Inter Press Service » Environment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:59:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:09:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137497 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad.” -- Alex Blair of Oxfam America

“Canada has been committed to a voluntary framework of corporate social responsibility, but this does not provide any remedy for people who have been harmed by Canadian mining operations,” Jen Moore, the coordinator of the Latin America programme at MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“We’re looking for access to the courts but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place – for instance, an independent office that would have the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries.”

Moore and others who testified before the commission formally submitted a report detailing the concerns of almost 30 NGOs. Civil society groups have been pushing the Canadian government to ensure greater accountability for this activity for years, Moore says, and that work has been buttressed by similar recommendations from both a parliamentary commission, in 2005, and the United Nations.

“Nothing new has taken place over the past decade … The Canadian government has refused to implement the recommendations,” Moore says.

“The state’s response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that doesn’t work – and that’s what we heard from them again during this hearing. There was no substantial response to the fact that there are all sorts of cases falling through the cracks.”

Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, is estimated to have some 1,500 projects in Latin America – more than 40 percent of the mining companies operating in the region. According to the new report, and these overseas operations receive “a high degree” of active support from the Canadian government.

“We’re aware of a great deal of conflict,” Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian civil society initiative, said Tuesday. “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years, for which there has been little to no accountability.”

These allegations include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian mining companies. They also include policy-related problems related to long-term environmental damage, illegal community displacement and subverting democratic processes.

Home state accountability

The Washington-based IACHR, a part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), is one of the world’s oldest multilateral rights bodies, and has looked at concerns around Canadian mining in Latin America before.

Yet this week’s hearing marked the first time the commission has waded into the highly contentious issue of “home state” accountability – that is, whether companies can be prosecuted at home for their actions abroad.

“This hearing was cutting-edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of human rights violations’ victims in Latin America, it’s a little bit prudent when it faces new topics or new legal challenges,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“And talking about the responsibility for the home country of corporations working in Latin America is a very new challenge. So we’re very happy to see how the commission’s understanding and concern about these topics have evolved.”
Home state accountability has become progressively more vexed as industries and supply chains have quickly globalised. Today, companies based in rich countries, with relatively stronger legal systems, are increasingly operating in developing countries, often under weaker regulatory regimes.

The extractives sector has been a key example of this, and over the past two decades it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local communities of any industry. For advocates, part of the problem is a current vagueness around the issue of the “extraterritorial” reach of domestic law.

“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad,” Alex Blair, a press officer with the extractives programme at Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS. “They think they can take advantage of weaknesses in local laws, oversight and institutions to operate however they want in developing countries.”

Blair notes a growing trend of local and indigenous communities going abroad to hold foreign companies accountable. Yet these efforts remain extraordinarily complex and costly, even as legal avenues in many Western countries continue to be constricted.

Transcending the legalistic

At this week’s hearing, the Canadian government maintained that it was on firm legal ground, stating that it has “one of the world’s strongest legal and regulatory frameworks towards its extractives industries”.

In 2009, Canada formulated a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country’s international extractives sector. The country also has two non-judicial mechanisms that can hear grievances arising from overseas extractives projects, though neither of these can investigate allegations, issue rulings or impose punitive measures.

These actions notwithstanding, the Canadian response to the petitioners concerns was to argue that local grievances should be heard in local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally obligated to pursue accountability for companies’ activities overseas.

“With respect to these corporations’ activities outside Canada, the fact of their incorporation within Canada is clearly not a sufficient connection to Canada to engage Canada’s obligations under the American Declaration,” Dana Cryderman, Canada’s alternate permanent representative to the OAS, told the commission, referring to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the document that underpins the IACHR’s work.

Cryderman continued: “[H]ost countries in Latin America offer domestic legal and regulatory avenues through which the claims being referenced by the requesters can and should be addressed.”

Yet this rationale clearly frustrated some of the IACHR’s commissioners, including the body’s current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.

“Despite the assurances of Canada there’s good policy, we at the commission continue to see a number of very, very serious human rights violations occurring in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada being one of the main ones … so we’re seeing the deficiencies of those policies,” Antoine said following the Canadian delegation’s presentation.

“On the one hand, Canada says, ‘Yes, we are responsible and wish to promote human rights.’ But on the other hand, it’s a hands-off approach … We have to move beyond the legalistic if we’re really concerned about human rights.”

Antoine noted the commission was currently working on a report on the impact of natural resources extraction on indigenous communities. She announced, for the first time, that the report would include a chapter on what she referred to as the “very ticklish issue of extraterritoriality”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Better Water Management Needed to Eradicate Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/better-water-management-needed-to-eradicate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=better-water-management-needed-to-eradicate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/better-water-management-needed-to-eradicate-poverty/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:55:34 +0000 Torgny Holmgren http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137491

Torgny Holmgren is Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

By Torgny Holmgren
STOCKHOLM, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

It demands repetition: water is a precondition for all life. It keeps us alive – literally – while being a prerequisite for or integral part of most of our daily activities. Think hospitals without water, think farms, energy producers, industries, schools and homes without our most needed resource. All sectors, without exception, are dependent on water.

The 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos reported that water security is one of the most tangible and rapidly growing current global challenges. But: water is a finite resource. And along with more people entering the middle class, a growing global population, and rapid urbanisation, comes an increased demand for freshwater.

Courtesy of SIWI.

Courtesy of SIWI.

More food needs to be grown, more energy needs to be produced, industries must be kept running, and more people will afford, and expect, running water and flushing toilets in their homes.

Global demand for freshwater is, according to OECD, projected to grow by 55 per cent between 2000 and 2050. These demands will force us to manage water far more wisely in the future.

However, how to manage water is still a luxury problem for the two billion people in the world who still lack access to clean drinking water. Without clean water you cannot safely quench your thirst, prepare food, or maintain a basic level of personal hygiene, much less consider any kind of personal or societal development.

In addition to being a breeding ground for diseases and human suffering, as seen during the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa, a lack of water keeps girls from school and women from productive work. On a larger scale, it keeps societies and economies from developing.

Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) is firmly advocating for a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on Water in the Post-2015 development agenda. A water goal needs to address several key aspects of human development. It is needed for health.By 2050, business-as-usual will mean two billion smallholder farmers, key managers and users of rainwater, eking out a living at the mercy of rainfall that is even less reliable than today due to climate change.

In addition to the two billion people lacking access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation facilities. One billion people are still forced to practice open defecation. On the positive side, every dollar invested in water and sanitation equals an average return of four dollars in increased productivity.

A dedicated water goal is needed for sustainable growth. The manufacturing industry’s demand for water in the BRICS countries is expected to grow eight times between 2000 and 2050. Water scarcity and unreliability pose significant risks to all economic activity. Poorly managed water causes serious social and economic challenges, but if managed well can actually be a source of prosperity.

A water goal is needed for agriculture. Today, 800 million people are undernourished. In combination with a growing population’s dietary needs, it is projected that by 2050, 60 per cent more food will be needed as compared to 2005.

How to grow more food, without having access to more water, is a potent challenge. In a recent Declaration, SIWI’s Professor Malin Falkenmark, along with Professor Johan Rockström of Stockholm Resilience Centre and other world-renowned water, environment and resilience scientists and experts, said that better management of rain is key to eradicating hunger and poverty.

They said they are “deeply concerned that sustainable management of rainwater in dry and vulnerable regions is missing in the goals and targets proposed by the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals on Poverty, Hunger and Freshwater.”

By 2050, the scientists said, business-as-usual will mean two billion smallholder farmers, key managers and users of rainwater, eking out a living at the mercy of rainfall that is even less reliable than today due to climate change. Setting out to eradicate global poverty and hunger without addressing the productivity of rain is a serious and unacceptable omission.

The proposed SDGs cannot be achieved without a strong focus on sustainable management of rainwater for resilient food production in tropical and subtropical drylands, said the scientists.

An SDG for water is needed for energy.

Today, an estimated 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity. Most of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 90 per cent of global power generation is water intensive. To be able to deliver sustainable energy globally, we must manage our water resources more efficiently.

We need a water goal for our climate. Climate change over the 21st century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry, sub-tropical regions. Climate change is also projected to reduce raw water quality and pose risks to drinking water quality, even with conventional treatment.

Floods, droughts and windstorms are the most frequently occurring natural disasters and account for almost 90 per cent of the most destructive events since 1990. Wise water management that builds on ecosystem-based approaches is essential for building resilience and combatting adverse impact from climate change.

I believe that the adoption of a dedicated SDG for water will help avoid fragmented and incoherent solutions, and contribute to a fairer handling of any competition between different water users.

I believe that water also needs to be addressed and integrated into other SDGs, in particular those addressing food security, energy, climate and health. These areas must then be integrated in a water goal. There is an urgent need for reciprocity. We simply cannot afford to disregard water’s centrality in all human activity.

2015 will put the world to the test. Are we willing to commit to and act upon goals and targets that are necessary to accomplish a future for all? This question needs to be answered, not only by politicians and decision makers, but by us all. Water, as we have shown, plays an important role in securing the future we want. And the future we want is a joint effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: From Almaty to Vienna, New Prospects For LLDCshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-from-almaty-to-vienna-new-prospects-for-lldcs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-almaty-to-vienna-new-prospects-for-lldcs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-from-almaty-to-vienna-new-prospects-for-lldcs/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:20:26 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137460

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

By Kairat Abdrakhmanov
NEW YORK, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Kazakhstan being the world’s largest landlocked country, and also the ninth largest country in the world of more than 2.7 million square kilometres, hosted in 2003 in Almaty the First United Nations Conference on Landlocked Countries.

The conference’s outcome, the Almaty Programme of Action (APoA), practically the only one of its kind thus far, is a road map to ensure the special needs of LLDCs. It contains specific measures and recommendations concerning the policy in the spheres of transit and infrastructure development and for financial and technical assistance to specified group of countries.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

The APoA, first developed in 2003, has helped create new linkages and strengthen existing partnerships between landlocked developing countries, transit developing countries and development partners, including multilateral institutions.

Though there is noteworthy progress, we must also recognise that the majority of our economies remain vulnerable to external shocks and other emerging challenges.

We are also aware that we have not been able to reach most of the Millennium Development Goals, and our countries continue to be marginalised from the international trading system.

The structural impediments associated with landlockedness remain a challenge.

The government of Kazakhstan had organised a retreat in July this year in Astana for New York-based diplomats from LLDCs as a platform to deliberate on key recommendations for consideration at the Vienna Conference, and which have been included in its agenda.

Land-locked to Land-Linked: An Imperative

The LLDCs constitute a vast range of countries with different political orientations, economic growth and development rates, national targets and levels of progress achieved.

I would however qualify saying that all LLDCs are making serious efforts but accomplishments vary from country to country. Global solidarity and partnerships through the APoA have helped to transform the LLDCs from being landlocked to becoming land-linked.

For the 32 LLDCs, the promotion of efficient transport systems is still an important objective but these efforts must not stop at their countries’ borders and must also include cooperation with transit countries too and hence a blueprint for cross-border – and beyond, transport and trade facilitation infrastructure is a sine qua non.

Thus the areas of infrastructure connectivity between LLDCs, their transit countries, and increased integration of economies will have to feature prominently in the upcoming Programme of Action to be adopted in Vienna.

New goals will obviously be set in a more ambitious manner. At the same time, LLDCs should actively consider acceding to some of the existing U.N. conventions on international transport and trade facilitation in this regard.

The Challenge: Increasing Exports and Global Trade

LLDCs as a group have recorded impressive trade performance in the recent past, with total exports increasing almost fivefold between 2000 and 2010, while the share of the group in global trade is still modest and amounted to only 1.04 per cent in 2010. The LLDCs have been marginalised in the global trading system.The reality is that our economies show relatively high trade openness - but their absolute level of trade has yet to get close to its full potential. Infrastructure, trade barriers and insufficient technological capacities continue to hamper LLDCs.

However, the implementation of the APoA has resulted in the LLDCs making some gains with regard to expanding transit transport infrastructure facilities, reducing delays and inefficiencies in the border formalities.

The reality is that our economies show relatively high trade openness – but their absolute level of trade has yet to get close to its full potential. Infrastructure, trade barriers and insufficient technological capacities continue to hamper LLDCs.

At the same time, reliance on a narrow range of exports – often a limited number of commodities presents a significant weakness, like basic merchandise oil and natural resources.

Economic diversification must, therefore, be an urgent priority to both resource-rich and resource-scarce LLDCs must feature in the Vienna Conference.

Changed Circumstances: From 2003 to 2014 and Post-2015

The Almaty Programme of Action is a most significant landmark and the record of accomplishments in all regions has been remarkable. The world has moved rapidly since then. And like then, some countries face greater impediments even more today, aggravated with changed circumstances, the global political and the economic crises, climate change.

Thus, in Vienna, a new comprehensive, common action-oriented framework of LLDCs for the next decade, should be developed, taking into account the unfinished agenda of APoA.

The new focus in Vienna must be to achieve structural transformation and economic re-specialisation through reduction of high transport and transaction costs, the establishment of efficient transit transport systems through increased investments in transport, energy and information and communications technology, increasing trade and productive capacity, diversifying exports, value-addition, technology transfer, developing the service sector, ICT, improved market access and strengthening institutions.

As we are moving into the new transformational phase of post-2015 agenda, attention will also be on poverty reduction, health, education, employment and economic self-reliance, together with food, energy and water security, and the overall peace and stability, rule of law, good governance and human rights required for achieving sustainable development.  

African Landlocked Countries: Special Focus 

Some 16 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa are at a special disadvantage and have the highest concentration of landlocked countries.

Despite strides in achieving MDG Goals, GDP growth rates above five percent under the Almaty Programme, with support from the U.N. and the Economic Commission for Africa, they have a high incidence of extreme poverty. Six of the lowest ranked 10 countries are African LLDCs.

They lack the well developed markets around them as European landlocked countries do. Maritime trade is a small part of African external trade with very low value goods and enormously long distances to the closest seaports.

They encounter hurdles of long border delays, a proliferation of road checkpoints, and other practices that increase monetary and time costs that impede trade.

Thus, the policy recommendation for the extended PoA should be on trade policy reforms, cost reduction, infrastructure development, regional and sub-regional coordination, institutional framework and capacity building, public-private cooperation, and partnerships.

Since we are moving into the new transformational phase of post-2015 agenda, the focus on poverty reduction, health, education, employment and economic self-reliance, together with food, energy and water security will also gain attention in Vienna.

Overall peace and stability, rule of law and good governance are required all the more for the LLDCs to see progress and these new elements will be added to the ApoA to keep pace with changing times and challenges.

Climate Change: A Defining Issue 

The outcome of Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference noted that desertification, climate change, land degradation and drought continue to pose serious challenges to the economic and sustainable development of LLDCs.

In addition, Article 4 paragraph 8 (i) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change already recognises landlocked countries to be one of those groups requiring special measures.

These issues ten years ago were not included in the priority areas of the Almaty Programme. Hence the impact of climate change on LLDCs will definitely be a new major theme in the upcoming Vienna conference.

We will need to identify priority actions and measures, specifying those to be undertaken by LLDCs and by the development partners, prioritising areas of effective international collaboration that can successfully support LLDCs to manage climate change and harness available opportunities.

I am pleased to state that in view of the threatening global energy crisis, Kazakhstan will host in Astana the International EXPO 2017 on the theme: Future Energy.

It will provide a rich exchange of innovations and best practices in new alternative energy resources, scientific technology and digital advances. We hope to see you all in Astana as this unique event will be of the utmost relevance to the LLDCs.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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There’s CO2 Under Those Hillshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/theres-co2-under-those-hills/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=theres-co2-under-those-hills http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/theres-co2-under-those-hills/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:05:32 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137486 Part of the area planned for extraction of CO2 in Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy with a protest sign reading: EXTRACTION OF CO2 FROM THE GROUND – A NONSENSE!!! Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Part of the area planned for extraction of CO2 in Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy with a protest sign reading: EXTRACTION OF CO2 FROM THE GROUND – A NONSENSE!!! Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

“If  they go ahead and dig those wells, all my work will be destroyed, all my life, everything,” says Franca Tognarelli, looking at the hills and vineyards around her house in Certaldo, Val d’Elsa, in the heart of Tuscany.

Now retired, Franca invested all her savings in restructuring her house in Certaldo, only to find that it sits on top of a deposit of CO2 that a private company – Lifenergy S.r.l. – is eager to extract and sell for industrial purposes, most likely in the production of sparkling beverages.

The irony is that the gas under Franca’s house is the same greenhouse gas held largely responsible for global warming.

While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2, including considering highly disputed technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground.While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2 … the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground

According to a scientific source who wished to remain anonymous, the CO2 obtained from the area in question would offset most of the production of renewable energy in Tuscany, ultimately cancelling its Italian leadership in the production of geothermal energy.

In a preliminary phase, the CO2 project would involve drilling two test wells to a depth of between 400 and 700 metres inside a 45 hectare area that Lifenergy has already purchased. If the testing gives positive results, the company would then proceed to expand a network of wells necessary for extracting the CO2.

“They will simply have to compensate me for the part of ground they’ll be drilling,” explains Franca, “but they will be allowed to enter my property and dig all the holes they want.”

Under Italian law, a land owner’s permission is not required to enter the land for experimental excavation purposes once such experiments have been authorised by the public authorities.

Lifenergy is not the first company to have attempted to put its hands on the CO2 reserves of Val d’Elsa, but it is the first which has managed to obtain the permits to do so, after a last attempt made in the 60s ended up with the explosion of a well.

In May, a group of concerned citizens took the issue to the Tuscany Regional Administrative Court, but the court rejected their objections to the Lifenergy plan. “The law is on our side and we are open to dialogue, but we are determined to carry forward our activities,” Massimo Piazzini, managing director of Lifenergy, told local news website GoNews.

“But we need serious and responsible institutions that are willing to discuss and find solutions to give new opportunities to the territory, while respecting mankind and the environment,” he added.

Members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa blame the previous town council for not having taken concrete action against the Lifenergy plan, but the newly elected mayor of Certaldo, Giacomo Cucini, said that “after receiving the company request to start testing, the former mayor simply followed the normal procedure without expressing a political opinion on the matter.”

Nevertheless, he added, “the current town council openly opposes the extraction project on our territory, because this is a territory that lives on agriculture and tourism and we want it to remain that way.”

Apart from the ‘visual impact’ that an extraction plant would have on the characteristic landscape of Certaldo, the risks of water and air pollution are a major concern among members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa.

“There are plenty of farmers here who have been working all their lives, sweating blood to keep their business going, especially with the crisis,” says Caterina Concialdi, one of the committee members. “Now they have to face a private company that might leave them empty-handed, because the risks are real and nobody is telling us who’s going to pay for the damages if something happens.”

Ubaldo Malavolta is one of those farmers. His land is part of the area for which Lifenergy has requested a drilling permit after the testing phase.

“If they get the concession, they will be able to dig holes in my garden, and it’s not like a water well,” he said, adding that the company itself has declared that there will be emissions of hydrogen sulphide.”

“It’s called H2S and it’s not just about the smell, it’s poisoning and it leads to air pollution” insists Tiziano Traini, another committee member. “They are obviously supposed to keep the level of these emissions under the threshold established by law. But this will nevertheless mean a serious worsening of environmental conditions for the people who live here.”

Despite the widespread opposition shared by local citizens and the town council, the decision on the concession lies in different hands: “We have been asked to express a technical opinion,” Cucini explains, “but in no way can the municipality allow or deny the research phase of the project.”

The Tuscany Region, the authority that is responsible for the concession, is currently in the process of evaluating the environmental impact and is expected to take a decision by the beginning of December.

“The research permit is still on, but the Regional Council has stated that there will be no more concessions for underground extractions in the area, and this is quite reassuring for us,” the mayor told IPS.

Enrico Rossi, president of the Tuscany Region, explained in a public statement that the Regional Council’s stance is an act of responsibility towards the environment.

But the citizens seem to have lost their faith in the institutions and look with concern at their future: “I’m too old to go anywhere,” says Franca, “and this house will be of no value inside a mining area.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report.

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Crisis Fuelled Resurgence of Horse-Drawn Carriages in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/crisis-fuelled-resurgence-of-horse-drawn-carriages-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-fuelled-resurgence-of-horse-drawn-carriages-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/crisis-fuelled-resurgence-of-horse-drawn-carriages-in-cuba/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:52:40 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137478 People in the city of Bayamo in the eastern Cuban province of Granma use horse-drawn carts as public transportation. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

People in the city of Bayamo in the eastern Cuban province of Granma use horse-drawn carts as public transportation. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Up and down the streets of towns and cities in Cuba go horse-drawn carriages with black leather tops and large back wheels, alongside more simple carts, operating as public transportation.

This ancient means of transportation can be seen throughout this country, in urban, suburban and rural areas, where motor vehicles are expensive and there are not enough cars and buses. And in the most remote parts of the country carts are virtually the only way to get around.

As he has done every morning for the past 11 years, Bienvenido García waits for customers at the ‘piquera’ or stop in the resort town of Varadero, 121 km east of Havana, to take them in his carriage along a fixed route down the main street of this tourist town.“What are needed first of all are solutions that would strengthen and reorient the public transportation system, improve the road infrastructure and reduce vehicle emissions, which would mean upgrading the vehicle fleet.” -- Lizet Rodríguez

Depending on where, what kind of cart, and the distance to be travelled, the cost ranges from two to 10 pesos per passenger (10 to 50 cents of a dollar). But a jaunt in one of the comfortable fancy traditional carriages is much more costly, because they cater exclusively to foreign tourists.

“I used to work in the ‘guaguas’ (public buses). But with the crisis, there weren’t any spare parts or fuel. So I started driving a carriage,” García, a ‘cuentapropista’ or self-employed worker, told IPS.

Like most sectors of the economy, transportation collapsed in 1991 when the East European socialist bloc, Cuba’s main trade and aid partner, fell apart. Observers say measures aimed at recuperating transport have been slow and inefficient.

Cubans were forced to find ways of getting around that did not depend on fossil fuels – such as horses, carts, bicycles and three-wheeled pedal-powered “bicitaxis”.

In response, as part of the socialist government’s opening up to small private businesses and cuentapropistas, new trades were added by the authorities: ‘cochero’ or carriage driver, and ‘bicitaxista’ and ‘mototaxista’, who drive bicitaxis and motorcycle taxis.

In 2010, the government declared that private enterprise was key to easing the chronic public transportation shortage. Most of the country’s 473,000 cuentapropistas work in the areas of food and restaurants, housing rental or transportation.

There are no specific statistics on the number of cocheros, who are mainly men. But they abound in cities like Bayamo, called “the city of the carriages”, and Guantánamo, in the east; Cárdenas and Varadero in the west; and Santa Clara, Ciego de Ávila and Santi Spíritus in central Cuba.

 

Bienvenido García has been driving a carriage for 11 years in the resort town of Varadero, in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Bienvenido García has been driving a carriage for 11 years in the resort town of Varadero, in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Nor are there clear figures on how many motor vehicles are circulating today in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people. But in July 2013 the local media reported that there were only 7,840 public transport buses – just half of the 15,800 buses serving the population in the 1980s.

And due to the lack of new vehicles, classic U.S. 1950s cars or Soviet-made Ladas are still plying the streets of Cuba’s cities.

“You can just get by on this job as a cochero because the taxes are high,” said García, whose cart carries up to eight people, “the weight that the horse can pull without it being abusive.”

“I keep the ‘culero’ (manure bag) in good shape, to avoid getting the streets dirty, and I taught my horse to make the stops, so we don’t distort traffic on the road,” he said.

But not all of the streets in towns with horse-drawn carts and carriages are as clean as Varadero’s.

“To get something done, people had to complain to the authorities about horses on the streets. There was manure everywhere,” Aliuska Labrada, a young woman who lives in the town of Cayo Ramona, 200 km southeast of Havana, told IPS.

The resurgence of this old means of transportation brought with it problems related to hygiene, the public image of rural and urban areas, traffic safety, and the welfare of draft animals.

Rules established by local authorities included carriage stands that must be kept clean by the drivers, the following of traditional ways of handling carts, and urban areas off-limits to horse-drawn vehicles. And for the drivers to obtain a license, their horses must undergo veterinary exams.

“It’s a more natural means of transportation…but at what price?” wrote a cybernaut who identified herself as Marina in an online IPS forum.

“The horses damage the paved streets and can cause accidents because the drivers don’t have total control over their animals,” she said. “There’s also the question of mistreatment of the animals. Some people exploit them to exhaustion, just to make money from them.”

That is a sensitive issue that animal rights organisations have been complaining about for years. Since 1988, the Scientific Veterinary Council and the Cuban Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants have been presenting a proposed draft law on animal protection to the Agriculture Ministry, without success.

The local scientific community is pressing for the development of green-friendly, sustainable transportation in Cuba.

In an email response to IPS, the engineer Lizet Rodríguez identified several short- and long-term alternatives, although she said the shift to a cleaner transportation system would require an in-depth feasibility study.

“What are needed first of all are solutions that would strengthen and reorient the public transportation system, improve road infrastructure and reduce vehicle emissions, which would mean upgrading the vehicle fleet,” she said.

Rodríguez, a researcher at the Marta Abreu Central University in the city of Villa Clara, 268 km east of Havana, recommended “improving communications over the Internet, to make it possible to carry out a large number of operations online that today require that people physically go somewhere.”

Few people in Cuba have online connection in their homes, most of them dial-up and some wireless. In 2013, there were 2,923,000 users, including both Internet and intranet accounts, which offer access to a limited number of local and international websites.

The engineer said “the use of the bicycle (as long as there are bike paths) would be feasible above all in small and medium-sized towns, and the use of cleaner fuels like natural gas or so-called biofuels – methanol and ethanol, obtained from biomass residue – could be encouraged.”

Last year, renewable energy sources made up 22.4 percent of the country’s primary energy production, according to the latest report by the national statistic institute, ONEI.

Up to now, renewable energy sources have only been used in a handful of industries, mainly for generating electricity, pumping and heating water, and cooking food.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Fossil Fuels Won’t Benefit Africa in Absence of Sound Environmental Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:10:54 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137466 Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Recent discoveries of sizeable natural gas reserves and barrels of oil in a number of African countries — including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya — have economists hopeful that the continent can boost and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. 

But environmentalists and climate change experts in favour of renewable energy say that the exploration of oil and gas must stop, as they are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment.

Economic policies are not driven by environmental concerns, Hadley Becha, director of local nongovernmental organisation Community Action for Nature Conservation, told IPS.

Becha said that despite the global shift away from fossil fuels, “exploration and production of oil and gas will continue” while Africa’s natural resources, particularly oil and gas, are controlled by multinationals.

Like many experts in the oil and gas industry, Becha believes that multinationals will still be awarded permits by local governments as the extractive industry has shown a great potential for revenue generation.

According to KPMG Africa, a network of professional firms, as of 2012 there were 124 billion barrels of oil reserves discovered in Africa, with an additional 100 billion barrels still offshore waiting to be discovered.

And while only 16 African countries are exporters of oil as of 2010, at least five more countries, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, are expected to join the long list of oil-producing countries.

But Kenyan environmentalist and policy expert, Wilbur Otichillo, believes that in light of the global shift away from fossil fuels, “newly-found oil will remain underground. Most of the companies which have been given concessions for exploration in East Africa are from the West.”

He told IPS that these companies were likely to heed calls for clean energy, “especially since they are likely to be compensated for investments made to explore.”

But unlike Egypt, which has specific Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines for oil and gas exploration, many African countries, including Kenya, have only one classification of EIAs, Becha said.

For example, in Kenya, oil and gas exploration and production is controlled by the archaic Petroleum Act of 1984, which was briefly updated in 2012.

“The Petroleum Act of 1984 is a weak law, especially with regards to benefits sharing and is also silent on the management of gas,” Becha said, adding that the oil and gas sector was very specialised and required detailed and specific environmental impact guidelines.

Experts say fossil fuels will have a significant impact on weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released last month, revealed that temperatures on the African continent are likely to rise significantly.

“There ought to be specific guidelines for upstream [exploration and production], midstream [transportation, storage and marketing of various oil and gas products] and downstream exploration [refining and processing of hydrocarbons into usable products such as gasoline],” Becha said.

Policy experts are pushing Kenya’s government to develop sound policies and comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure that Kenya benefits from upstream activities and can also explore technology with fewer emissions.

Executive director of Green Africa Foundation John Kioli told IPS that Kenya was committed to adopting technology with fewer emissions “for example, coal [one of Kenya’s natural resources] will be mined underground as opposed to open mining.”

Kioli, the brains behind Kenya’s Climate Change Authority Bill 2012, emphasised the need to address the issue of governance and legislation in Africa.

He added that while Africa was committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, “the continent lacks the necessary resources. Africa cannot continue looking to the East or West indefinitely for these resources.”

Kenya’s government estimates that the 2013-2017 National Climate Change Action Plan for climate adaptation and mitigation would require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars. This is equivalent to the current 2013-2014 national budget.

Danson Mwangangi, an economist and market researcher in East Africa, told IPS that to achieve growth and development, and hence reduce poverty, “Africa will need to exploit fossil fuels.”

He says that industrialised countries are responsible for a giant share of greenhouse gas emissions and Africa too “should be allowed their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, but within a certain period. Not indefinitely.”

Mwangangi said it is now common to find assistance to Africa simultaneously counted towards meeting climate change obligations and development commitments. “This means that measured against more pressing problems like combating various diseases, climate change projects will not be given a priority,” he added.

But even as Africa is adamant that oil and gas exploration will continue, Becha says the gains will be short term and unlikely to revive the economy.

“With oil and gas, it is not just about licensing, there are also issues of taxation…” Becha said.

He explained that in the absence of capital gains tax, as is the case in Kenya and many other African countries, “the government will lose a lot of revenue to briefcase exploration companies who act as middlemen, robbing national governments of significant revenue.”

He added that African countries will have to establish a solvent fund where revenue from oil and gas will be stored to stabilise the economy “oil can inflate the prices of certain commodities hence the need to control surges in inflation.”

Ghana is also among the few countries with a capital gains tax and a solvent fund.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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OPINION: Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Future for Industrial Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:07:26 +0000 Li Yong and A.L. Abdul Azeez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137457 Smelter at the El Teniente mine, which produces 37 percent of Chile’s copper. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Smelter at the El Teniente mine, which produces 37 percent of Chile’s copper. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Li Yong and A.L. Abdul Azeez
VIENNA, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

As representatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), we are sometimes asked whether industrial development is still relevant to a world which many observers have claimed over the past decades to have entered the “post-industrial age”. Our answer is always an emphatic “yes”, shaped both by the evidence of history and current events.

In the wake of recession and sluggish growth, policymakers globally are increasingly recognising the merits of industrialisation, both in developing and in richer countries.

The European Union, Japan, the United States and a few other countries have given greater prominence to reindustrialisation in their respective economic policies in recent years, while both middle-income countries and least developed countries have cited industrialisation as vital for their future prosperity.An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental.

UNIDO promotes industrial development as the primary vector through which poverty can be eradicated, by enhancing productivity, stimulating economic growth and generating associated increases in incomes and employment. We cooperate with governments and private sector actors to harness the investments necessary to strengthen the productive and trade capacities of our member states.

History has shown that industrialisation has an immense potential to propel upward social mobility; as a result of the Industrial Revolutions in England and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of people were lifted out of poverty. Latterly, industrialisation has been central to the booming growth enjoyed by East Asian economies, and especially China, where GDP per capita has risen over 30-fold since 1978.

However, UNIDO recognises that while industrialisation has often been the motor for positive economic change, this has sometimes been achieved at the expense of social inequality and environmental degradation. Industrialisation must therefore be embedded in a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable policy framework if it is to achieve the desired developmental impact.

An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. At UNIDO’s 15th General Conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2013, the organisation’s 172 member states unanimously adopted the Lima Declaration, giving UNIDO a mandate to promote Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) as the principal means of realising their industrial development policy objectives.

The achievement of ISID represents UNIDO’s vision for an approach that balances the imperatives of economic growth, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.

The world is united in regarding poverty eradication as the overarching objective of development, and UNIDO’s member states have placed it at the core of ISID. Industrial development has been shown to be a key driver of processes which make a difference to the world’s poorest citizens.

Research from UNIDO demonstrates that countries with a larger share of industry in their economies perform better with regard to a wide range of indicators corresponding to social well-being, such as income inequality, educational opportunities, gender equality, health and nutrition. The contribution that ISID could make to youth empowerment through skills development and youth entrepreneurship is now widely recognised.

Similarly, environmental sustainability is also central to ISID. UNIDO promotes Green Industry and the use of clean technologies in industrial production; greater resource and energy efficiency; and improved water and waste management. Not only do these measures reduce harmful emissions and waste, but they also offer a significant potential for increased competitiveness and employment opportunities.

ISID also prioritises creating shared prosperity. This means that the benefits of growth must be inclusive if they are to improve the living standards of all women and men, young and old alike. Employment opportunities, particularly in the industrial and agro-industrial sectors, must be available to all members of the workforce, thus building greater prosperity and social cohesion.

As we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework in 2015, the international community has been reflecting on how best to address outstanding challenges. Although the MDGs achieved some remarkable successes, for example in terms of halving extreme poverty and increasing access to education and sanitation, much still remains to be done in order to achieve “the world we want”.

The post-2015 development agenda currently being discussed by the international community aims to address the many development issues that still need to be resolved. The Open Working Group, which was tasked with formulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be at the core of the post-2015 development agenda, has recognised the importance of inclusive and sustainable industrialisation by including it as one of the 17 Goals it has proposed, clustering it in Goal 9 with resilient infrastructure and innovation.

Given the ambitious scope of the post-2015 development agenda and experience gained over MDGs, the focus of international deliberations has now shifted from the determination of the SDGs to addressing the means of implementation.

Recognising the budgetary constraints imposed by the prolonged period of stagnant growth and recession experienced in many countries, the recent report of the International Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing acknowledged the necessity of mobilising alternative resources for the implementation of the SDGs, including those of the private sector.

UNIDO has already worked extensively on securing greater engagement from private industry in international development, and over the past year was honoured to have been selected to co-lead the United Nations System’s consultations on engaging with the private sector. As the organisation mandated to promote industrial development, which is quintessentially a private-sector activity, we are well-placed to partner with and promote private enterprise, and look forward to achieving increased progress in this field in the future.

Industrialisation has consistently transformed living standards throughout modern history. ISID is the next phase in its evolution. The overarching goal of the post-2015 development agenda is to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest citizens.

This is a challenge which UNIDO is well-placed to meet in partnership with governments, the global development community, business and civil society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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St. Vincent Takes to Heart Hard Lessons on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/st-vincents-takes-to-heart-hard-lessons-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-vincents-takes-to-heart-hard-lessons-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/st-vincents-takes-to-heart-hard-lessons-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 16:33:40 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137447 St. Vincent has been hit hard by flooding and landslides in recent years, blamed on climate change and deforestation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Vincent has been hit hard by flooding and landslides in recent years, blamed on climate change and deforestation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PASTURES, St. Vincent, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Glenda Williams has lived in the Pastures community in eastern St. Vincent all her life. She’s seen the area flooded by storms on multiple occasions.

But the last two times, it was more “severe and frightening” than anything she had witnessed before.

“The last time the river came down it reached on the ball ground [playing field] and you had people catching fish on the ball ground. So this time now (Dec. 24, 2013), it did more damage,” Williams, 48, told IPS.

Williams was giving a firsthand account of the landslides and flooding in April 2011 and the December 2013 floods which resulted from a slow-moving, low-level trough.

The latter of the two weather systems, which also affected Dominica and St. Lucia, dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the island, destroying farms and other infrastructure, and left 13 people dead.

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Gleanda Williams of St. Vincent recounts the storms of April 2011 and December 2013 that killed 13 people. Credit: Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told IPS that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there is a major problem with degradation of the forests and this has contributed to the recent floods.

The debris left behind by the cutting of timber, Dr. Gonsalves argued, “helps to cause the blockages by the rivers and when the rivers overflow their banks, we have these kinds of flooding and disasters.

“The trees are cut down by two sets of people: one set who cut timber for sale and another set who cut timber to clear land to plant marijuana,” he explained. “And when they cut them they would not chop them up so logs remain, and when the rains come again and there are landslides they come down into the river.”

The country’s ambassador to CARICOM and the OECS, Ellsworth John, said the clearing of the forests is a serious issue which must be dealt with swiftly.

“It’s something that the government is looking at very closely… the clearing of vegetation in our rainforests maybe is not done in a timely fashion and it is something that has to be part of the planning as we look at the issue of climate change,” he told IPS.“With warmer temperatures, warmer seas, there is more moisture in the atmosphere so when you get rainfall now it’s a deluge." -- Dr. Ulric Trotz

Gonsalves admitted that policing of the forests is a difficult task but added, “If we don’t deal with the forest, we are going to have a lot of problems.”

St. Vincent was the venue for a recent climate change conference. Gonsalves said the island forms the perfect backdrop for the two-day conference having experienced first-hand the impacts of climate change.

The seminar was held as part of the OECS/USAID RRACC Project – a five-year developmental project launched in 2011 to assist the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) governments with building resilience through the implementation of climate change adaptation measures.

Specifically, RRACC will build an enabling environment in support of policies and laws to reduce vulnerability; address information gaps that constrain issues related to climate vulnerabilities; make interventions in freshwater and coastal management to build resilience; increase awareness on issues related to climate change and improve capacities for climate change adaptation.

Speaking with IPS on the sidelines of the conference, Deputy Director and Science Advisor at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) Dr. Ulric Trotz said with the advent of climate change, St. Vincent and the Grenadines could expect similar extreme weather events in the future.

“What happened there is that you had an unusual extreme event, and we are saying with climate change that is to be expected,” Trotz told IPS.

“With warmer temperatures, warmer seas, there is more moisture in the atmosphere so when you get rainfall now it’s a deluge. It’s heavy and you’re getting more rainfall in a short time than you ever experienced.

“Your drainage systems aren’t designed to deal with that flow of water. Your homes, for instance, on slopes that under normal conditions would be stable but with heavy rainfall these slopes now become unstable, you get landslides with loss of property and life, raging rivers with the heavy flow of water removing homes that are in vulnerable situations,” he added.

Gonsalves said that between 2011 and 2014, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has spent more than 600 million dollars to rebuild from the storms.

In September, the European Union said it would allocate approximately 45.5 million dollars in grants for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia after both countries were affected by the devastating weather system in December 2013.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which suffered the heaviest damage, is earmarked to receive EC 23.5 million and St. Lucia EC 22.4 million.

This long-term reconstruction support will be in addition to the EC 1.4 million of emergency humanitarian assistance provided by the European Union to the affected populations in the two countries immediately after the storm.

The funds will be dedicated to the reconstruction of key infrastructure damaged by the floods and to build resilience by improving river protection and slope stabilisation in major areas of the countries.

The Chateaubelair Jetty in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Piaye Bridge in St. Lucia which were extensively damaged during the storm are infrastructure that could potentially benefit from the EU intervention.

“This support demonstrates the EU’s commitment to the reconstruction of both countries and further highlights Europe’s solidarity with the Caribbean, which we recognise as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world,” said Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Ambassador Mikael Barfod.

The European Union is also providing 20 million euro to support the regional disaster management programme of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency as it undertakes disaster risk reduction measures in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Bangladeshi ‘Char Dwellers’ in Search of Higher Groundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bangladeshi-char-dwellers-in-search-of-higher-ground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-char-dwellers-in-search-of-higher-ground http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bangladeshi-char-dwellers-in-search-of-higher-ground/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:43:55 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137443 Families who live on ‘chars’ – river islands formed from sedimentation – are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This family wades through floodwaters left behind after heavy rains in August caused major rivers to burst their banks in northern Bangladesh.

Families who live on ‘chars’ – river islands formed from sedimentation – are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This family wades through floodwaters left behind after heavy rains in August caused major rivers to burst their banks in northern Bangladesh.

By Naimul Haq
KURIGRAM, Bangladesh, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Jahanara Begum, a 35-year-old housewife, is surrounded by thatched-roof homes, all of which are partially submerged by floodwater.

Heavy rains throughout the monsoon months, beginning in August, left thousands of people in northern Bangladesh homeless or in dire straits as the mighty Brahmaputra, Dharla and Teesta rivers burst their banks, spilling out over the countryside.

Some of the worst hit were the roughly 50,000-70,000 ‘char dwellers’, residents who have been forced to make their homes on little river islands or shoals, the result of years of intense sedimentation along some of Bangladesh’s largest rivers.

“My husband had planted rice and potato on about half an acre of lowland, but the flood destroyed all our dreams." -- 34-year-old Rehana Begum
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Bangladesh experiences a net accretion of some 20 square km of land per year – “newly formed land of about 52 square km minus eroded land of around 32 square km” – as the coastline shifts, river beds dry up and floods and siltation leave little mounds of earth behind.

“With an assumed density of 800 people per square km,” IFAD estimates, “this means that each year approximately 26,000 people lose their land in Bangladesh.”

Many of those left landless opt to start life afresh on the chars, which lack almost all basic services: a water supply, sanitation facilities, hospitals, schools, electricity, transport, police stations, markets.

“We survive on God’s blessings,” an old man named Nurul Islam, a char resident, told IPS, “and indigenous agricultural practices.”

Sometimes, however, even divine intervention and ancient wisdom is not sufficient to guards against the hazards of such a precarious life. Jahanara recalls the worst days of the flood, when rapid waters swept away most of her neighbours’ household items while she herself was protected only by the slight elevation of her home on the Astamer Char in Kurigram district, about 290 km north of the capital Dhaka.

In the Bhangapara District, some 210 km from Dhaka, the floodwaters were knee-deep, according to Mossammet Laily, a mother of four in her mid-30s whose entire home went underwater this past August. “Everything inside was destroyed in no time,” a visibly moved Laily told IPS.

Her disheartened neighbour, who gave his name only as Rabeya, added, “I had pumpkin, potato, cucumbers and snake-, ribbed- and bottle-gourd in my small garden. All of them vanished in a matter of a few hours.”

As Naser Ali, a local businessmen, explained to IPS, “We never had floods of this magnitude in our childhood. In previous years floodwaters stayed for a couple of days but this time the water stayed for almost a month.”

All over Bangladesh, the impacts of a wetter and warmer climate are making themselves felt among the poorest and most marginalised segments of society. In a country of 156 million people, 70 percent of whom live in rural areas, natural disasters are magnified.

Some 50-80 million people live in flood-prone or drought-prone areas around the country. While statistics about their average income vary, rural families seldom earn more than 50-80 dollars per month.

Natural disasters in Bangladesh have resulted in damages to the tune of billions of dollars, with cyclones Sidr and Aila (in 2007 and 2009 respectively) causing damages estimated at 1.7 billion and 550 million dollars each.

And for the char dwellers, the prospect of more frequent weather-related hazards is a grim prospect.

The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), adopted prior to the Copenhagen Summit in 2009, identified inland monsoon flooding and tropical cyclones accompanied with storm surges as two of the three major climate hazards facing the country.

In a bid to protect some of its most vulnerable communities, the government has embarked on the Community Climate Change Project (CCCP) at a total cost of 12.5 million dollars, managed by the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF), a multi-donor climate change adaptation trust fund supported by the World Bank, among others.

Referring to the project, Johannes Zutt, the World Bank’s country director for Bangladesh, told IPS. “It is increasingly evident that climate change will have enormous impacts on a low-lying delta country like Bangladesh. The CCCP is helping communities living on the frontline to increase their ability to cope with climate-related adversities.”

He also said, “Often, these people have few resources and no real ability to relocate, but they can nonetheless take collective action to increase their resilience to climate change.”

Tens of thousands of char dwellers will be the primary beneficiaries of these ambitious projects.

K M Marufuzzaman, programme officer of Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a government lending agency working to implement the CCCP at the grassroots level in the Kurigram district in northern Bangladesh, told IPS that the “main mission” is to “minimize environmental risks” and safeguard at-risk communities.

One initiative has involved raising homes five to eight feet above ground level to protect families from being inundated. On the plinth, as it is commonly known, survivors and their poultry and other livestock are sheltered from the many storms and floods that plague the northern regions of the country.

Pointing at a tiny bamboo cottage, Mohammad Mukul Miah, a beneficiary of this project, told IPS, “We have built animal homes for goats to avoid the possible spread of diseases. We have also planted bottle- and snake-gourd to eat during times of food scarcity.”

Those like 65-year-old Badiuzzaman, who lives in a tin shed-like structure in Char Bazra on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, 200 km north of the capital, have “planted rice seedlings on the plinth so that when water recedes I can take advantage of the fertile soil to quickly grow paddy.”

Nearby, on one of the many plinths that now dot the 50-by-20-metre Char Bazra, 34-year-old Rehana Begum has planted rice seedlings beside her bamboo-and-jute-woven home. “My husband had planted rice and potato on about half an acre of lowland, but the flood destroyed all our dreams.

“We intend to recover from this by growing seedlings in advance,” she told IPS.

About 20 minutes away, in Char Korai Barisal, many homes still bear the scars of the recent disaster. Standing on the edge of the shoal with her two children, Anisa Begum remembers how and she and her family spent day after fearful day in their submerged home, “sometimes with nothing to eat, holding each other’s hands to avoid drowning in the dark.”

Other families spent entire days on large boats to survive the sudden catastrophe.

It was only those who had their homes on plinths who were spared. If the government’s community resilience scheme unfolds according to plan, 50,000 people on shoals will be living on plinths in the greater Brahmaputra region by next year.

In total, the project aims to cover 12,000 families living on the shoals in northern regions.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Panama Regulators Could Slow U.S. Approval of GM Salmonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panama-regulators-could-slow-u-s-approval-of-gm-salmon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-regulators-could-slow-u-s-approval-of-gm-salmon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panama-regulators-could-slow-u-s-approval-of-gm-salmon/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 00:01:07 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137439 Some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged not to sell GE salmon. Credit: Kevin Galens/cc by 2.0

Some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged not to sell GE salmon. Credit: Kevin Galens/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

Officials in Panama have fined the local facility of a U.S. biotechnology company for a series of permitting and regulatory failures around a pioneering attempt to create genetically modified salmon.

The experiments are being carried out by researchers for AquaBounty Technologies, which currently has an application with the U.S. government to sell genetically modified (GM) salmon filets in this country. If regulators approve that application, AquaBounty’s salmon would be the first genetically modified meat sold for human consumption anywhere in the world."There are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies." -- Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth

Further, companies in the United States and around the globe are said to be actively watching U.S. regulators’ response to AquaBounty’s application as a critical indication of whether to proceed with other GM meat projects.

“AquaBounty is really out front on this – the current case will set an important precedent,” Dana Perls, a food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“From what we know, there are about 35 other genetically modified species in the development pipelines in other companies. So depending on what happens in this case, we’ll likely either see a flow of other permits or this will demonstrate that there isn’t room on the market for GM meat or seafood.”

AquaBounty’s application with the U.S. government would involve getting filets of the new GM salmon from the company’s breeding facility in Panama and into the U.S. market. Advocates are now pointing to the Panamanian authorities’ findings of regulations violations as an indication that the U.S. regulatory process is proceeding too quickly in considering the salmon application.

“The impacts GM foods will have on health and the environment have not been sufficiently assessed to approve human consumption of this salmon,” Luisa Arauz Arredondo, an attorney with the Panama Centre for Environmental Advocacy, which filed the administrative complaint against AquaBounty, told IPS.

She notes that while AquaBounty’s facilities in Panama have permission to run experiments on the salmon, the country has not approved anything further.

“The salmon would not be sold to Panamanian consumers,” she says, “since the human consumption of GM salmon has not been approved by Panama or the U.S.”

Repeat violations

The Panamanian regulatory decision, which was made public on Tuesday, actually stems from a 2012 investigation of AquaBounty’s facilities and was decided in July of this year. It found that the company had failed to secure necessary permits, particularly around its use of water and pollution of the local environment – potentially important, advocates say, given the possibility of contamination of natural systems.

The authorities noted their view that the company had “repeatedly violated” these regulations, and stated that these problems persisted into 2013. They deemed the transgressions significant enough to levy almost the maximum fine allowable against the company.

AquaBounty Technologies suggests that the concerns outlined by Panama’s government were largely administrative in nature and notes that any problems have all been dealt with already.

“It is important to emphasize that none of the issues in the Resolution questioned the containment, health of the fish, or the environmental safety of the facility,” the company said in a statement sent to IPS.

“When AquaBounty was informed of issues at our Panama facility, we immediately contacted ANAM, the Panamanian agency for the environment. We initiated a program to remedy the deficiencies and the issues were formally resolved in August of 2014.”

The company notes that its Panama facility “continues to operate with no sanctions or restrictions.”

Whether the actions on the part of Panama’s government will impact on the ongoing consideration of AquaBounty’s application by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remains to be seen.

A spokesperson for the FDA likewise pointed out that AquaBounty’s violations were based on a 2012 inspection, but also said the agency would “consider all relevant information as part of the decision-making process.”

The spokesperson noted that the agency is in the process of completing its review of the company’s application, but declined to provide a timeline on what that decision will be made.

Shoehorning regulation

For environmentalists, public interest groups and anti-GMO advocates, the Panama findings underscore a potential weakness in the FDA’s regulatory process.

“This decision is also even further proof that FDA is dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground, advancing AquaBounty’s application based on its promises, not reality,” George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based advocacy group, said Tuesday.

Friends of the Earth’s Perls says that the FDA’s current regulatory review of the GM salmon application is based solely on the single AquaBounty facility in Panama.

“The FDA is going forward with its review based on the premise that this facility will be in compliance with regulations, yet now we’re seeing it’s not,” she says. “It is increasingly clear that there is inadequate regulation: the FDA is trying to shoehorn this new genetically engineered animal into a completely ill-fitting regulatory process.”

Much of the concern here revolves around the potential for genetically modified hybrids to escape into the wild, potentially outcompeting wild populations or introducing new diseases. Yet the issue also runs up against the scepticism that continues to colour consumer response to genetically modified foods – and the sense that regulators are moving too quickly to approve these products.

When the FDA in 2012 asked the public to weigh in on the AquaBounty salmon application, it received some 1.8 million comments expressing overwhelming opposition. Members of the U.S. Congress have likewise expressed their concern, and legislation has been proposed that would require the labelling of genetically modified fish.

As yet, there is no legal requirement in the United States to label any genetically modified food or ingredient, though the state of Vermont could soon impose such a mandate. According to a media poll conducted last year, some 93 percent of people in the U.S. support the labelling of genetically modified foods, and three-quarters said they would not eat GM fish.

Yet perhaps the most significant indication of public sentiment on this issue has come from the retailers that have pre-emptively stated that they would not sell genetically modified fish and seafood – regardless of whether the FDA approves its sale. According to data compiled by Friends of the Earth, some 60 major U.S. food retailers have already pledged to do so, including several of the country’s largest grocery chains.

“Should GE salmon come to market, we are not considering nor do we have any plans to carry GE salmon,” Safeway, the second-largest grocer in the United States, said in a policy statement released in February. “Safeway’s [policy] calls for all of our fresh and frozen seafood to be responsibly sourced and traceable or be in a time-bound improvement process by the end of 2015.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Bougainville Voices Say ‘No’ to Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:41:41 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137411 Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

The viability of reopening the controversial Panguna copper mine in the remote mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the east of Papua New Guinea, has been the focus of discussions led by local political leaders and foreign mining interests over the past four years.

But a report by an Australian non-government organisation warns that the wounds left on local communities by the corporate mining project, “the environmental destruction associated with it” and the civil war that stretched from 1988 to 1997 are far from healed.

Its findings include widespread opposition in directly impacted villages to the mine’s revival in the near future.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there." -- Lynette Ona, a member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association
“I believe the report was honest and sincere in that it gave people from the mine-affected areas an opportunity they are not always accorded, to come out and really make known to the world their problems, hopes and fears,” Jimmy Miringtoro, member of parliament for Central Bougainville, where the mine is located, told IPS.

The mine was formerly operated by the Australian company Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which is 53 percent owned by Rio Tinto, from 1969, but forced to shut down 20 years later following an uprising by indigenous landowners angered by economic exploitation, loss and degradation of land, and political marginalisation.

The ‘Voices of Bougainville’ study was conducted at the end of last year with 65 individuals and a focus group of 17 living in 10 villages in and around the mine site by Jubilee Australia, which investigates Australian state and corporate responsibility for environmental and human rights issues, in association with a university research consortium called the International State Crime Initiative, and Papua New Guinean civil society organisation Bismarck Ramu Group.

“The study was not an opinion poll … our primary aim was to better understand local views on mining and development … it was felt that there was an absence of publicly available qualitative data offering a window into the past and its interspersion with the present in the mine affected region,” Kristian Lasslett of the International State Crime Initiative told IPS.

The former mine lease area covers 13,047 hectares of forested land and the main villages in the vicinity of the mine are home to an estimated 4,000-5,000 people, according to data obtained by IPS in 2011 through interviews with locals.

“BCL destroyed our lives, took our land, took our money and never properly compensated our parents who were the rightful titleholders of the land which they took … now they want to come and reopen Panguna mine, this is a no, I personally say no to the reopening of the Panguna mine,” said a villager from Dapera, near to the mine pit, quoted in the report.

His claims find echo among grassroots communities. Panguna landowner and member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association, Lynette Ona, agreed that most people in the area didn’t want mining. Ona recently led a women’s delegation to the PNG Prime Minister’s office to raise their opposition to mining before the region achieved complete self-government.

Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Morris has publicly rejected the report and its findings, claiming that there is majority support for the industry if negative impacts are avoided.

He is supported by landowner associations, which are members, along with Bougainville Copper Ltd and the PNG Government, of the multi-stakeholder Joint Panguna Negotiations Co-ordinating Committee.

A troubled history

The Panguna copper mine opened when Papua New Guinea was under Australian administration and delivered around two billion dollars in revenues, of which 94 percent went to shareholders and the PNG Government and 1.4 percent to local landowners.

Hostility and opposition to the mine by local communities, apparent from the exploration phase, intensified when environmental devastation, air pollution and tailings from the mine, which contaminated agricultural land and the nearby Jaba River, decimated their health, food and water security.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there,” Ona described.

When BCL refused to pay landowners compensation of 10 billion kina (about 3.9 billion dollars) in 1989, a 10-year civil war broke out between Bougainville revolutionary forces and the PNG military leading to widespread destruction on the island and an estimated death toll of up to 20,000.

Peace-building initiatives supported by the United Nations and international aid donors have been ongoing since the 2001 peace agreement, but post-conflict trauma remains mostly untreated and disarmament and reconciliation is unfinished.

A majority of the study’s respondents were concerned about problems related to the mine and conflict, which had not been addressed, and lack of justice in the peace process.

“No-one has been brought to court; the issue has been ignored despite its seriousness,” said a woman from Darenai village.

“Imperative” to generating state revenue

Reviving the mothballed mine is imperative to generating sufficient state revenue to “make greater progress towards autonomy and our choice about independence,” ABG President Morris said during a speech to the Bougainville House of Representatives in August.

A referendum on the region’s independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) is planned within the next six years.

BCL estimates Panguna contains more than three million tonnes of copper reserves and could produce 400,000 ounces of gold per year. Restarting the mine would require an investment of five billion dollars with potential revenues estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

Bougainville has an estimated population of 300,000 and potential direct employment of only 2,500 has been suggested with the ratio of local workers not identified.

Since 2010 the Bougainville government has established a framework for landowner consultations and conducted stakeholder forums across the island to assess public opinion, claiming these indicate a green light for mining.

Thirteen of 65 participants in the Jubilee study said they would support the extractive industry under certain conditions: after Bougainville has achieved independence in order to minimize foreign interference; after compensation and reparation are delivered; and after other forms of economic development, such as agriculture, have been explored.

“There has been anecdotal evidence that mining consultation forums have so far been geared too heavily towards advocacy. A significant number of participants felt the landowner associations were not relaying a popular consensus from their respective communities,” State Crime Initiative’s Lasslett claimed.

Miringtoro, the parliamentarian from Central Bougainville, told IPS that he was “satisfied that the 65 people interviewed were a fair and representative sample of the people who are totally against mining. [They] are from village communities situated all throughout mine and tailings area … which has been changed into a moonscape with arable land buried under tonnes of silt and rock.”

The state and corporate sectors promote mining revenues as necessary for growth and poverty reduction on Bougainville where many people live without basic services, such as a clean water supply, electricity and medical services. The province has 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people; less than one percent of people are connected to electricity; and life expectancy is 59 years.

However, the record so far in Papua New Guinea is that economic dependence on the extraction of minerals, such as copper, gold and nickel, over the last 30-40 years, with GDP growth reaching 11 percent in 2011, has not resulted in development for the majority of citizens.

Forty percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, only 12 percent have access to electricity, adult literacy is 50 percent and malnutrition is high with stunting prevalent in half of all children, reports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“In PNG, despite a booming economy, driven by extractive industry, income and human poverty persist and a majority of the population live in rural, isolated areas with little or no access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, sanitation and safe drinking water,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported this year.

The organisation added, “Foreign investors and contractors absorbed a large proportion of the benefits of the strong growth the country enjoyed over the last decade.”

The people of Bougainville desire development and better lives. But for many of those who have lived with the mine at their doorstep, the accelerating pace of discussions about its reopening are in stark contrast to lack of progress on resolving the problems, injustices and legacy of suffering that it has already caused.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Good Twins or Evil Twins? U.S., China Could Tip the Climate Balancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/good-twins-or-evil-twins-u-s-china-could-tip-the-climate-balance/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 18:16:47 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137409 Saint Mary's Cement Plant, Dixon, Illinois. China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S., but the reverse is true when it comes to cement production. Credit: Wayne Wilkinson/cc by 2.0

Saint Mary's Cement Plant, Dixon, Illinois. China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S., but the reverse is true when it comes to cement production. Credit: Wayne Wilkinson/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

China and the United States are responsible for 35 percent of global carbon emissions but could do their part to keep climate change to less than two degrees C by adopting best energy efficiency standards, a new analysis shows.

Although China’s energy use has skyrocketed over the past two decades, the average American citizen consumes four times more electricity than a Chinese citizen.Under business as usual economic growth, the new infrastructure planned and likely to built over the next five years will commit the world to enough CO2 to max out the 2C carbon budget.

However, when it comes to energy efficiency, China’s steel industry is far less efficient than the U.S. The reverse is true when it comes to cement production, according a new Climate Action Tracker analysis of energy use and savings potential for electricity production, industry, buildings and transport in the two countries.

If China and the U.S. integrate the best efficiency policies, “they would both be on the right pathway to keep warming below two degrees C,”said Bill Hare a climate scientist at Climate Analytics in Berlin, Germany.

Both countries need to “dramatically reduce”their use of coal, Hare said.

Right now, neither country is a global leader in any sector, the analysis found. Climate Action Tracker is a collaboration between Climate Analytics, Ecofys and the Pik Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We looked at how well both the U.S. and China would do if they each adopted a ‘best of the two’practice in electricity production, industry, buildings and transport. We found this, alone, would set them in a better direction,”Niklas Höhne of Ecofys told IPS.

One major reason U.S. energy use per person is 400 percent greater is that living space per person in the U.S. is twice that in China, while Chinese buildings generally consume much less energy.

“By no means are China’s buildings the most energy efficient. [But] they are generally newer and use less air conditioning and heating than in the U.S.,”said Höhne.

However, energy consumption in China’s residential sector is significantly increasing. If both were to move to European Union (EU) standards, this would produce massive reductions, the report found.

Another major reason for greater U.S. energy use is that car ownership is 10 times higher than China.  In addition, China has lower emissions per car due to somewhat stricter standards. Again, if both were to move to global best practice (e.g., emission standards for cars as in the EU, increase of share of electric cars as in Norway) there could be a major difference.

China and the U.S. are very different but could learn from each other, said Michiel Schaeffer, a scientist with Climate Analytics. Better yet, they could move to a true leadership position by adopting the best practices in the world.

“At the moment, neither are leading,” he noted.

Time is not on anyone’s side. Global carbon emissions continue to increase year after year and if they don’t peak and begin to decline in the next two or three years, it will be extremely difficult and costly to keep global temperatures from rising above two degrees C.

Temperatures have risen .085 degrees C so far and are linked to billions of dollars in damages, with extreme events affecting tens of millions people, as previously reported by IPS.

Should both the U.S. and China adopt the global best practices on energy use, U.S. emissions would decline 18 percent below 2005 by 2020 (roughly five percent below 1990 levels) and China’s would peak in the early 2020s.

That would close the crucial ‘emissions gap’by nearly 25 percent. The emissions gap is the amount of carbon reductions over and above current commitments that are needed before 2020 in order to have a good chance of staying below 2C.

The EU is by far the global leader on climate cutting emissions by more than 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990, and last week committed to slashing emissions at least 40 percent by 2030.  A June 2014 CAT analysis noted that the U.S. and other advanced economies which are known as Annex 1 countries in U.N. climate treaties have to trim their carbon budgets 35 to 55 percent by 2030 and be fossil fuel free around 2050.

While those dates may seem far in the future, the reality is that no new carbon-burning infrastructure— buildings, homes, vehicles, power stations, factories and so on  —can be built after 2018.

The only exceptions would be for replacing existing infrastructure, according to a recent study of what’s termed carbon commitments. Build a gas-heated home today and it will emit CO2 this year and be committed to more CO2 every year it is used.

Under business as usual economic growth, the new infrastructure planned and likely to built over the next five years will commit the world to enough CO2 to max out the 2C carbon budget. That budget is the amount of CO2 or carbon that can be emitting and stay below 2C.

After 2018, the only choice will be to shut down power plants and other large carbon emitters before their normal lifespan.

Any plan or strategy to cut CO2 emissions has to give far greater prominence to infrastructure investments. Right now the data shows “we’re embracing fossil fuels more than ever,” Robert Socolow of Princeton University and co-author of the study told Vice Motherboard.

“We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments,” Socolow said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Yeil” – The New Energy Buzzword in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:53:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137400 Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
NEUQUÉN, Argentina, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

In Argentina they call it “yeil”, the hispanicised version of “shale”. But while these unconventional gas and oil reserves are seen by many as offering a means to development and a route towards energy self-sufficiency, others believe the term should fall into disuse because the global trend is towards clean, renewable sources of energy.

Wearing an oil-soaked uniform, the drilling supervisor in the state oil company YPF, Claudio Rueda, feels like he is playing a part in an important story that is unfolding in southern Argentina.

“Availability of energy is key in our country,” he told IPS. “It’s an essential element in Argentina’s development and future, and we are part of that process.”

The first chapter of the story is being written in the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in Loma Campana in the province of Neuquén, which forms part of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, where rich unconventional reserves of gas and oil are hidden in rocky structures 2,500 to 3,000 metres below the surface.

According to YPF, reserves of 802 trillion cubic feet of reserves put Argentina second in the world in shale gas deposits, after China, with 1,115 trillion cubic feet.

And in shale oil reserves, Argentina is now in fourth place, with 27 billion barrels, after Russia, the United States and China.“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources.” -- Maristella Svampa

According to projections, Argentina’s conventional oil and gas reserves will run out in eight or 10 years and production is declining, so the government considers the development of Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq-km geological formation, strategic.

“Nearly 30 percent of the country’s energy is imported, in different ways – a huge drain on the country’s hard currency reserves,” Rubén Etcheverry, coauthor of the book “Yeil, las nuevas reservas” (Yeil, the new reserves) and former Neuquén provincial energy secretary, said in an interview with IPS.

“We have been in intensive therapy for the last five years, with respect to the trade balance and the energy balance,” he said in Neuquén, the provincial capital.

“We went from exporting nearly five billion dollars a year in fuel, 10 years ago, to spending 15 billion dollars on imports; in other words, the balance has shifted by 20 billion dollars a year – an enormous change for any economy of this size,” Etcheverry said.

Imports include electricity and liquefied gas, natural gas and other fuels.

Diego Pérez Santiesteban, president of Argentina’s Chamber of Importers, said that at the start of the year, energy purchases represented 15 percent of all imports, compared to just five percent a year earlier.

Since 2009, accumulated imported energy has surpassed the Central Bank’s foreign reserves of 28.4 billion dollars.

Etcheverry sees Vaca Muerta as key to turning that tendency around, because the reserves found deep under the surface would be “enough to make us self-sufficient, and would even allow us to export.”

According to the expert, Argentina could follow in the footsteps of the United States, which thanks to its shale deposits “could become the world’s leading producer of gas and oil in less than 10 years.”

Shale gas and oil are extracted by means of a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, and opening and extending fractures deep under the surface in the shale rock to release the fossil fuels.

But there is a growing outcry around the world against the pollution caused by fracking in the water table and other environmental impacts in wide areas around the deposits.

And in Argentina many voices have also been raised against the energy mix that has been chosen.

“This is an environmental point of view that goes beyond Vaca Muerta. The option that they are trying to impose in Argentina, as a solution to the energy crisis…has no future prospects,” said ecologist Silvia Leanza of the Ecosur Foundation.

“We’re basing all of our economic expansion on one asset here – but how many years will it last?” she asked.

Fossil fuels make up nearly 90 percent of Argentina’s energy mix. The rest is based on nuclear and hydroelectric sources, and just one percent renewable.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is the main cause of climate change.

“This situation, along with the greater availability of renewable sources, indicates the end of the era of dirty energy sources,” Mauro Fernández, head of Greenpeace Argentina’s energy campaign, said in a report.

This country’s dependence on fossil fuels has made carbon dioxide emissions per capita among the highest in the region: 4.4 tons in 2009, according to the World Bank.

Fernández said unconventional fossil fuels are not only risky because of fracking, but are also “a bad alternative from a climate and energy point of view.”

“Unconventional deposits look like a new frontier for doing more of the same, fueling the motor of climate change,” he complained.

Argentina has set a target for at least eight percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2016.

“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources,” said sociologist Maristella Svampa, an independent researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

“In the last decade, fracking has certainly transformed the energy outlook in the United States, making it less dependent on imports. But it has also made it the place where the real impacts can be seen: pollution of groundwater, damage to the health of people and animals, earthquakes, greater emissions of methane gas, among others,” she said.

Carolina García with the Multisectoral Group against Hydraulic Fracturing said that because of its rich natural resources, Argentina has other alternatives that should be tapped before exploiting fossil fuels “to the last drop.”

“We finish extracting everything in the Neuquén basin and what do we have left?” she commented to IPS.

Etcheverry mentioned the possibility of using solar energy in the north, wind energy in Patagonia and along the Atlantic shoreline, geothermic energy in the Andes, and tidal and wave energy along the coast.

But the author said that for now the costs were “much higher” than those of fossil fuels, because of technological reasons, transportation aspects and energy intensity.

He also said oil and gas are still necessary as energy sources and raw materials for everyday products.

For that reason, Etcheverry said, the transition from the fossil fuels era “is not simple.” First it is necessary to improve energy savings and efficiency, in order to later shift to less polluting fossil fuels, he added.

“In the first stage it would be a question of moving from the most polluting fossil fuels like coal and oil towards others that are less polluting, like natural gas. And from there, creating incentives for everything that has to do with clean or renewable energies,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Where Governments Fail, It’s Up to the People to Risehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 08:46:29 +0000 Diana Maciaga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137389 Stop Elektrownia Północ campaigners trying to stop investment in Europe’s biggest new coal power plant. Credit: C. Kowalski/350.org

Stop Elektrownia Północ campaigners trying to stop investment in Europe’s biggest new coal power plant. Credit: C. Kowalski/350.org

By Diana Maciaga
WARSAW, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Pomerania in northern Poland is famous for its unpolluted environment, fertile soils and historic heritage. So far, these valuable farmlands have been free from heavy industry but that situation might change as a shadow looms over the lives of Pomeranians.

Its name is Elektrownia Północ, also known as the North Power Plant and, ever since we learned about it, we have been determined to stop Elektrownia Pólnoc.

If built, this coal-fired power plant would contribute to the climate crisis with 3.7 million tons of coal burnt annually, and lock Poland into coal dependency for decades.

It threatens to pollute the Vistula River, Poland’s largest river, with a rich ecosystem that is home to many rare and endangered species.“The [Polish] government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy”

The threat of soil degradation and inevitable drainage keeps local farmers awake at night, not to mention the air pollution from the plant that will be a major health hazard, making the situation in Poland – already the most polluted country in Europe with more people dying from air pollution than from car accidents – even worse.

But this is not just about stopping one of a dozen fossil fuel projects currently under development. This is part of a much broader struggle.

While unemployment soars, the Polish government fails to stimulate green jobs and dismisses renewable energy as too expensive. At the same time, it is pumping billions into the coal industry. Unprofitable and un-modern, it thrives thanks to hidden subsidies that in the past 22 years added up to a mammoth sum equal to the country’s annual GDP.

The government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy.

The current government continues to block European Union climate policy, without which we can forget about a meaningful climate treaty being achieved in Paris next year.

All this takes place while we face the greatest environmental crisis in history and leaves us hopelessly unprepared for everything it brings about.

But Poland’s infamous coal dependence is all but given and the policy that granted our country the infamous nickname “Coal-land” is strikingly incompatible with the will of the Polish people. All around the country people are fighting coal plants, new mines and opposing fracking. We want Poland to be a modern country that embraces climate justice.

I went to New York to be part of the People’s Climate March, observe the U.N. Climate Summit and bring this very message from hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens whose voices had been ignored on domestic grounds to the international stage. Yet what I had not expected was how powerful an experience it would be.

With 400,000 people in the streets and thousands more all over the world, New York witnessed not only the largest climate march in history on Sep. 21 but a true change of tide: a beautiful, unstoppable wave of half a million representing hundreds of millions more – the stories unfolding, forming an epic tale not of loss or despair but of resilience, strength, responsibility and readiness to do what it takes to save this world.

For decades world leaders have been failing us, justifying their inaction with the supposed lack of people’s support, their talks poisoned by a ‘you move first’ approach.

The voices of those who marched echoing in the street and in the media, impossible to be ignored, left their mark on the Summit and resounded in many speeches given by world leaders. The march showed it more clearly than ever how strong the mandate for taking action is and, even more importantly, where the leadership truly lies.

Opening the Summit, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to politicians to take action to ensure a low-carbon, climate resilient and better future. “There is only one thing in the way,” he said, “Us”.

The march proved that there is a counter-movement challenging this stagnation. From individuals to communities, from cities to neighbourhoods and families, millions are working to make a better world a reality. Against all adversities, people around the world embrace the urgency of action and lead where the supposed leaders have failed.

For me this is the single most important message and a source of hope to take back home. A new chapter of climate protection has opened written by the diverse, powerful stream which flooded the streets in New York and beyond – not to witness but to make history.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Diana Maciaga works with the Polish NGO Workshop for All Beings (Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot), which specialises in protection of the wildest treasures of Poland. She has participated in Global Power Shift and Power Shift Central & Eastern Europe and is sharing her experience through campaigns and coordinating a training for local Polish leaders – “Guardians of Climate”. She is currently one of the organisers of the Stop Elektrowni Północ (Stop the ‘North Power Plant’) campaign against a new coal-fired facility in Poland.

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

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OPINION: The Front Line of Climate Change is Here and Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 15:11:24 +0000 Kaio Tiira Taula http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137377 Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

By Kaio Tiira Taulu
TUVALU, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

The fate of my country rests in your hands: that was the message which Ian Fry, representing Tuvalu gave at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen five years ago. This is also the message that the Pacific Climate Warriors have come to Australia to bring.

We have come here, representatives of 12 different Pacific island nations, which are home to 10 million people, to ask the people of Australia to reject plans to double Australia’s exports of coal and to become the biggest exporter of gas in the world.

We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home.“We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home”

My home, Tuvalu, is a series of three islands and six atolls halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world and home to 11,000 people and most of us have been there for generations

Tuvalu, like many of our island neighbours, is living on borrowed time with climate change expected to displace over 300 million people worldwide before 2050. The displacement has already started to happen with thousands of my countrymen forced to leave by the rising King Tides and the long drought affecting our food supplies.

One family drew international attention when they became the first refugees to seek asylum in New Zealand based on grounds of climate change.

Aside from the humanitarian cost, there is also the loss to culture and diversity with several thousands of years of civilisation and history wiped from the face of the planet. And there is nothing that we can do about this except hope that you and your country will see the value of keeping our island above water and make the decision to turn away from fossil fuels.

This is the reason I have joined with the Pacific Climate Warriors to come to Australia and represent my country and our region.

For years our leaders have tried to convey our message in the halls of power to politicians, diplomats and whoever else would listen, but the arguments of economic growth have always taken precedence over the arguments for our survival.

I now come as an envoy to ask the people of Australia to please consider the plight of the 11,000 people in Tuvalu and the further millions in other Pacific islands and other low lying nations which may expect to be wiped out by climate change.

In my time in Australia I have heard plenty about the importance of the Australian coal industry and the jobs and economic growth that it generates, yet it is us in the islands who are paying the price with our land, our culture and our livelihoods. This hardly seems a fair price to pay when we gain nothing from this industry.

This is why it incenses me so much to hear that coal is good for humanity or coal will be the solution to poverty. Coal will benefit only the wealthy whereas it will be the poor, like us, who suffer.

This is why it is the ultimate insult to hear that wealthy corporations are acting in the interests of the world’s poor when they dig and burn coal.

The Australian people have the power to decide the fate of my country and others in the Pacific. You need to let your government know that you have considered the matter carefully that you choose human life over the digging and export of coal.

If you do not, you must be ready to open your borders for the flood of climate refugees who will end up on your doorstep.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Renewable Energies – a Double-Edged Swordhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-renewable-energies-a-double-edged-sword/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-renewable-energies-a-double-edged-sword http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-renewable-energies-a-double-edged-sword/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 06:16:24 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137312 Over a dozen huge windmills line the roadside of the town of Jhimpir, close to Karachi, in the Sindh province. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Over a dozen huge windmills line the roadside of the town of Jhimpir, close to Karachi, in the Sindh province. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has set a target of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. One way countries can meet their obligations is to switch energy production from the burning of fossil fuels to “renewables”, generally understood to include wind, wave, tidal, hydro, solar and geothermal power and biomass. 

They have a dual advantage: first, they do not create by-products responsible for global warming and climate change; and secondly, they are non-consumptive, drawing on primary energy sources that are to all intents and purposes inexhaustible.

Why then is the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which is holding its triennial policy conference next month in Quito, Ecuador, rocking the boat by publishing a review highlighting the serious environmental threats posed by the new technologies? Renewables provide many of the answers but they need to be deployed sensitively and not indiscriminately, so that our efforts to keep the atmosphere clean and planet cool do not come at a price that our wildlife cannot afford to pay.

First and foremost, CMS is not joining the climate sceptics’ camp. There is ample evidence of the effects climate change is having on migratory animals.

The Convention has long been grappling with this issue. The Convention and the vulnerable species it protects need climate change to be halted or at least slowed down so that adaptation measures can be developed.

Climate change just adds to the threats migratory species currently face. This includes threats posed by the fishing gear responsible for by-catch of seabirds, turtles and dolphins; and the demand for luxury products that result in the wasteful practice of shark finning and the fuelling of the massacre of elephants and rhinos for ivory and horn. And then there is marine debris, bird poisoning and illegal trapping – the list goes on.

Climate change is opening several new fronts in the conservation war by causing habitat change and loss; by affecting gender ratios in species such as marine turtles; and by altering species’ behaviour with some not migrating at all, others leaving their breeding grounds later and returning earlier, while some are extending their range displacing other species less capable of adapting.

So why is CMS not rejoicing at the news that wave energy installations, tidal barrages, solar panels and wind farms on land and at sea are being developed at unprecedented rates? CMS would give a hearty cheer if these new technologies reduce as promised the human-induced drivers of climate change.

However, the report commissioned by the Convention, together with the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, the International Renewable Energy Agency and BirdLife International, explains the prudent reaction from conservationists, as it illustrates how renewable energies are a double-edged sword – a cure for some ills afflicting the world but with potentially severe side-effects for wildlife.

Hydro-power relies on dams – technological wonders in many cases – but essentially barriers across rivers preventing migratory species such as salmon from reaching their spawning grounds. The changes to water flow and levels both up and downstream of the dams can drastically transform habitats. The human inhabitants displaced when their homes were flooded were given ample warning and compensation; not so the wildlife.

Wind power is harnessed through turbines, which take a huge toll of wildlife through collisions. The rotor blades of wind turbines are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of bats and birds a year, to the detriment of the ecological services these useful insectivores provide by devouring as many as 1,000 mosquitoes a night, reducing the need to use chemical pesticides.

The construction, operation and maintenance of turbines are also negative factors, especially in marine wind farms – noise whirring of the rotors can all disturb whale and dolphin species which are particularly sensitive to sound.

Biomass production leads to habitat loss and degradation affecting birds and terrestrial mammals. Large plantations lead to monocultures and a loss of habitat diversity and thus reduce the number of species that a given area can support.

Solar, wave and tidal power similarly have their drawbacks, but the guidelines accompanying the report point the way to constructing renewable energy installations in ways that eliminate or at least reduce their impacts on migrating mammals such as birds, dolphins, porpoises and fish and their habitats.

There is no silver bullet to deliver a perfect solution to the problems of our growing demand for energy and of producing it in ways that do not damage the environment in one form or another. Renewables provide many of the answers but they need to be deployed sensitively and not indiscriminately, so that our efforts to keep the atmosphere clean and planet cool do not come at a price that our wildlife cannot afford to pay.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev Signals U-Turn on Alternative Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kazakhstans-nazarbayev-signals-u-turn-on-alternative-energy/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:08:38 +0000 Paolo Sorbello http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137363 A billboard in Astana with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the slogan “Our Strength” emphasises the country’s Strategy 2050 project that focuses on renewable energy. Regional analysts are unsure how committed Kazakhstan really is to pushing and promoting green energy. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

A billboard in Astana with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the slogan “Our Strength” emphasises the country’s Strategy 2050 project that focuses on renewable energy. Regional analysts are unsure how committed Kazakhstan really is to pushing and promoting green energy. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Paolo Sorbello
ASTANA, Oct 24 2014 (EurasiaNet)

From small villages to big cities, wherever you go in Kazakhstan these days, billboards offer reminders that Astana is gearing up to host Expo 2017, the next World’s Fair. Kazakhstan helped secure the right to host the event with a pledge to emphasise green energy alternatives. But now it appears that Kazakhstan is red-lighting its own green transition.

Green energy has been the rage in Kazakhstan in recent years, but the country’s strongman president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, seemed to shift gears out of the blue in late September.

“I personally do not believe in alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar,” the Interfax news agency quoted Nazarbayev as saying on Sep. 30 during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Caspian city of Atyrau. And echoing a familiar Kremlin refrain, Nazarbayev added that “the shale euphoria does not make any sense.”Despite the great efforts that were put into branding Astana Expo 2017 as the virtuous, green choice of an oil-exporting country, Nazarbayev’s remarks reveal “that the rhetoric around the Expo is just a cosmetic policy aimed at the construction of an image of Kazakhstan that is close to the Western agenda.” -- Luca Anceschi

For a country where the decisions of one man set the political agenda, it was a stunning change of course. Only last year, Nazarbayev’s office pledged to spend one percent of GDP, or an estimated three to four billion dollars annually, to “transition to a green economy.”

“Kazakhstan is facing a situation where its natural resources and environment are seriously deteriorating across all crucial environmental standards,” stated a widely touted “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050” concept paper. A “green economy is instrumental to [a] nation’s sustainable development.”

Moreover, a switch to renewables would free oil and gas for more lucrative exports, rather than subsidised domestic use.

While Kazakhstan generates 80 percent of its electricity from coal, state media has trumpeted the potential of green energy, showing Nazarbayev touring a solar-panel factory under construction or an official promising Kazakhstan will build the world’s first “energy-positive” city.

Officials often talk of weaning Kazakhstan’s economy off its hydrocarbon dependence. Ultimately, if Nazarbayev wants to fulfill a pledge to make Kazakhstan a middle-income nation by 2030, officials have acknowledged that Kazakhstan must diversify its energy sources.

So Nazarbayev’s comments have left analysts scratching their heads: Is Kazakhstan’s focus shifting, or was Nazarbayev just reminding trade partners – especially Russia – that oil and gas will remain a priority for Astana? Nazarbayev concluded by saying that “oil and gas is our main horse, and we should not be afraid that these are fossil fuels.”

Context is key, according to Marat Koshumbayev, deputy head of the Chokin Kazakh Research Institute of Energy in Almaty. “While sitting next to [Putin], it is normal that Nazarbayev would emphasise fossil fuels. It’s worth noting that during similar events in the West, the focus is still on renewable energy, efficiency, and reduction of carbon emissions,” Koshumbayev told EurasiaNet.org.

The energy networks of Kazakhstan and Russia are strongly interconnected. Most Kazakh oil exports to Europe go through the Russian hubs of Samara and Novorossiysk, while Russian oil flows through Kazakhstan’s pipeline network to China. In addition, Kazakhstan is a key cog in Putin’s pet project – the formation of a Eurasian Economic Union.

Although the context of the meeting may have played a role in Nazarbayev’s declaration, the president has sown doubt about how serious Kazakhstan is about green energy, said Luca Anceschi, an expert on the country at the University of Glasgow. Despite the great efforts that were put into branding Astana Expo 2017 as the virtuous, green choice of an oil-exporting country, Nazarbayev’s remarks reveal “that the rhetoric around the Expo is just a cosmetic policy aimed at the construction of an image of Kazakhstan that is close to the Western agenda.”

Nazarbayev, Anceschi added, was warning Astana policymakers to keep the focus on the current economic course. “It’s a clear message that diversification efforts will slow down, with the hope that [the long-delayed, super-giant oil field] Kashagan will come in to solve all problems,” he said.

Koshumbayev agrees Nazarbayev is backtracking. “Unfortunately,” he said, “for the development of renewable energy, more is needed than just Strategy 2050 and the officials who promote it, and Nazarbayev knows this.”

In policy circles in Astana and Almaty, “alternative” energy refers broadly to non-hydrocarbon resources, including, for example, nuclear. Nazarbayev does appear to believe in the power of the atom. During the meeting with Putin in Atyrau, he inked terms for Russia and Kazakhstan to construct a nuclear power plant.

According to the plan, construction will start in 2018, although it is still unclear if the plant will be built near the old Soviet nuclear hub of Semipalatinsk, in the northeast, or in the industrial west, near the Caspian shore.

Even if Kazakhstan shifts away from green energy, some progress is likely to continue. Two wind farms, one in the north and one in the south, received a financial green light in the past months. In the Zhambyl Region, the local government, with some private Lithuanian financing, has agreed to build a 250MW wind farm for 550 million dollars. And in the Akmola Region, near the capital, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has agreed to fund a 50MW, 120-million-dollar wind farm.

But for one opposition leader, Nazarbayev’s comments prove these projects are mainly for show.

“Our regime has a feudal mentality. Showing off wealth is a fundamental indication of one’s status,” said Pyotr Svoik, a former deputy natural resources minister turned opposition activist. “That’s how we get an Expo branded ‘energy of the future’ while producing only marginal amounts of renewable energy.”

Editor’s note:  Paolo Sorbello is a freelance reporter who specializes in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Global South Brings United Front to Green Climate Fundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 00:29:03 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137357 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations’ key mechanism for funding climate change-related mitigation and adaptation in developing countries is now ready to receive funds, following a series of agreements between rich and poor economies.

The agreements covered administrative but potentially far-reaching policies that will govern the mechanism, known as the Green Climate Fund (GCF). This forward momentum comes just weeks ahead of a major “pledging session” in Berlin that is meant to finally get the GCF off the ground.“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles.” -- Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth

“The fund now has the capacity to absorb and programme resources that will be made available to it to achieve a significant climate response on the ground,” Hela Cheikhrouhou, the GCF’s executive director, said Saturday following a series of board meetings in Barbados.

The GCF constitutes the international community’s central attempt to help developing countries prepare for and mitigate climate change. The undertaking thus includes an implicit acknowledgment by rich countries that the developing world, although the least responsible for climate change, will be the most significantly impacted.

At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, donors agreed to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in an undefined mix of public and private funding, to help developing countries. The GCF is to be a cornerstone of this mobilisation, using the money to fund an even split between mitigation and adaptation projects.

The GCF opened a secretariat last year, in South Korea, but pledges have since come in slowly. Currently, the aim is to get together 15 billion dollars as starter capital, much of which will have to be achieved at the November pledging session.

The fund’s capitalisation did get a fillip last month, when France and Germany pledged a billion dollars each and lesser amounts were promised by Norway, South Korea and Mexico. On Wednesday, Sweden pledged another half-billion dollars, aimed at setting “an example to … other donors.”

Still, that brings the total funding for the GCF to less than three billion dollars, under a fifth of the goal for this year alone.

“The good news is that this meeting finished laying a strong foundation for the fund,” Alex Doukas, a sustainable finance associate with the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “It’s now nearly ready to go – but it can’t get far without ambitious pledges in November.”

Significant attention is now shifting to the United States and European Union, which have yet to announce pledges. Anti-poverty campaigners have estimated that fair pledges would be around 4.8 billion dollars for the United States and six billion dollars for the European Union.

Country ownership

The GCF now has the institutional capacity to receive the funding around which its operations will revolve, but important decisions remain regarding how the fund will disburse that money.

“There’s now more clarity on how the fund will invest, but little guidance on exactly what it will invest in,” Doukas, who attended last week’s board meeting in Barbados, says. “The board has serious homework between now and its next meeting in February to ensure that it has rules in place to prioritise high-impact climate solutions that also deliver development benefits.”

Still, some important initial headway was made in Barbados around how these projects will be defined. Indeed, development advocates express cautious optimism the new agreements will put greater control over these decisions in the hands of national governments.

For instance, projects green-lighted by the GCF will now be required to have a “no objection” confirmation from the government of the country in which the project will be based.

“If you do not have the no-objection [requirement], the funding intermediaries will be able to impose their own conditionalities, even their own programmes, on a country,” Bernarditas Muller, the GCF representative from the Philippines, said during negotiations, according to a civil society summary.

Observers say this agreement came about because developing countries banded together and pushed against demands from rich governments. (The GCF board includes 24 members, half from poor and half from rich countries.)

“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles,” Karen Orenstein, an international policy advisor with Friends of the Earth who attended the Barbados discussions, told IPS.

“The no-objection procedure in particular is something we’ve been fighting for, for a long time. If an active no-objection is not provided within 30 days, a project is suspended – that is quite important.”

Still, Orenstein, too, worries that significant decisions have against been pushed off to future meetings of the GCF board.

“The fund still leans too heavily towards multilateral development banks and the private sector,” she says.

“It’s not that the GCF shouldn’t be appealing to the private sector, but we want to sure that the priorities are being driven by developing countries. Even though we have these new agreements, there’s still not nearly enough emphasis on having priorities be set at the country level and below.”

New development discourse

At the same time, under this weekend’s agreements developing countries will now be able to access funding directly from the GCF, rather than having to go through an intermediary. In addition, monies pledges to the fund will not be able to be “earmarked” for particular uses by the donor government.

“Traditionally, a lot of funds for climate change have been delivered through multilateral organisations. They haven’t necessarily done a bad job, but in many cases there’s a trade-off between a country’s priorities versus that of the organisation’s,” Annaka Carvalho, a senior programme officer with Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS.

“Making sure that countries are in the driver’s seat in directing where these resources are going is really important. Ultimately, only national governments are accountable to their citizens for delivering on adaptation and investing in low-emissions development.”

Carvalho, who was also at the Barbados negotiations, says that the opportunity once the GCF gets off the ground isn’t only about reacting to climate change. She says the fund can also help to bring about a new development paradigm.

“We’ve been hoping the fund will act as a catalyst for shifting the development discourse away from the forces that have caused climate change and instead towards clean energy and resilient livelihoods,” she says.

“A core part of the fund is supposed to realise sustainable development, but there’s always this line between climate and development. In fact, disconnecting these two issues is impossible.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Kashmir Flood Carries Away Humble Dreamshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:51:43 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137349 Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

By Athar Parvaiz
Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

Rafiqa Kazim and her husband Kazim Ali had a simple dream – to live a modest life, educate their four children and repay the bank-loan that the couple took out to sustain their small business.

Until early last month, their plan was moving along steadily but now Kazim says they have “hit a roadblock”, which took the form of deadly floods that swept through the north Indian Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir on Sep. 7, killing 281 people and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.

According to government estimates the overall damage now stands at some one trillion rupees (16 billion dollars), in what experts are calling the worst ever recorded flood in Kashmir’s history. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said this was the first time the force was called upon to respond to such a severe flood in an urban area.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal." -- Rafiqa Kazim, a flood victim residing just outside of Kashmir's capital, Srinagar
By the time the floodwaters had receded and the Jhelum River had returned to its usual steady flow, much of Kashmir’s capital Srinagar was underwater, with 140,000 houses destroyed and hundreds of thousands of others badly damaged.

It has been over a month, but families like the Kazims are only just starting to come to terms with the long-term impacts of the disaster as they move slowly out of makeshift camps, shelters and relatives’ homes to start picking up the pieces of their lives.

Making her way through the wreckage of her home in Ganderpora, 17 km northwest of Srinagar, Kazim points out the damage to their house and one acre of agricultural land. But in truth, her mind is elsewhere – on the 10X10-foot carpet that she and another weaver had been working on for over two months.

For Kazim, this carpet represents months of labour, and the promise of grand profits for a woman of her economic background: in a single year, she can earn up to 200,000 rupees (about 3,350 dollars) from carpet weaving and embroidery. In a country where the average annual income is about 520 dollars, according to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), this is a tidy sum.

“As the announcement came on the community address system that flood waters were entering the village, our first instinct was to save ourselves and get to a safer place. In the process, we forgot everything else including the loom, the carpet, as well as our floor mats and bedding,” she explained.

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

The loss of the loom could mean dark days ahead for the couple. Kazim only took up the practice of weaving and embroidering when Ali lost the use of his right arm due to a neurological disorder, preventing him from continuing with his job as a videographer.

Reluctant as he was to pass the onus of breadwinning onto his wife, Ali soon realized he had no choice. He sold his beloved camera, and pooled the money together with a 1,500-dollar loan to purchase the loom and various other tools Kazim would need to convert their home into a small handicrafts unit.

Their first order, for an eight-by-seven-foot carpet and assorted embroidered clothing items, brought the family nearly 1,250 dollars, which enabled them to pay their children’s school fees and set something aside for repayment of their loan.

Now, the floods have swept away their hopes of making ends meet, including the limited harvest from their small plot of farmland.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal,” a dejected Kazim concluded, looking around at her three daughters and son. She is convinced that unless government support is forthcoming, families like hers will be looking at a bleak future.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked Wednesday’s Diwali holiday, a holy Hindu festival of light, with a visit to the affected areas, where hopes were running high that he would announce a generous aid package to flood victims.

In an already poor state – with 2.4 million out of a population of some 12 million people living below the poverty line – the impact of a natural disaster of this nature is gravely magnified, leaving the destitute far worse off than they were.

Things are particularly bad for farming families, who constitute 75 percent of the state’s population and lost some 512 million dollars worth of agricultural products in the floods. Some 300,500 hectares of crops were also destroyed, spelling trouble for landholding families who generally own just 0.67 hectares of farmland.

Women shoulder the burden

Until official assistance kicks in, women like Kazim will be forced to bear the brunt of the floods, since the responsibility of managing domestic affairs is seen throughout traditional Kashmiri society as a woman’s job.

In most of the flood-hit areas, it is the women who are fetching water for their families, cleaning homes of silt and mud, retrieving cooking utensils and generally making sure that life gradually returns to normal.

Finding clean drinking water is proving a particular challenge, with many sources such as wells and water supply tanks damaged and contaminated by debris washed up by the floodwaters, which reached heights of up to 25 feet in some areas according to the NDRF. For the average family, which consumes about 500 litres of water per day, this poses countless challenges on a daily basis.

In Haritara Rekhi-Haigam, a village located some 60 km north of Srinagar, IPS witnessed women struggling with all these challenges. Some residents told IPS that several women had been injured while attempting to fill their buckets from a water tanker, as scores of people jostled for a place in the line.

Many women in Haritara Rekhi-Haigam must now walk over four km each day for a single pitcher of water. IPS spoke with a group of young girls carrying heavy pots on their heads, who said they set out at daybreak for a return trip that lasts over five hours.

Women like 49-year-old Hajira Begam are coming up with unique solutions to their problems. She shows IPS the earthen insulation she has rigged up over an electric coil, which allows her to boil water to clean her cooking utensils.

She has also created a makeshift structure over a portion of the roadside that serves as her only shelter since the flood has washed her house away. She is one of some 100,000 people left homeless by the floods.

Women must also see to their children’s education, no simple task given that the floods damaged as many as 2,594 schools, with some 686 buildings left completely uninhabitable.

A school teacher named Nahida Begam told IPS that her family still has not found permanent housing, with some renters demanding as much as 423 dollars “for two rooms and a kitchen” she said. With a combined monthly income of about 900 dollars, and two children to educate, she and her husband cannot afford such a high rent.

With the water approaching, bringing with it the promise of weather that falls as low as minus ten degrees Celsius, “it is likely that people are going to die of cold in the coming months for want of shelter,” according to Mehbooba Mufti, president of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

And with the onset of winter, those with humble dreams like Rafiqa Kazim will be hunkering down to plan for a future that, for the time being, holds very little promise.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Añelo, from Forgotten Town to Capital of Argentina’s Shale Fuel Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:01:56 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137341 The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

This small town in southern Argentina is nearly a century old, but the unconventional fossil fuel boom is forcing it to basically start over, from scratch. The wave of outsiders drawn by the shale fuel fever has pushed the town to its limits, while the plan to turn it into a “sustainable city of the future” is still only on paper.

The motto of this small town in the province of Neuquén is upbeat and premonitory: “The future found its place.”

But for now the town’s roads, most of which are unpaved and throw up clouds of dust from the heavy traffic of trucks and luxury cars driven by oil company executives, contradict that slogan.

“Many eyes around the world are on Añelo, but unfortunately we don’t have a good showcase, to put us on display,” the director of the town’s health centre, Rubén Bautista, told IPS.

“We are living on top of black gold, they take riches out of our soil, but they leave practically nothing to the local population,” added the doctor who, along with three other colleagues, covers the health needs of a population that doubled, from 2,500 to 5,000, in just two years.According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

Añelo, a bleak town on the banks of the Neuquén river surrounded by fruit trees, goats and vineyards, is the town closest to the Loma Campana shale oil field, which is being worked by Argentina’s state oil company YPF and the U.S.-based Chevron.

It is only eight km from the oil field, which is part of new riches that hold out the biggest promise for revenue to fuel the country’s development: Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq km geological reserve that is rich in shale oil and gas and has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

But the black gold is not shining yet in Añelo – which means forgotten place in the Mapuche indigenous language – located some 100 km north of Neuquén, the provincial capital.

The health centre, which refers serious cases to hospitals in the provincial capital, has just two ambulances, while 117 companies from across the planet are setting up shop in and around the town.

According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

“They are people who come to Añelo with the idea of finding a better future…thinking about what unconventional fossil fuels could mean in their lives,” YPF Neuquén’s communications manager, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

YPF alone has 720 employees in the area. The workers come from nearby towns as well as other provinces, and from abroad, brought in by international companies in the construction, chemistry, hotel, transportation and services industries.

The town’s only hotel is full, and camps spring up on any flat area, with containers turned into comfortable temporary lodgings for the workers. Rent for a small apartment is five times what people pay in the most expensive neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.

“We are building a city from scratch,” Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS, although he pointed out that even before the shale boom the town was “a strategic waypoint.”

YPF has been exploiting unconventional fossil fuels in the region since the 1980s, but “when their work was done they would leave,” Díaz explained. “This is much more intensive; there will be a lot of work over the next 30 years.”

“The town has infrastructure for around 2,500 inhabitants. It is too small now given the new demand for basic services like water, electricity, roads, and dust emission,” the province’s environment secretary, Ricardo Esquivel, told IPS.

The sound of hammering and pounding is constant. Two workers, who make the 120-km commute back and forth every day from Cipolletti, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, are working on a new sidewalk. “It’s spectacular.There’s a lot of work here for everyone. More people are needed. The problem is housing,” construction worker Esteban Aries told IPS.

The YPF Foundation carried out an “urban footprint” study which gave rise to the Añelo Local Development Plan. The plan has the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and its Emerging Sustainable Cities Initiative.

Carried out together with the local and provincial governments, the plan outlines different growth scenarios with the aim of assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the area.

It addresses, among other aspects, “what surface area the city should have, how the urban planning process should start, what the diagram should look like, what services are needed – what Añelo is going to need today and in two, three, or five years,” Calífano said.

YPF reported that the work had already begun, including an expansion of the sanitation system, construction of homes for doctors, and a vocational training centre, linked to the needs of the oil industry. Primary healthcare clinics were set up in two trailer trucks – although Dr. Bautista said that’s not enough.

The economic growth has brought heavy traffic. The government is planning a two-lane highway to Vaca Muerta, on the so-called “oil route”, to keep the trucks out of the town.

“The steadily growing number of accidents is overwhelming,” Bautista said. The average has increased from 10 traffic and work-related accidents a month two years ago to 17 today.

“You have to keep in mind that most of the activity has been going on for a year,” said Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional fuels in Loma Campana, where some 20 wells are drilled every month, which has driven production up from 3,000 to 21,000 barrels per day of oil.

“There are things that we will obviously work out together with the authorities, as we go. This is all very new,” he said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Tomada left everything behind in Buenos Aires and invested his savings to open up a restaurant in Añelo, which is now packed with workers.

His cook, local resident Norma Olate, said she was happy because she’s earning more. But she nostalgically remembers when her town was “practically a sand dune.”

Development has brought work, “but also bad things,” the 60-year-old Olate told IPS. “There have been armed robberies, which we didn’t see here before.”

Olate, who has young, single daughters, said she is also worried about “the invasion of men.”

“So many men!” she said, laughing. “I’m not interested anymore, but the girls…there are guys who come and deceive them, a lot of them end up pregnant….that’s bad for the town too.”

Provincial lawmaker Raúl Dobrusín of the opposition Popular Unity party denounced the rise in prostitution, drug trafficking and use, alcoholism and corruption.

“We say the only things modernised in Añelo were the casino and the brothel,” he said ironically.

Dobrusín complained about the government’s lack of “planning” and “control” over these and other problems, such as real estate speculation and prices that are now unaffordable for many people in the town.

Nevertheless, for Mayor Díaz the balance is positive. “We have to take advantage of this opportunity for Añelo to develop as a town and improve the living standards of our people. What worries me is whether we will make the necessary investments quickly enough,” he said.

The province is preparing a “strategic development plan” for Añelo, along with nearby “oil micro-cities”, which will include the construction of an industrial park, schools, hospitals, roads and housing, and increased security.

“We’re not going to build an oil camp in Añelo without a city,” the mayor summed up.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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