Inter Press Service » Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 30 Sep 2016 18:39:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 To Effectively Combat Climate Change, Involve Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/to-effectively-combat-climate-change-involve-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-effectively-combat-climate-change-involve-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/to-effectively-combat-climate-change-involve-women/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2016 16:33:52 +0000 Esther Ngumbi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147158 Photo courtesy of Esther Ngumbi.

Photo courtesy of Esther Ngumbi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wave Energy on the Horizon in the Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/wave-energy-on-the-horizon-in-the-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wave-energy-on-the-horizon-in-the-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/wave-energy-on-the-horizon-in-the-pacific-islands/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2016 14:27:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147154 The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Take a Deep Breath? But 9 in 10 People Worldwide Live with Excessive Air Pollution!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/take-a-deep-breath-but-9-in-10-people-worldwide-live-with-excessive-air-pollution/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:08:51 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147149 Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

What to Do Then?

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

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

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

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

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

Indoor Air Pollution as Deadly as Outdoor Exposure

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

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

Disconnection Between People and the Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Starting Line Draws Nearer for Global Climate Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/starting-line-draws-nearer-for-global-climate-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=starting-line-draws-nearer-for-global-climate-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/starting-line-draws-nearer-for-global-climate-agreement/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:14:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147043 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

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

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kosonen noted there is no room for complacency.

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

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

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Microsensor-Fitted Locust Swarms? Sci-fi Meets Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/microsensor-fitted-locust-swarms-sci-fi-meets-conservation/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:23:08 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146984 The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fossil Fuels: At What Price?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fossil-fuels-at-what-price/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fossil-fuels-at-what-price http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fossil-fuels-at-what-price/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 14:06:16 +0000 John Scales Avery http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146830 The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.]]>

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

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

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

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

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

Externalities in pricing

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

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

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

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

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

Subsidies to fossil fuel companies

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

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

Betrayal by the mainstream media

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

John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery

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

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

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

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

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Believe It or Not, Pulses Reduce Gas Emissions!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/believe-it-or-not-pulses-reduce-gas-emissions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=believe-it-or-not-pulses-reduce-gas-emissions http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/believe-it-or-not-pulses-reduce-gas-emissions/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2016 16:55:30 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146814 A key message of the 2016 International Year of Pulses is that pulses are highly nutritious—the little seeds are packed with nutrients, and are a fantastic source of protein. Photo: Courtesy of FAO

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pulses and Agroforestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

But What Are Pulses?…

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

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

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

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

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

… And Why Are They Important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Gorilla, Our ‘Closest Cousin’, Added to Endangered Species Listhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/eastern-gorilla-our-closest-cousin-added-to-endangered-species-list/#comments Sun, 04 Sep 2016 22:26:42 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146779 Four out of six great ape species are now listed as Critically Endangered. Photo courtesy of IUCN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Livestock – Opportunity and Threat for a Sustainable Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america/#comments Sun, 04 Sep 2016 21:37:23 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146775 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/stockbreeding-opportunity-and-threat-for-a-sustainable-latin-america/feed/ 0 U.S. and China Formally Join Paris Agreement in Show of Unityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-s-and-china-formally-join-paris-agreement-in-show-of-unity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-and-china-formally-join-paris-agreement-in-show-of-unity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-s-and-china-formally-join-paris-agreement-in-show-of-unity/#comments Sat, 03 Sep 2016 20:05:11 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146770 The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force. Credit: Bigstock

The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force. Credit: Bigstock

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 3 2016 (IPS)

The world’s super-polluters – the United States and China – have formally joined the Paris Agreement on climate change in a symbolic show of unity.

At a ceremony in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where China is hosting a summit of G20 industrialised nations, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping handed their documents of ratification to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.In contrast to the excitement in Honolulu among the world’s leading environmental activists and scientists, the announcement that Obama had used his executive authority to accede to the Paris Agreement was widely ignored by the major U.S. networks.

The joint move by the U.S. and China, which account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, paves the way for the Paris Agreement forged last December to enter into force, most likely by the end of the year. For the agreement to enter into effect and start to be implemented, at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions need to formally join.

The UN Secretary General praised Obama for his “inspiring” leadership. He said Obama and Xi had both been “far-sighted, bold and ambitious”.

The joint accession by the world’s biggest polluters was enthusiastically welcomed in Honolulu where the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which groups governments and NGOs, is holding a key congress that aims to chart the future path for stopping the planet’s slide into environmental ruin.

“This is a momentous event,” Xavier Sticker, France’s ambassador for the environment, said of the ratification by the U.S. and China. He told IPS it was expected to pave the way for many other countries to follow. But he cautioned that the European Union needs to accede as a bloc and that the internal complexities of national political systems could lead to delays. Belgium requires the assent of seven legislative assemblies, for example. France has already ratified but the UK has not.

Delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress warned that there was a risk for the European Union that the Paris Agreement implementation taskforce would be formed next month without EU involvement.

Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged IUCN delegates representing the global conservation community to lobby governments on what must be done to achieve the Paris Agreement targets on emissions and limiting the rise of global temperatures.

“We are very excited about this good news, for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement. No one had imagined it would be this year,” she said shortly before official confirmation arrived from Hangzhou.

In contrast to the excitement in Honolulu among the world’s leading environmental activists and scientists, the announcement that Obama had used his executive authority to accede to the Paris Agreement was widely ignored by the major US networks in their news bulletins. Ironically, however, there was considerable coverage of Tropical Storm Hermine moving up the east coast of the U.S. on Labour Day weekend, possibly turning back into hurricane force, and also of Hurricane Lester brushing past Hawaii.

“We are here together because we believe that for all the challenges that we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other challenge,” Obama said in a speech in Hangzhou.

“And someday we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet,” he added. “There are no shortage of cynics who thought the agreement would not happen. But they missed two big things: The investments that we made to allow for incredible innovation in clean energy, and the strong, principled diplomacy over the course of years that we were able to see pay off in the Paris Agreement. The United States and China were central to that effort. Over the past few years, our joint leadership on climate has been one of the most significant drivers of global action,” Obama said.

Xi was reported as calling the Paris Agreement a milestone that marks the “emergence of a global government system” for climate change. “Our response to climate change bears on the future of our people and the well-being of mankind,” China’s president said.

The accession of China and the U.S. bring to 25 the number of countries to have ratified so far. Diplomatic pressure is expected to be ramped up on other major polluters, such as India and Russia.

But scientists and activists are warning that the Paris Agreement target of keeping temperature rises “well below” 2 degrees centigrade, with a soft target of 1.5 degrees, is already on its way to being breached as the world records a succession of the hottest months on record.

“What’s needed is comprehensive and urgent action now to slash emissions and build a low-carbon future,” Friends of the Earth commented.

The Paris Agreement also provides for 100 billion dollars a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

The U.S. and China have set widely differing targets on carbon emissions, because of their different stages of economic development. The U.S. plans over the next 10 years to reduce emissions by over a quarter below the level of 2005, while China says it intends to stop increasing its emissions by 2030.

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Dire Warnings But Also Hope as IUCN Environmental Congress Openshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/dire-warnings-but-also-hope-as-iucn-environmental-congress-opens/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 10:26:21 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146754 Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument number over a million and cover nearly every square foot of open space during breeding and nesting season. Credit: Andy Collins/NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 2 2016 (IPS)

A congress billed as the world’s largest ever to focus on the environment has opened to warnings that our planet is at a “tipping point” but also with expressions of hope that governments, civil society and big business are learning to work together.

The 10-day IUCN World Conservation Congress hosted by the United States in Hawaii has brought together 9,500 participants from 192 countries and communities, IUCN Director-General Inger Andersen told reporters.“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation." -- Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior

“Ambitions for this conference are very high…It is the largest environmental gathering ever,” she said after the Sep. 1 opening ceremony.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature was founded in 1948 by British biologist Julian Huxley, and brings together its members – including governments, NGOs, scientists and the business community – in a congress every four years where motions and resolutions are put to a vote. Although they might not carry the weight of international law, the findings of the IUCN have gone on to form the basis of legislation in member states and international bodies.

Focused on the theme of “Planet at a crossroads”, speakers at the opening ceremony held in a Honolulu sports arena reminded participants that the main goal was to come up with concrete proposals and measures to help implement the two historic international agreements forged last year – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

IUCN president Zhang Xinsheng, a senior Chinese politician and former senior UN official, set the tone of collaboration by praising U.S. President Barack Obama for establishing the world’s largest nature sanctuary – more than half a million square miles – in the waters and islands of the northwest Hawaiian archipelago. “President Obama has set a high bar,” Zhang said. This congress, he added, was not just about “avoiding tragedy” but working together.

His comments followed remarks made by Obama at a meeting of Pacific leaders in Honolulu on Wednesday night, raising expectations that China and the US may soon announce they intend to formally join the Paris Agreement. China opens a meeting of the G20 industrialised nations on Friday.

With the IUCN venue being Hawaii – renowned for its rich biodiversity but also as the world’s “extinction capital” for the large numbers of its eradicated or dying species – there was also emphasis, reinforced by performances of traditional songs and dance, on the importance of the age-old practices and wisdom of indigenous peoples.

Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau was given rock star acclaim at the congress for his pioneering environmental policies proving that small nations can make a difference. Remengesau in turn praised Obama who on Thursday was meeting scientists at Midway Atoll in his newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea marine sanctuary. Former president George W. Bush first set up the reserve 10 years ago but Obama quadrupled its size by executive order last week, although the US military will continue to hold exercises in the waters.

“This cements his legacy as an ocean leader,” Remengesau said and challenged the U.S. to follow the example of Palau in the western Pacific by turning 80 percent of its maritime economic exclusion zone into protected waters. Noting that despite the vast size of Papahanaumokuakea only 2 percent of the world’s waters are designated as marine sanctuaries, Remengesau said Palau would put forward a motion to the IUCN congress that this figure be raised to 30 percent.

Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, noted the warnings that mankind is destroying its only home but went on to dwell on the progress being made. Brazil, he said, had dramatically reduced its rate of deforestation while Costa Rica had doubled its tree cover.

He singled out French oil company Total for abandoning oil exploration plans in the Arctic and also praised Kellogg, Unilever and Nestle for “leading the politicians” on environmental policies. China, he added, was rapidly moving to “green” financing while Germany, on some days, was producing all its energy from renewables.

As for Obama and his marine reserve, Solheim simply said, “How much we will miss this president when he leaves office.”

Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of Interior, suggested that the Papahanaumokuakea example could be followed by similar initiatives for the territories of indigenous people’s on the U.S. mainland.

“The world must move from random acts of kindness to strategic conservation,” she added, noting research showing that a “football field” of natural areas disappears every two minutes in the U.S.

She and other speakers also stressed the need for the congress to come up with further measures to tackle what Jewell called the “scourge” of wildlife trafficking. “The U.S. is part of the problem and must be part of the solution,” she said.

Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz appealed to scientists working in IUCN’s special commissions to help tackle the devastation by a mysterious fungus of Hawaii’s most established canopy tree, the ‘ohi’a. More than 34,000 acres are affected, earning the disease the name “rapid ‘ohi’a death”. Experts in Hawaii were facing “the fight of their professional lives”, he said, adding, “Every community has its own battles.”

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sep. 5.

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Obama Stresses Climate Change Urgency Ahead of IUCN Congresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 12:41:33 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146737 An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has stressed the urgency of tackling climate change in a speech to Pacific leaders in his home state of Hawaii.

“No nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., is immune from a changing climate,” he told the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center on Wednesday evening.Debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries seek to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

Obama said the sea was already “swallowing villages” in Alaska and glaciers were melting at an unprecedented pace.

Highlighting his administration’s efforts to combat climate change in its energy policies, the president added: “There is no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet.”

The unusual threat posed to Hawaii this week by two approaching hurricanes underscored the president’s message as the island state also prepared to host the IUCN World Conservation Congress from Sep. 1 to 10. Over 8,300 delegates are expected to attend from more than 180 countries, including heads of state and government, U.N. agencies, NGOs and business leaders.

“Today, the U.S. is proud to host the IUCN Congress for the first time,” Obama said on Wednesday night.

His repeated warnings on climate change were ignored by the national media, however, with the networks firmly fixed on the race to elect his successor, focusing on statements made on immigration by Republican candidate Donald Trump in Mexico. Storm warnings just made the weather report.

The IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – said Obama was not expected to attend Thursday’s opening ceremony in Honolulu.

Instead he was scheduled to visit Midway Atoll, making his first trip to the world’s largest marine sanctuary which he massively expanded by executive order last week. He then heads to China for G20 talks.

Obama more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to more than 582,000 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The sanctuary was first established by former president George W. Bush, and IUCN organisers had hoped that their choice of Hawaii to host the World Conservation Congress, held every four years, would prompt Obama in his home state to seek to outdo his predecessor.

Their gamble paid off but the choice of remote Honolulu for the Congress has not been without controversy, with IUCN members expressing dismay at the message contained in the carbon footprint left by thousands of delegates jetting into the city over vast distances.

A small group of protesters also demanded that the U.S. remove its military bases from Hawaii.

The IUCN calls the Congress “the world’s largest and most inclusive environmental decision-making forum” which has the aim of defining the global path for nature conservation for years to come.

“The IUCN Congress will set the course for using nature-based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was quoted by IUCN as saying.

“We’re all in this together. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to take action. There’s no time to lose, so let’s make it count in Hawaii,” commented former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Held under the theme of ‘Planet at the crossroads’, the Congress sets out to emphasise that nature conservation and human progress are not a zero-sum game. “Credible and accessible choices exist that can promote general welfare while supporting and enhancing our planet’s natural assets,” according to the IUCN, which is made up of 1,300 member organisations.

It says key issues to be discussed include wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sept 5.

Two European delegates, who asked not to be named, said debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries sought to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

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Indigenous People Demand Shared Benefits from Forest Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 01:25:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146726 Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
GUADALAJARA, Mexico , Aug 31 2016 (IPS)

“Why don’t the authorities put themselves in our shoes?” asked Cándido Mezúa, an indigenous man from Panama, with respect to native peoples’ participation in conservation policies and the sharing of benefits from the protection of forests.

Mezúa, who belongs to the Emberá people and is a member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, told IPS that “the state should recognise the benefit of this valuable mechanism for long-term sustainability, as a mitigation measure unique to indigenous peoples.”

But little progress has been made with regard to clearly defining the compensation, said the native leader, in an indigenous caucus held during the annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which is being held Aug. 29 to Sep. 1 in Guadalajara, a city in west-central Mexico.

Mezúa’s demand will also be put forth in the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take place Nov. 7-18 in Marrakesh, Morocco."(Indigenous organisations) promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.” -- Edwin Vázquez

The idea is for it also to be taken into account on the agenda of the13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

“The viewpoints of local organisations should be taken into account in the implementation of any activity in their territory,” said Edwin Vázquez, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

The activist told IPS that indigenous organisations “promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.”

While indigenous organisations hammer out their positions with respect to the COP22 in Marrakesh and the CBD in Cancún, the statement they released in this Mexican city provides a glimpse of the proposals they will set forth.

The “Guiding Principles of Partnership Between Members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) and Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities” demands that the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) strategy must incorporate the “full and effective” participation of native peoples and local communities.

The declaration also states that “All initiatives, actions, projects and programmes led by the GCF that concern indigenous peoples and traditional communities must have the participation and direct involvement of local communities through a process of free, prior and informed consent.”

The measures must also “recognise and strengthen the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” it adds.

Furthermore, they will promote financing and benefits-sharing mechanisms to be applied in the context of these initiatives and actions.

“Systems of binding social and environmental safeguards will be included,” to help indigenous and local communities face the risks posed by these policies.

The GCF can serve as a laboratory for the performance of the CDB and COP22, because the emphasis of governors focuses strongly on REDD+ plans.

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

REDD+ is a plan of action that finances national programmes in countries of the developing South, to combat deforestation, reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and foment access by participating countries to technical and financial support to these ends.

It forms part of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme) and currently involves 64 countries.

The GCF, created in 2009, groups states and provinces: seven in Brazil, two in the Ivory Coast, one from Spain, two from the United States, six from Indonesia, five from Mexico and one from Peru.

Financed by various U.S. foundations and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the GCF seeks to advance programmes designed to promote low-emissions rural development and REDD+.

It also works to link these efforts to emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance plans.

More than 25 percent of the world’s tropical forests are in the states and provinces involved in GCF, including more than 75 percent of Brazil’s rainforest and more than half of Indonesia’s.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots, which makes it essential to curb deforestation and avoid the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

“The conditions must exist for effective participation in the programme preparation stage,” Gustavo Sánchez, the president of the Mexican Network of Rural Forest Organisations, who is taking part in this week’s GCF debates, told IPS.

In their 2014 annual meeting in the northwestern Brazilian state of Acre, the governors assumed a commitment for their regions to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 through results-based international financing.

For example, Brazil’s GCF states would avoid the release of 3.6 million tons of GHG emissions a year.

From 2000 to 2010, CO2 emissions from deforestation totalled 45 million tons in Mexico.

To cut emissions, Mexico has adopted a zero deforestation goal for 2030. The five Mexican states in the GCF could reduce their CO2 emissions by 21 tons a year by 2020, around half of the total goal.

Peru has offered a 20 percent cut in its emissions, avoiding the release of 159 million tons by 2030 from land-use change and deforestation. The South American country could reduce emissions from deforestation between 42 and 63 million tons annually by that year.

The GCF manages a fund, created in 2013, aimed at guaranteeing and disbursing 50 million dollars a year, starting in 2020, for capacity-building and the execution of innovative projects.

But the GCF did not invite indigenous organisations to form partnerships until 2014.

The countries of Latin America have not yet shown mechanisms of how to use the emissions cuts to ensure results-based payments. But REDD+, criticised by many indigenous and community organisations, is still in diapers in the region, where only Costa Rica will soon start participating in the plan.

Mexico, for its part, is completing its REDD+ National Strategy consultation.

“We have always had traditional climate policies,” said Mezúa. “The GCF can come up with a more complete proposal, with partnerships between different jurisdictions.”

Sánchez said the goals would be met if the administrators of natural resources are included. “The reach will be restricted if we limit ourselves to REDD+ policies, which are still being designed. A mechanism that brings all efforts together is needed.”

Vázquez said it is “decisive” for the process to include “the establishment of safeguards, mechanisms for participation in decision-making and the implementation of action plans, and equal participation in the benefits.”

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146645 A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Literature Professor Probes Novels of the Anthropocene Agehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 01:41:17 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146626 "The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit:  Arun Shrestha/IPS

"The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit: Arun Shrestha/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

A literature professor at Cornell University in upstate New York, Nick Admussen, has recently published an online literary essay about writing novels in the Anthropocene Age.

Titled “Six proposals for the reform of literature in the age of climate change,” the 1500-word essay will change the way you think about how modern novelists need to change they ways they try to tackle climate change themes.

Admussen is an assistant professor of Chinese literature and culture at Cornell and has an MFA degree in poetry. In the essay, which has reached a larger audience of literary critics and writers worldwide via social media, Admussen uses the negative poetics of an an early 20th century Chinese writer to outline some habits he feels that fiction writers need to break in order to make culture more responsive to climate change. It might be one of the most important literary essays of the 21st century, and whether you agree with all his six proposals or not, Admussen’s piece deserves an international readership.

"Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow," -- Nick Admussen

One of Admussen’s themes is that global culture has not just failed to adapt to the climate change challenges we now face in this age of global warming, it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. That’s a tall order, but the author has his talking points and they’re all worth paying attention to.

Admussen says he wants to speak to those ”who feel an intense responsibility for our shared future on Earth, those casting around for means and methods by which that future might be improved.”

“Today, global cosmopolitan culture [is creating massive ] chaos,” Admussen, 45, opines. “Power is concentrated in the hands of a few independent corporations and states, each strong enough to escape environmental regulation, none with the will or mission to provoke change in themselves or others. Day after day, human activity fills
the atmosphere with carbon, transforming Earth’s climate, melting the polar ice caps, already destroying the homes and habitats of the planet’s many creatures — including ourselves. Yet we lack the ability to visualize these problems, to locate their source in our own actions and lives, to tell and transform the stories of the interactions between our behaviour and our biome.”

“This is not a failing of science, the science is quite clear: it is a failing of culture,” he adds, noting: ”The single most influential artwork of climate change remains former U.S. Vice President Al Gore standing in front of a Powerpoint presentation 10 years ago. Global culture has not just failed to adapt to the challenges we now face: it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. To change this, we need to break with our existing traditions of art and media, even if that means rejecting some of the works we love most.”

Admussen says that the current way that novelists worldwide try to tackle global warming themes is ”a destructive and atomizing act of imagination” that ”erases our radical dependence on each other and on the environment.”

And he doesn’t stop there, adding: ”Reducing literature to a procession of isolated actors (or authors) belies the responsibility readers have to see the disastrous paradigm in which a focus on individuals occludes acts that harm the broader community.”

Admussen goes from despair to hope. While he maintains that ”the humblest grammatical formulation all the way up to the way we conceptualize our most cherished ideals, the English language is choked by metaphors of possession and exchange, and sorely lacks metaphors of membership and interrelation,” he also champions what he calls perhaps the greatest hope for fiction today, that young people are participating now in fiction.

“They write a fanfic or attend a book club or play Quiddich on the college campus green,” he writes. “They dream themselves into capacious and novel systems. This gives them the power and vision to build futures.”

Building on his variou themes and proposals, Admussen notes that in the last 20 years, advanced economies in the North have taken pride in their modest decreases in carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while at the same time completely ignoring the way in which this is possible because of the exportation of manufacturing to the global South.

“Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow,” the Cornell professor writes. “These types of inequities are almost always accompanied by moralizing fictions. The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature.  Full partnership for everyone in a global ecosystem means redistributing the rewards that the developed world has already incurred by harming it.”

Like I said, this is all a tall order, and not everyone is keen to accept it.

“I’m circumspect about calls for systemic ‘reform’ of any art form,” a published novelist told me by email. “Calls for art or literature that portray or reflect an under appreciated truth are useful but I think that proposals like these are more likely to emerge as trends naturally, from the culture at and not likely to vault forward because
an academic or critic has articulated them.” Said another novelist, also via email: “Admussen’s essay is interesting, but ‘prescription’ for artists is not a good idea, and ‘reform’ in relation to the arts is always pretty sinister.”

The entire essay is published by The Critical Flame here.

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The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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Dhaka Could Be Underwater in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/dhaka-could-be-underwater-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:10:34 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146575 Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of Bangladesh's growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. Credit: Fahad Kaiser/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Like many other fast-growing megacities, the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka faces severe water and sanitation problems, chiefly the annual flooding during monsoon season due to unplanned urbanisation, destruction of wetlands and poor city governance.

But experts are warning that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the city will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Climate change means even heavier rains

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

According to experts, a 42 mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but the city will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that more rainfall will be very likely at higher latitudes by the mid-21st century under a high-emissions scenario and over southern areas of Asia by the late 21st century.

More frequent and heavy rainfall days are projected over parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh.

Dhaka is also the second most vulnerable to coastal flooding among nine of the most at-risk cities of the world, according to the Coastal City Flood Vulnerability Index (CCFVI), developed jointly by the Dutch researchers and the University of Leeds in 2012.

Dhaka has four surrounding rivers – Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitlakhya – which help drain the city during monsoon. The rivers are connected to the trans-boundary Jamuna River and Meghna River. But the natural flow of the capital’s surrounding rivers is hampered during monsoon due to widespread encroachment, accelerating water problems.

S.M. Mahbubur Rahman, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Water Modeling (IWM), a think tank, said the authorities need to flush out the stagnant water caused by heavy rains through pumping since the rise in water level of the rivers during monsoon is a common phenomenon.

“When the intensity of rainfall is very high in a short period, they fail to do so,” he added.

Sylhet is the best example of managing problems in Bangladesh, as the city has successfully coped with its water-logging in recent years through improvement of its drainage system. Sylhet is located in a monsoon climatic zone and experiences a high intensity of rainfall during monsoon each year. Nearly 80 percent of the annual average precipitation (3,334 mm) occurs in the city between May and September.

Just a few years ago, water-logging was a common phenomenon in the city during monsoon. But a magical change has come in managing water problems after Sylhet City Corporation improved its drainage system and re-excavated canals, which carry rainwater and keep the city free from water-logging.

A critical network of canals

City canals play a vital role in running off rainwater during the rainy season. But most of the canals are clogged and the city drainage system is usually blocked because of disposal of waste in drains. So many parts of the capital get inundated due to the crumbling drainage system and some places go under several feet of stagnant rainwater during monsoon.

“Once there were 56 canals in the capital, which carried rainwater and kept the city free from water-logging…most of the canals were filled up illegally,” said Dr Maksudur Rahman, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at Dhaka University.

He stressed the need for cleaning up all the city canals and making them interconnected, as well as dredging the surrounding rivers to ensure smooth runoff of rainwater during monsoon.

In October 2013, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) signed a 7.5 million Euro deal with the Netherlands-based Vitens Evides International to dredge some of the canals, but three years later, there is no visible progress.

DWASA deputy managing director SDM Quamrul Alam Chowdhury said the Urban Dredging Demonstration Project (UDDP) is a partnership programme, which taken to reduce flooding in the city’s urban areas and improve capacity of DWASA to carry out the drainage operation.

“Under the UDDP, we are excavating Kalyanpur Khal (canal) in the city. We will also dig Segunbagicha Khal of the city,” he added.

Dwindling water bodies

Water bodies have historically played an important role in the expansion of Dhaka. But as development encroaches on natural drainage systems, they no longer provide this critical ecosystem service.

“We are indiscriminately filling up wetlands and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka city for settlement. So rainwater does not get space to run off,” said Dr Maksud.

A study by the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) in 2011 shows that about 33 percent of Dhaka’s water bodies dwindled during 1960-2009 while low-lying areas declined by about 53 percent.

Lack of coordination

There are a number of government bodies, including DWASA, both Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), that are responsible for ensuring a proper drainage system in the capital. But a lack of coordination has led to a blame game over which agency is in charge.

DWASA spokesman Zakaria Al Mahmud said: “You will not find such Water Supply and Sewerage Authority across the world, which maintains the drainage system of a city, but DWASA maintains 20 percent of city’s drainage system.”

He said it is the responsibility of other government agencies like city corporations and BWDB to maintain the drainage system of Dhaka.

DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said it will take time to resolve the existing water-logging problem, and blamed encroachers for filling up almost all the city canals.

Around 14 organisations are involved in maintaining the drainage system of the city, he said, adding that lack of coordination among them is the main reason behind the water-logging.

DNCC mayor Annisul Huq suggested constituting a taskforce involving DWASA, city corporations, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) and other government agencies to increase coordination among them aiming to resolve the city’s water problems.

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Arable Lands Lost at Unprecedented Rate: 33,000 Hectares… a Day!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/arable-land-lost-at-unprecedented-rate-33000-hectares-a-day/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:50:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146571 Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

Desert, drought advancing. Photo UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Humankind is a witness every single day to a new, unprecedented challenge. One of them is the very fact that the world’s arable lands are being lost at 30 to 35 times the historical rate. Each year, 12 million hectares are lost. That means 33,000 hectares a day!

Moreover, scientists have estimated that the fraction of land surface area experiencing drought conditions has grown from 10-15 per cent in the early 1970s to more than 30 per cent by early 2000, and these figures are expected to increase in the foreseeable future.

While drought is happening everywhere, Africa appears as the most impacted continent by its effects. According to the Bonn-based United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two-thirds of African lands are now either desert or dry-lands.

The challenge is enormous for this second largest continent on Earth, which is home to 1.2 billion inhabitants in 54 countries and which has been the most impacted region by the 2015/2016 weather event known as El-Niño.

Daniel Tsegai

Daniel Tsegai

IPS interviewed Daniel Tsegai, Programme Officer at UNCCD, which has co-organised with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on August 15-19 in Windhoek.

“Globally, drought is becoming more severe, more frequent, increasing in duration and spatial extent and its impact is increasing, including massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is an evidence. African countries are severely affected,” Tsegai clarifies.

The African Drought Conference focus has been put on the so-called “drought resilience.”

IPS asks Tsegai what is this all about? “Drought resilience is simply defined as the capacity of a country to survive consecutive droughts and be able to recover to pre-drought conditions,” he explains.

“To begin with there are four aspects of Drought: Meteorological (weather), Hydrological (surface water), Agricultural (farming) and socioeconomic (effects on humans) droughts.”

 

The Five Big “Lacks”

Asked for the major challenges ahead when it comes to working on drought resilience in Africa, Tsegai tells IPS that these are mainly:

a) Lack of adequate data base such as weather, water resources (ground and surface water), soil moisture as well as past drought incidences and impacts;

b) Poor coordination among various relevant sectors and stakeholders in a country and between countries in a region;

c) Low level of capacity to implement drought risk mitigation measures (especially at local level);

d)    Insufficient political will to implement national drought policies, and

e) Economics of drought preparedness is not well investigated, achieving a better understanding of the economic benefits of preparing for drought before drought strikes is beneficial.

As for the objectives of the UNCCD, Tsegai explains that they are to seek to improve land productivity, to restore (or preserve) land, to establish more efficient water usage and improve the living conditions of those populations affected by drought and desertification.

According to Tsegai, some of the strategies that can be adopted to build drought resilience include:

First: a paradigm shift on the way we deal with drought. We will need to change the way we think about drought.

“Drought is not any longer a one time off event or even a ‘crisis’. It is going to be more frequent, severe and longer duration. It is a constant ‘risk’, he tells IPS.

“Thus, we need to move away from being reactive to proactive; from crisis management approach to risk management; from a piecemeal approach to a more coordinated/integrated approach. Treating drought as a crisis means dealing with the symptoms of drought and not the root causes,” Tsegai explains.

“In short, developing national drought based on the principles of risk reduction is the way forward.”

Second: Strengthening Drought Monitoring and early warning systems (both for drought and the impacts);

Third: Assessing vulnerability of drought in the country (Drought risk profiling on whom is likely to be affected, why? Which region and what will be the impacts?);

Fourth: Carrying out practical drought risk mitigation measures including the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock, monitoring and measuring water supply and uses, boasting the recycling and reuse of water and waste-water, exploring the potential of growing more drought tolerant crops and expanding crop insurance.

 

The Five Big Options

Asked what is expected outcome of the African Drought Conference, Tsegai answers:

  1.  To come up with a Common Strategy document at Africa level, a strategy that strengthens African drought preparedness that can be implemented and further shared at country level.
  1. To lead to the development of integrated national drought policies aimed at building more drought resilient societies based on the sustainable use and management of natural resources (land / soil, forest, biodiversity, water, energy, etc.).
  1. Countries are expected to come up with binding Drought Protocol- to adopt Windhoek Declaration for African countries-, which would be presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment next year and expected to be endorsed at the African Union summit.
  1. With this in mind, the outcomes of the conference will be brought to the attention of the African Union for the collective African heads of states and governments’ endorsements, and
  1. It is further expected that the conference will strengthen partnerships and cooperation (South-South) to support the development of new and the improvement of existing national policies and strategies on drought management.

 

Droughts, The “Costliest” Disasters

It has been estimated that droughts are the world’s costliest natural disasters and affect more people than any other form of natural disaster, Tsegai tells IPS.

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

Race against time in drought-ravaged Southern Africa to ensure 23 million people receive farming support | Photo: FAO

“Droughts are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant spiralling secondary and tertiary impacts.”

To reduce societal vulnerability to droughts, a paradigm shift of drought management approaches is required to overcome the prevailing structures of reactive, post-hazard management and move towards proactive, risk based approaches of disaster management, he stresses.

“Risk based drought management is, however, multifaceted and requires the involvement of a variety of stakeholders, and, from a drought management policy perspective, capacities in diverse ministries and national institutions are needed.”

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Ethiopian Food Aid Jammed Up in Djibouti Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/#comments Mon, 15 Aug 2016 22:11:20 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146547 Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
DJIBOUTI CITY, Aug 15 2016 (IPS)

Bags of wheat speed down multiple conveyor belts to be heaved onto trucks lined up during the middle of a blisteringly hot afternoon beside the busy docks of Djibouti Port.

Once loaded, the trucks set off westward toward Ethiopia carrying food aid to help with its worst drought for decades.“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo.” -- Aboubaker Omar, Chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority

With crop failures ranging from 50 to 90 percent in parts of the country, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest wheat consumer, was forced to seek international tenders and drastically increase wheat purchases to tackle food shortages effecting at least 10 million people.

This resulted in extra ships coming to the already busy port city of Djibouti, and despite the hive of activity and efforts of multitudes of workers, the ships aren’t being unloaded fast enough. The result: a bottleneck with ships stuck out in the bay unable to berth to unload.

“We received ships carrying aid cargo and carrying fertilizer at the same time, and deciding which to give priority to was a challenge,” says Aboubaker Omar, chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (DPFZA). “If you give priority to food aid, which is understandable, then you are going to face a problem with the next crop if you don’t get fertilizer to farmers on time.”

Since mid-June until this month, Ethiopian farmers have been planting crops for the main cropping season that begins in September. At the same time, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has been working with the Ethiopian government to help farmers sow their fields and prevent drought-hit areas of the country from falling deeper into hunger and food insecurity.

Spring rains that arrived earlier this year, coupled with ongoing summer rains, should increase the chances of more successful harvests, but that doesn’t reduce the need for food aid now—and into the future, at least for the short term.

“The production cycle is long,” says FAO’s Ethiopia country representative Amadou Allahoury. “The current seeds planted in June and July will only produce in September and October, so therefore the food shortage remains high despite the rain.”

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

As of the middle of July, 12 ships remained at anchorage outside Djibouti Port waiting to unload about 476,750 metric tonnes of wheat—down from 16 ships similarly loaded at the end of June—according to information on the port’s website. At the same time, four ships had managed to dock carrying about 83,000 metric tonnes of wheat, barley and sorghum.

“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo,” Aboubaker says.

It’s estimated that 1,500 trucks a day leave Djibouti for Ethiopia and that there will be 8,000 a day by 2020 as Ethiopia tries to address the shortage.

But so many additional trucks—an inefficient and environmentally damaging means of transport—might not be needed, Aboubaker says, if customs procedures could be sped up on the Ethiopian side so it doesn’t take current trucks 10 days to complete a 48-hour journey from Djibouti to Addis Ababa to make deliveries.

“There is too much bureaucracy,” Aboubaker says. “We are building and making efficient roads and railways: we are building bridges but there is what you call invisible barriers—this documentation. The Ethiopian government relies too much on customs revenue and so doesn’t want to risk interfering with procedures.”

Ethiopians are not famed for their alacrity when it comes to paperwork and related bureaucratic processes. Drought relief operations have been delayed by regular government assessments of who the neediest are, according to some aid agencies working in Ethiopia.

And even once ships have berthed, there still remains the challenge of unloading them, a process that can take up to 40 days, according to aid agencies assisting with Ethiopia’s drought.

“I honestly don’t know how they do it,” port official Dawit Gebre-ab says of workers toiling away in temperatures around 38 degrees Celsius that with humidity of 52 percent feel more like 43 degrees. “But the ports have to continue.”

The port’s 24-hour system of three eight-hour shifts mitigates some of the travails for those working outside, beyond the salvation of air conditioning—though not entirely.

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

“We feel pain everywhere, for sure,” Agaby says during the hottest afternoon shift, a fluorescent vest tied around his forehead as a sweat rag, standing out of the sun between those trucks being filled with bags of wheat from conveyor belts. “It is a struggle.”

To help get food aid away to where it is needed and relieve pressure on the port, a new 756 km railway running between Djibouti and Ethiopia was brought into service early in November 2015—it still isn’t actually commissioned—with a daily train that can carry about 2,000 tonnes, Aboubaker says. Capacity will increase further once the railway is fully commissioned this September and becomes electrified, allowing five trains to run carrying about 3,500 tonnes each.

Djibouti also has three new ports scheduled to open in the second half of the year—allowing more ships to dock—while the one at Tadjoura will have another railway line going westward to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. This, Aboubaker explains, should connect with the railway line currently under construction in Ethiopia running south to north to connect the cities of Awash and Mekele, further improving transport and distribution options in Ethiopia.

“Once the trains are running in September we hope to clear the backlog of vessels within three months,” Aboubaker says.

The jam at the port has highlighted for Ethiopia—not that it needs reminding—its dependency on Djibouti. Already about 90 percent of Ethiopia’s trade goes through Djibouti. In 2005 this amounted to two million tonnes and now stands at 11 million tonnes. During the next three years it is set to increase to 15 million tonnes.

Hence Ethiopia has long been looking to diversify its options, strengthening bilateral relations with Somaliland through various Memorandum Of Understandings (MOU) during the past couple of years.

The most recent of these stipulated about 30 percent of Ethiopia’s imports shifting to Berbera Port, which this May saw Dubai-based DP World awarded the concession to manage and expand the underused and underdeveloped port for 30 years, a project valued at about $442 million and which could transform Berbera into another major Horn of Africa trade hub.

But such is Ethiopia’s growth—both in terms of economy and population; its current population of around 100 million is set to reach 130 million by 2025, according to the United Nations—that some say it’s going to need all the ports it can get.

“Ethiopia’s rate of development means Djibouti can’t satisfy demand, and even if Berbera is used, Ethiopia will also need [ports in] Mogadishu and Kismayo in the long run, and Port Sudan,” says Ali Toubeh, a Djiboutian entrepreneur whose container company is based in Djibouti’s free trade zone.

Meanwhile as night descends on Djibouti City, arc lights dotted across the port are turned on, continuing to blaze away as offloading continues and throughout the night loaded Ethiopian trucks set out into the hot darkness.

“El Niño will impact families for a long period as a number of them lost productive assets or jobs,” Amadou says. “They will need time and assistance to recover.”

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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