is not enough. It is important to give new generations the tools to make a change.” -- Mariarosa Cutillo of Benetton

But critics have urged the United Nations to double-check the credentials of some of these companies — on issues such as human rights, fair wages, child labour and environmental record — before deciding to collaborate.

Still, on a more modest scale, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) received over 135 million dollars in funds from the business sector between 2009 and 2013 for some of its projects relating to water, energy, healthcare, agriculture and finance and information technology.

A South African company called Mediclave has provided sterilising machines that decontaminate used medical equipment and waste, such as syringes, personal protective suits and gloves, used in treating communicable diseases.

In Liberia, a Japanese company, Panasonic, has distributed its first batch of 240 solar lanterns to health workers in Monrovia, allowing them to work at night.

The UNDP also has a partnership with Svani Group Limited, a Ghanaian vehicle dealership, which has provided over eight armoured vehicles deployed to the UN Mission on Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

And more recently, the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), created under the aegis of the Department of Public Information (DPI) has collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues”, including racial intolerance and xenophobia.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton, a global fashion brand based in Italy.

Benetton has also teamed with U.N. Women in its intense campaign to eliminate gender violence worldwide.

Nanette Braun Chief, Communications and Advocacy at U.N. Women, told IPS Benetton’s UnHate Foundation has been supporting U.N. Women in its advocacy on ending violence against women for the past two years through advertising and social media campaigns.

“We hope to expand the partnership and collaboration in the future,” she added.

Asked about Benetton’s role in advocating U.N. causes, Mariarosa Cutillo, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Benetton Group in Milan, told IPS the main reason is “because, first of all, this is an integral part of the DNA of our company, which has always been in the frontline – often in provocative and very progressive ways – on social issues, including the fight against any form of intolerance and discrimination.”

She pointed out this approach has been consolidated through social projects and communication campaigns, and has been translated also through the establishment of the UnHate Foundation.

Since 2011, the Foundation representing one of the arms of the company has developed social programmes to fight against hate in all its forms, while supporting youth leadership.

“We believe that youth can make a difference, especially in the achievement of the post 2015 agenda: but giving voice to them is not enough. It is important to give new generations the tools to make a change.”

With the UnHate news initiative, in partnership with UNAI/DPI, “we activated youth and gave them a possibility to concretely develop projects on human rights and development.”

Cutillo also cited “another outstanding example of successful support and activation of youth promoted by UnHate Foundation, which is the ‘Unemployee of the Year’ initiative through which the Foundation financed 100 projects and start-ups submitted and implemented by youth coming from all over the world in 2012.”

Unemployee of the Year celebrated young people’s ingenuity, creativity, and their ability to create new smart ways of addressing the problem of unemployment.

In general, she said, “putting people at the centre of our activities is one of the key points of Benetton Group sustainability strategy, of which UnHate Foundation is one of the assets.”

She described it as an example of private/public partnership that can work in an innovative way, by activating new generations and giving them the means to become leaders of change.

Asked if Benetton is planning to get involved in any other U.N. sponsored events in the future,

Cutillo told IPS: “We are presently exploring further joint possible collaboration programmes for the future with UNAI/DPI.”

She also said Benetton has a record of 20 years of cooperation, in different ways, with the United Nations.

More than ever before, “Benetton finds the United Nations as a most crucial partner within the stakeholders’ engagement of our present sustainability strategy.”

She said she sees partnerships with U.N. agencies as “a mutual growth process in our respective roles, where we can bring an active contribution to the achievement of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) by putting in place partnerships that can bring an innovative approach and a real, concrete impact.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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