Inter Press Service » Environment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:54:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 U.S. to Create National Plan on Responsible Business Practiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:14:55 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136936 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

The United States will begin developing a national action plan on responsible business practices, following on several years of related advocacy from civil society.

The plan will detail how the United States will implement landmark U.N. guidelines outlining the responsibility of multinational businesses to respect human rights. While the United Nations has urged participating governments to draft concrete plans for putting into practice the guidelines, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, thus far only three countries have done so – Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding.” -- Human Rights Watch’s Arvind Ganesan

Yet on the sidelines of last week’s U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama for the first time announced that his administration would begin formulating such a plan.

“[W]e intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas,” the president stated. “We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries. But we think we can do better.”

Obama suggested that clarity around responsible business practices is good for all involved, including industry and local communities.

“Because when [companies] know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalise a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody,” the president said.

A White House fact sheet noted that the plan would aim to “promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption.” It also stated that the plan would be “consistent” with the U.N. Guiding Principles and similar guidelines from the OECD grouping of rich countries.

Additional details on the formulation process are not yet available, though observers expect a draft next year. For now, however, advocacy groups are applauding the president’s announcement as preliminary but significant.

“This could end up being a very important step, but now we’ll be looking to see how the U.S. articulates how it expects companies to respect rights at home and abroad,” Arvind Ganesan, the director of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“More importantly, we’ll be looking to see whether this process results in any teeth – mechanisms to ensure that companies act responsibly everywhere.”

Task of implementation

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously backed the Guiding Principles, which are meant to apply to all countries and companies operating both domestically and internationally.

Yet thus far, formal adherence to the Guiding Principles has been only stuttering. In late June, the council called on governments to step up the process of drafting national action plans.

The United States – which endorsed the June resolution – has been a key focus for many in this process, given the overwhelming size of its economy and the number of multinational companies that it hosts.

Further, U.S. companies have stood accused of a broad spectrum of rights abuse, from extractives companies poisoning local water supplies to private security companies killing unarmed civilians. Often, of course, such problems impact most directly on poor and marginalised communities in developing countries.

The Guiding Principles mandate that governments take on the responsibility to prevent rights abuses by corporations and other third parties. States are also required to provide judicial “remedy” for any such abuse.

This is powerful language, but it remains up to governments to decide how exactly to implement the guidelines. Here, watchdog groups are less optimistic.

While Ganesan welcomes the actions by the three European countries that have developed implementation plans, he has reservations as to how substantive they are.

“Few of them have any real strength,” he says. “While they ask their companies to adopt the Guiding Principles, none of them have put together any kind of mechanism aimed at ensuring that happens.”

In the context of the U.S. announcement, then, there is a sense of caution around whether the United States will be able to put in place rules that require action from corporations.

“We are thrilled to see the United States take on this important initiative,” Sara Blackwell, a legal and policy associate with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), said in a statement.

Yet Blackwell notes that her office will continue to advocate for a U.S. action plan that goes beyond concerns merely around transparency and corruption.

Rather, she says, any plan needs to include “clear action on important issues such as access to effective remedy for victims of business-related human rights harms and the incorporation of human rights considerations into the U.S. federal government’s enormous influence on the marketplace through its public procurement activities.”

Voluntary initiatives

ICAR has been at the forefront of civil society engagement around the call for the development of national action plans on responsible business practice, including by the United States.

In June, the group, along with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, published a toolkit to guide government officials intent on formulating such plans. Among other points, the toolkit urges the participation of all stakeholders, including those who have been “disempowered”.

In his announcement, President Obama appeared to suggest that the drafting of a U.S. plan would rest on participation from business entities, though it is not yet clear how companies will react. (Three major industry lobby groups contacted for comment by IPS failed to respond.)

At the outset, though, rights advocates are worried by the examples coming out Europe, where governments appear to be relying on voluntary rather than rule-based initiatives.

“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding,” Human Rights Watch’s Ganesan says.

“They’ll be happy to agree to accepting human rights in rhetorical or aspirational terms, but they will not want any rules that say they must take certain actions or, for instance, risk losing government contracts. Nonetheless, there is now a real opportunity for the U.S. government to mandate certain actions – though how the administration articulates that will be a critical test.”

Meanwhile, concerns around the potential laxity of the Guiding Principles have already led to a division among rights advocates as to whether a new international mechanism is needed. In a landmark decision at the end of June, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to begin negotiations towards a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

Yet this move remains highly controversial, even among supporters. Some are worried that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad, while others warn that the new push will divert attention from the Guiding Principles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Outgunned by Rich Polluters, Africa to Bring United Front to Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:43:34 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136933 Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

As climate change interest groups raise their voices across Africa to call for action at the COP20 climate meeting in December and the crucial COP21 in Paris in 2015, many worry that the continent may never have fair representation at the talks.

The African Group noted during a May meeting in Ethiopia that while negotiations remain difficult, they still hope to break some barriers through close collaboration and partnerships with different African groups involved in negotiations."Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon." -- lead negotiator Tomothé Kagombet

Within the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) group, a preparatory meeting is planned for next month with experts and delegates from the 10 member countries, according to Martin Tadoum, deputy secretary general of COMIFAC, “but the group can only end up sending one or two representatives to COP meetings.”

Meanwhile, the Pan-African Parliamentarians’ Network on Climate Change (PAPNCC) is hoping to educate lawmakers and African citizens on the problem to better take decisions about how to manage it.

“The African parliamentarians have a great role to influence government decisions on climate change and defend the calls of various groups on the continent,” Honorable Awudu Mbaya, Cameroonian Parliamentarian and president of PAPNCC, told IPS.

PAPNCC operates in 38 African countries, with its headquarters in Cameroon. Besides working with governments and decision-makers, it is also networking with youth groups and civil society groups in Africa to advance climate goals.

Innovative partnership models involving government, civil society groups, think tanks and academia could also enforce governments’ positions and build the capacity of negotiators.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has noted that bargaining by all parties is increasingly taking place outside the formal negotiating space, and Africa must thus be prepared to engage on these various platforms in order to remain in the loop.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa are designing various campaign strategies for COP 20 and COP 21. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a diverse coalition of more than 500 CSOs and networks, is using national platforms and focal persons to plan a PACJA week of activities in November.

“PACJA Week of Action is an Africa-wide annual initiative aimed at stimulating actions and reinforcing efforts to exercise the power of collective action ahead of COPs. The weeks will involve several activities like staging pickets, rallies, marches, and other forms of action in schools, communities, workplaces, and public spaces,” Robert Muthami Kithuku, a programme support officer at PACJA headquarters in Kenya, told IPS.

Others, like the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and the African Youth Alliance, are coming up with similar strategies to provide a platform for coordinated youth engagement and participation in climate discussions and the post-2015 development agenda at the national, regional and international levels.

“We plan to send letters to negotiators, circulating statements, using the social media, using both electronic and print media and also holding public forums. Slogans to enhance the campaign are also being adopted,” Kithuku said.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change seems to have ushered in a new wave of south-south collaboration in the continent. The PAPNCC Cameroon chapter has teamed up with PACJA to advocate for greater commitments on climate change through tree-planting events in four Cameroonian communities. It is also holding discussions with regional parliamentarians on how climate change can better be incorporated in local legislation.

In June, mayors of the Central African sub-region gathered in Cameroon to plan their first participation in major climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris. Under the banner The International Association of Francophone Mayors of Central Africa on Towns and Climate Change (AIMF), the mayors are seeking ways to adapt their cities to the effects of climate change and to win development opportunities through mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.

During a workshop of African Group of Negotiators in May 2014, it was recognised that climate change negotiations offer opportunities for Africa to strengthen its adaptive capacity and to move towards low-carbon economic development. Despite a lack of financial resources, Africa has a comparative advantage in terms of natural resources like forests, hydro and solar power potential.

At the May meeting, Ethiopia’s minister of Environment and Forests, Belete Tafere, urged the lead negotiators in attendance to be ambitious and focused in order to press the top emitters to make binding commitments to reduce emissions. He also advised the negotiators to prioritise mitigation as a strategy to demonstrate the continent’s contribution to a global solution.

But negotiations are still difficult. Africa has fewer resources to send delegates to COPs, coupled with a relatively low level of expertise to understand technical issues in the negotiations.

“Africa is just a representative in negotiations and has very little capacity to influence decisions,” Tomothé Kagombet, one of Cameroon’s lead negotiators, told IPS.

“Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon, and this is the case with all other African countries.”

He said that while developed countries swap delegates and experts in and out of the talks, the Africans are also obliged remain at the negotiating table for long periods without taking a break.

“At the country levels, there are no preparatory meetings that can help in capacity building and in enforcing countries’ positions,” he said.

As a strategy to improve the capacity of delegates, COMIFAC recruits consultants during negotiations to brief representatives from the 10 member countries on various technical issues in various forums.

“To reduce the problem of numbers, the new strategy is that each country is designated to represent the group in one aspect under negotiation. For example, Chad could follow discussions on adaptation, Cameroon on mitigation, DRC on finance,” COMIFAC’s Tadoum told IPS.

With a complex international climate framework that has evolved over many years, with new mitigation concepts and intricacies in REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and more than 60 different international funds, the challenges for African experts to grasp these technicalities are enormous, Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environment and Development told IPS (CED). CED is a subregional NGO based in Cameroon.

“There is no country budget set aside for climate change that can help in capacity building and send more delegates to COPs. The UNFCCC sponsors one or two representatives from developing countries but the whole of Africa might not measure up with the delegates from one developed nation,” said Cameroon’s negotiator, Tomothé Kagombet.

The lead African negotiators are now crafting partnerships with with young African lawyers in the negotiations process and compiling a historical narrative of Africa’s participation and decisions relevant to the continent as made by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC process, from Kyoto in 1997 to Paris in 2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Blistering Drought Leaves the Poorest High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:50:15 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136917 A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The last time there was mud on his village roads was about a year ago, says Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, situated about 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

“Since last October we have had nothing but sun, all day,” the 40-year-old father of two school-aged children told IPS. If his layman’s assessment of the rain patterns is off, it is by a mere matter of weeks.

At the disaster management unit of the Kilinochchi District Secretariat under which Mohanabavan’s village falls, reports show inadequate rainfall since November 2013 – less than 30 percent of expected precipitation for this time of year.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school. The nightmare continues." -- Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo
Sri Lanka is currently facing a severe drought that has impacted over 1.6 million people and cut its crop yields by 42 percent, according to government analyses. But a closer look at the areas where the drought is at its worst shows that the poorest have been hit hardest.

Of the drought-affected population, over half or roughly 900,000 people, are from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country, regions that have been traditionally poor, dependent on agriculture and lacking strong coping mechanisms or infrastructure to withstand the impact of natural disasters.

Take the northern Kilinochchi district, where out of a population of some 120,000, over 74,000 are affected by the drought; or the adjoining district of Mullaithivu where over 56,000 from a population of just above 100,000 are suffering the impacts of inadequate rainfall.

The vast majority of residents in these districts are war returnees, who bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war that ended in May 2009. Displaced and dodging the crossfire of fierce fighting between government forces and the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the last stages of the conflict, these civilians began trickling back into devastated villages in late 2010.

Despite a massive three-billion-dollar mega infrastructure development plan for the Northern Province, poverty remains rampant in the region. According to poverty data that was released by the government in April, four of the five districts in the north fared poorly.

While the national poverty headcount was 6.7 percent, major districts in the north and east recorded much higher figures: 28.8 percent in Mullaithivu, 12.7 percent in Kilinochchi, 8.3 percent in Jaffnna and 20.1 percent in Mannar.

The figures are worlds apart from the mere 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent recorded in the Colombo and Gampaha Districts in the Western Province.

“The districts in the North were already reeling under very high levels of poverty, which would have certainly accentuated since then due to the prolonged drought to date,” said Muttukrishna Saravananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development based in northern Jaffna.

Mohanabavan told IPS that even though he has about two acres of agriculture land that had hitherto provided some 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) in income annually, the dry weather has pushed him into debt.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school,” he explained, adding that there is no sign of respite. “The nightmare continues,” he said simply.

Agriculture accounts for 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s national annual gross domestic product (GDP) of some 60 billion rupees (about 460 million dollars). In primarily rural provinces in the north and east, at least 30 percent of the population depends on an agriculture-based income.

Kugadasan Sumanadas, the additional secretary for disaster management at the Kilinochchi District Secretariat, said that limited programmes to assist the drought-impacted population have been launched since the middle of the year.

Around 37,000 persons get daily water transported by tankers and there are a set number of cash-for-work programmes in the district that pay around 800 rupees (about six dollars) per person per day, for projects aimed at renovating water and irrigtation networks.

But to carry out even the limited work underway now, a weekly allocation of over nine million rupees is needed, money that is slow in coming.

“But the bigger problem is if it does not rain soon, then we will have to travel out of the province to get water, more people will need assistance for a longer period, that means more money [will be required],” Sumanadas said.

In April this year, a joint assessment by the World Food Programme and the government warned that half the population in the Mullaithivu district and one in three people in the Kilinochchi district were food insecure.

Sumanadas is certain that in the ensuing four months, the figure has gone up.

Overall, crop production has decreased by 42 percent compared to 2013 levels, while rice yields fell to 17 percent below last year’s output of four million metric tons.

In fact, the government decided to lift import bans on the staple rice stocks in April and is expected to make up for at least five percent of harvest losses through imports.

The main water source in the district, the sprawling Iranamadu Reservoir – 50 square km in size, with the capacity to irrigate 106,000 acres – is a gigantic dust bowl these days, the official said. That scenario, however, is not limited to the north and east.

“All reservoir levels are down to around 30 percent in the island,” Ivan de Silva, the secretary to the minister of irrigation and water management, told IPS.

He attributes the debilitating impact of the drought to two factors working in tandem: the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and the lack of proper water management.

“In the past we excepted a severe drought every 10 to 15 years, now it is happening almost every other year,” de Silva said.

A similar drought in late 2012 also impacted close to two million people on this island of just over 20 million people, and forced agricultural output down to 20 percent of previous yields.

That drought however was broken by the onset of floods brought on by hurricane Nilam in late 2012.

“We should have policies that allow us to manage our water resources better, so that we can better meet these changing weather patterns,” he said.

The country is slowly waking up to the grim reality that a changing climate requires better management. This week the government launched a 100-million-dollar climate resilience programme that will spend the bulk of its funds, around 90 million dollars, on infrastructure upgrades.

Of this, 47 million dollars will go towards improving drainage networks and water systems, while 36 million will go towards fortifying roads and seven million will be poured into projects to improve school safety in disaster-prone areas.

Part of the money will also be allocated to studying the nine main river basins around the country for better flood and drought management policies.

S M Mohammed, the secretary to the ministry of disaster management, admitted that national coping levels were not up to par when she said at the launch of the programme on Sep. 26, “Our country must change from a tradition of responding [to natural disasters] to a culture of resilience.”

Such a policy, if implemented, could bring a world of change to the lives of millions who are slowly cooking in the blistering sun.

Edited by Kanya D’Almieda

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Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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Championing Ocean Conservation Or Paying Lip Service to the Seas?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 06:32:18 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136905 President Obama's closure of waters around three remote Pacific islands will allow Honolulu's s long-line fishing vessels like this one to continue to fish the fast-dwindling bigeye tuna. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

President Obama's closure of waters around three remote Pacific islands will allow Honolulu's s long-line fishing vessels like this one to continue to fish the fast-dwindling bigeye tuna. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

By Christopher Pala
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

President Barack Obama this week extended the no-fishing areas around three remote pacific islands, eliciting praise from some, and disappointment from those who fear the move did not go far enough towards helping depleted species of fish recover.

Last June, Obama had proposed to end all fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of five islands, effectively doubling the surface of the world’s protected waters. But on Thursday, he only closed the three where little or no fishing goes on, making the measure, according to some experts, largely symbolic: the Wake Atoll, north of the Marshall Islands; Johnson Atoll, southwest of Hawaii; and Jarvis, just south of the Kiribati Line Islands.

Fishing of fast-diminishing species like the Pacific bigeye tuna was allowed to continue around Howland and Baker, which abut Kiribati’s 408,000 square km Phoenix Islands Protected Area, and Palmyra in the U.S. Line Islands.

“If we don’t have the fortitude to protect marine biodiversity in these easy-win situations, that says a lot about our commitment to oceans." -- Doug McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara
Many press reports said Obama had created the largest marine reserve in the world. In fact, he would have done that only if he had closed the waters around Howland and Baker. Since these waters adjoin Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area, itself due to be closed to commercial fishing soon, the two together would have created a refuge of 850,000 square km, twice the size of California.

The biggest marine reserve in the world remains around the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Islands, which Britain closed in 2010, at 640,000 square km. Scientists say that to allow far-traveling species like tuna, shark and billfish, protected areas need to be in that range.

But after fishing fleets in Hawaii and American Samoa protested, Obama backtracked and allowed fishing to continue unabated in the two areas that have the most fish, Palmyra and Howland and Baker.

“We missed a unique opportunity to do something important for the oceans,” said Doug McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “I can’t think of anywhere in the world that could be protected and inconvenience fewer people than Palmyra and Howland and Baker.” According to official statistics, only 1.7 percent of the Samoa fleet’s catch and four percent of Honolulu’s comes from those areas.

“If we don’t have the fortitude to protect marine biodiversity in these easy-win situations, that says a lot about our commitment to oceans,” added McCauley.

On Thursday, Obama extended by about 90 percent the no-fishing zones in the waters around Jarvis, south of Palmyra and outside the range of the Hawaii fleet: Wake, which is not fished at all and lies west of Hawaii, and Johnston, south of Hawaii but far from the so-called equatorial tuna belt where the biggest numbers of fish live.

The three are more than 1,000 kilometers apart from each other and their newly protected waters add up to about one million square km.

“That’s a lot of water,” said Lance Morgan, president of the Marine Conservation institute in Seattle, who had campaigned for the closures. “Obama has protected more of the ocean than anyone else.”

Morgan pointed out that it was in his sixth year (as is Obama now) that President George W. Bush created the first large U.S. marine national monument around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and it was in the closing days of Bush’s second term that he created several others in U.S. overseas possessions, including the five in the Central Pacific.

“Podesta said Obama’s signing pen still has some ink left in it, and I hope he’ll use it,” Morgan added, referring to a remark White House Counselor John Podesta made to journalists last week.

Bush, like Obama, had also initially proposed to protect the whole EEZ of the Central Pacific islands, but after fishing companies and the U.S. Navy objected, he ended up limiting the marine national monument designation to only the areas within 90 km of the islands.

The move protected the largely pristine and unfished reefs but left the rest of the EEZ open to U.S. fishermen. This time, a source familiar with the process told IPS, the Navy had made no objections to Obama’s original proposal to close the whole EEZ of the five zones.

But Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Honolulu Western Pacific Fishery Management Advisory Board, a leading voice in Hawaii’s fishing industry, had vigorously opposed the proposed closures, telling IPS, “U.S fishermen should be able to fish in U.S. zones.”

Obama’s declaration that turns the whole EEZ (out from 90 km to 340 km) around Wake, Jarvis and Johnston into marine national monuments notes they “contain significant objects of scientific interest that are part of this highly pristine deep sea and open ocean ecosystem with unique biodiversity.”

But the declaration does not mention that overfishing in the last decades has reduced the tropical Pacific population of bigeye tuna, highly prized as sushi, to 16 percent of its original population, while the yellowfin is down to 26 percent. About 80 percent of the tuna caught by Hawaii’s long-line fleet is bigeye. The stocks of tuna are even more depleted outside the Western and Central Pacific.

“In a well-managed fishery, you would stop fishing and rebuild the stock,” said Glenn Hurry, who recently stepped down as head of the international tuna commission that manages the five-billion-dollar Pacific fishery.

The fishery’s own scientists have called for reducing the bigeye catch by 30 percent, but the catch has only grown. Honolulu’s catch of bigeye was a record last year.

“It’s too bad these areas (Palmyra and Howland and Baker) weren’t closed,” said Patrick Lehodey, a French fisheries scientist who studies Pacific tuna. Absent a reduction in catch, he said, “Our simulations showed that to help the bigeye recover, you need to close a really big area near the tuna belt.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Cuba’s Sugar Industry to Use Bagasse for Bioenergyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:08:45 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136902 The 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the Cuban province of Cienfuegos. A subsidiary of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is taking part in upgrading the plant, which will include construction of a bioenergy plant run on sugarcane bagasse. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the Cuban province of Cienfuegos. A subsidiary of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is taking part in upgrading the plant, which will include construction of a bioenergy plant run on sugarcane bagasse. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Cuba’s sugar industry hopes to become the main source of clean energy in the country as part of a programme to develop renewable sources aimed at reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and protecting the environment.

The project forms part of the plans for upgrading and modernising sugar mills that have been opened up to foreign investment by Azcuba, the government business group that replaced the Sugar Ministry in 2011. Traditionally, sugar mills have generated electricity for their own consumption, using bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice.

In a conversation with Tierramérica, Azcuba spokesman Liobel Pérez defended the production of energy using bagasse as a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative. “The CO2 [carbon dioxide] produced in the generation of electricity is the same amount that the sugar cane absorbs when it grows, which means there is an environmental balance.”

For now, the production of ethanol as a by-product of sugarcane is not being considered in Cuba, although some experts argue that the biofuel could reduce consumption of gasoline by farm machinery and transportation and thus limit atmospheric emissions.

“That is one of the issues being discussed and analysed by the government commission created to study the development of renewable energies,” said Manuel Díaz, director of the Cuban Institute of Research on Sugar Cane Derivatives. The official did not, however, rule out the possibility in the future.

“Even if it is not the definitive long-term solution to the consumption of automotive fuel, ethanol is an important factor and contributes to reducing fossil fuel use, and if it does not run counter to the use of land for food, it could be, it seems to me, an alternative that each country should analyse depending on its specific characteristics,” Díaz said.

A worker at the Jesús Rabí sugar mill in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The plant’s biomass will help increase electricity production from clean sources of energy in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A worker at the Jesús Rabí sugar mill in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The plant’s biomass will help increase electricity production from clean sources of energy in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The sugar industry currently accounts for 3.5 percent of electricity generation in this Caribbean island nation. A target of the plan to boost energy efficiency is for around 20 sugar mills to generate a surplus of 755 MW by 2030, to go into the national power grid.

That would raise the proportion of electricity produced by sugarcane biomass to 14 percent by 2030. The overall aim is for 24 percent of energy to come from renewable sources, including wind power (six percent), solar (three percent), and hydropower (one percent).

Currently, renewable energy sources only represent 4.6 percent of electricity generation; the rest comes from fossil fuels.

The gradual installation in the sugar mills of modern bioelectric plants needed to achieve that goal requires an estimated investment of 1.29 billion dollars, which Azcuba hopes to obtain from government loans or foreign investment.

“If we don’t find a loan we will get foreign investment,” said Jorge Lodos, business director for Zerus SA, a subsidiary of Azcuba. The executive told Tierramérica that the first two companies to enter into partnership with Cuba in the sector included the bioelectric plants in their plans, to boost energy efficiency.

The first of the plants that run on sugarcane biomass will begin to produce energy in 2016, Lodos said. It is to be built near the Ciro Redondo sugar mill in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 423 km from Havana, by Biopower, a joint venture established in 2012 by Cuba’s state-run Zerus and the British firm Havana Energy Ltd.

During the December to May harvest season, the plant will use sugarcane bagasse from the nearby sugar mill. The rest of the year it will use stored sugarcane waste and marabú (Dichrostachys cinérea), a woody shrub that has invaded vast areas of farmland in Cuba. The projected investment ranges between 45 and 55 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura (COI), a subsidiary of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reached an agreement with the Empresa Azucarera Cienfuegos, another Azcuba subsidiary, to jointly administer the 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the province of Cienfuegos, 256 km from the capital, for 13 years.

In this case, the commitment is to bring the productive capacity of the sugar mill back up to 90,000 tons of sugar per harvest, or even higher.
Lodos said investment in the project would surpass 100 million dollars, and would also include the construction of a bioenergy plant.

These two sugar mills and the Jesús Rabí mill in the province of Matanzas, 98 km from Havana, will generate the first 140 MW of electricity in the medium term.

Havana Energy and COI opened the door to foreign capital in Cuba’s sugar industry, just as investment has already been welcomed in other sectors of this country’s centralised economy. “Foreign investment requires mutual trust,” Lodos said.

The socialist government of Raúl Castro estimates that the country needs between two and 2.5 billion dollars a year in foreign capital in order to grow and develop.

Of Cuba’s 56 sugar mills, six of which are now inactive, Azcuba has opened up 20 to foreign investment. The initial priorities are the eight built after the 1959 revolution.

Although ethanol production is not among the plans to be offered to foreign investors, many experts believe prospects for selling the fuel are good.

“It is not expected to be included in the programme,” Lodos said. “None of the minimum conditions required to introduce foreign investment are in place. It would not involve large amounts of capital or technology contribution, and it would not be for export or to replace imports. Today it isn’t on the business menu. But it might be tomorrow.”

Cuba produces alcohol in 11 distilleries, which are also to be upgraded, for pharmaceutical use and the industry that produces rum and other alcohol.

Cuba’s once-powerful sugar industry, which produced harvests of up to eight million tons, hit bottom in the 2009-2010 season when output plunged to 1.1 million tones – the lowest level in 105 years.

The industry currently represents around five percent of the country’s inflow of foreign exchange.

The hope is that the modernisation of factories, machinery, transport equipment and other resources will boost yields and bolster production, along with the increase in the planting of sugarcane. Last year 400,000 hectares were planted and production in the 2013-2014 harvest amounted to over 1.6 million tons.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Côte d’Ivoire Chokes on its Plastic Shopping Bagshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cote-divoire-chokes-on-its-plastic-shopping-bags/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoire-chokes-on-its-plastic-shopping-bags http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cote-divoire-chokes-on-its-plastic-shopping-bags/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 06:25:54 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136886 Treichville is a thriving market in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where plastic bags remain the sole way of packaging food. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Treichville is a thriving market in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where plastic bags remain the sole way of packaging food. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABDIJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

In the middle of downtown Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, the aisles of a thriving supermarket are full of customers. But as they line up to pay for their items, there is one line to a cashier’s till that remains empty. It’s the “green cash register”, where the cashier does not provide plastic bags as this supermarket tries to implement a green policy. 

“People do not find it convenient to bring their own bags. But they are often angry that they have to line up while nobody comes here [to the green cash register],” the cashier tells IPS.

Increasing environmental consciousness is not the sole reason for Ivorian shops adopting green policies: the government has adopted new laws that will affect consumers.

Each year, Côte d’Ivoire produces 200,000 tonnes of plastic bags of which 40,000 go directly into the trash. Less than 20 percent of this plastic is recycled.

In this West African nation, the pressure is growing to find alternatives to plastic shopping bags — which have become an environmental curse. In several of the city’s neighbourhoods, used plastic bags clog gutters and float on the lagoon, causing floods, sanitation problems and health hazards.

Côte d’Ivoire has been choking on its plastic bags. But as the government tries to find solutions, consumers still need to adapt their habits to the changing regulations.

Solving the environmental disaster

In May 2013, the Ivorian government announced a ban on several types of plastic bags. It was meant to prohibit the production, importation, commercialisation, possession and the use of any non-biodegradable plastic bags made of lightweight polyethylene, or similar plastic derivates with a thickness of less than 50 microns.

Already, eight African countries are doing the same. It is an initiative that started in Rwanda and South Africa in 2004, with the two nations deciding to levy extra taxes on plastic bags. Other countries that have banned plastic bags are Botswana, Eritrea, Kenya, Mauritania, Tanzania and Uganda.

But pressure from the plastic industry forced Côte d’Ivoire to back down and to postpone the ban until this August, while trying to find solutions to the industry’s concerns. The government could not simply ignore 7,500 jobs and an industry worth about 50 billion CFA (97 million dollars).

The ban was only applied in August, which allowed the industry enough time to produce biodegradable bags and develop alternatives.

The government also tried to ensure that the market was ready for the transition.

The industry has also had more time to invest in producing bio-degradable bags and more effective recycling infrastructure.

“Our objective is to, on a long-term basis, reduce and replace all bags with reusable bags, and to orient consumers about other ways of carrying merchandise, like [using] cloth bags and baskets.

“If the industry picks up, it will generate long term-profits of annually 17.1 billions CFA [33 million dollars] and will create 1,900 jobs,” explained Ivorian Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan at the beginning of September.

Changing habits

In Treichville Market, one of the busiest commercial areas of the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, the sellers have other concerns.

“People do not have the money to buy an entire bottle of oil. So we divide small portions into plastic bags [to sell],” Mohammed Cissé, a small shop owner in one of Abidjan’s biggest markets, tells IPS.

“It is an economical problem, I think. People do not have the money to buy containers. Those plastic bags are cheap. Reusable boxes are expensive.”

For Cissé, having consumers reuse their plastic bags will mean he will save money since he currently covers the cost of the plastic bags he packages his oil in.

“But people will not understand this! I cover most of the cost of the plastic bags, which is about 10 CFA per bag [3 cents]. Since I give away hundreds of bags per day, I see the total cost,” he says.

In a country where almost half the population lives on less than two dollars per day, buying reusable bags is a challenge, says Cissé.

His neighbour, Jean-Marie Kouadio, is wary about the new bags.

“I have seen biodegradable bags. They are very weak. Where is the benefit if you have to use three bags instead of one?”

He tells IPS that ecological solutions are not available for the smaller bags that he uses to package oil and salt.

Further away, Awa Diabaté faces a different concern. Diabaté, 54, sells donuts on a street corner, right beside a heap of abandoned dirty plastic bags. She sees the point of the ban, but believes that the health concerns behind the ban will be a challenge if proper solutions are not found.

“The individual wrappings allows me to keep the donuts clean from dirt. Often, small kids come to buy food. If they do not carry the food in [the plastic], they will drop it on the ground.

“Reusing bags, means cleaning them. Many people will not take good care. I am pretty sure some will get sick from that,” she tells IPS.

Diabaté’s concerns are down to earth. But they reveal a reality difficult to ignore: plastic bags are essential to Ivorian daily life. And solutions need to fit that.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Climate Summit: Much Talk, A Bit of Walkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:43:28 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136855 Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a member of civil society from the Marshall Islands, received a standing ovation at the opening of the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 for her poem addressed to her daughter. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a member of civil society from the Marshall Islands, received a standing ovation at the opening of the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 for her poem addressed to her daughter. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Speaking to more than 120 heads of state at the U.N. Climate Summit, actor and newly appointed U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio made clear the long-ranging impact of the attendees’ decisions.

“You will make history,” he said, “or you will be vilified by it.”All eyes were on China and the United States, respectively the number one and number two carbon emitting countries in the world.

Tuesday’s climate summit was not a part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiation framework. Instead, it was a special event convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to catalyse public opinion and increase political will for a binding climate agreement to be negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015.

“This mixture of governmental, business, cities, states [and] civil society engagement is certainly unprecedented and it offers a chance to open the climate change discussion at a heads of state level as never before,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI), in a statement before the summit.

The secretary-general opened the summit by exhorting leaders to make substantial commitments to mitigate climate change.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our age,” he said. “We must work together to mobilise markets” and “commit to a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015.”

In three simultaneous sessions, world leaders announced national action and ambition plans to combat climate change. These announcements included pledges to cut emissions, donate money to the Green Climate Fund, halt deforestation and undertake efforts to put a price on carbon.

Representatives from small island states lamented that their countries would be underwater in only a few decades, while African leaders pointed out the growing number of climate refugees.

All eyes were on China and the United States, respectively the number one and number two carbon emitting countries in the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that all future U.S. investments in international development would consider climate resiliency as an important factor. He also said that the U.S. would meet its target of reducing carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

“We recognise our role in creating this problem. We embrace our responsibility to combat it,” Obama said. “We will do our part and we will help developing nations to do theirs.”

“But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend the climate summit, but instead sent Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

While some were disappointed at Xi’s absence, the fact that such a high-ranking Chinese official would speak of the necessity of climate change mitigation was cause for optimism.

In a reaction statement, WRI’s Jennifer Morgan said that “China’s remarks at the Climate Summit go further than ever before. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s announcement to strive to peak emissions ‘as early as possible’ is a welcome signal for the cooperative action we need for the Paris Agreement.”

China alone accounts for one quarter of worldwide carbon emissions annually.

Narendra Modi, newly elected prime minister of India, also declined to attend the climate summit. India is the world’s third largest emitter of carbon.

Midway through the day, the secretary-general was insistent that real progress was being made.

“This summit is not about talk,” he said. “The climate summit is producing actions that make a difference.”

One of the most concrete things that nations can do to combat climate change is to make pledges to the Green Climate Fund.

The Green Climate Fund is a UNFCCC mechanism designed to transfer money from developed countries to developing countries, to build climate resilience.

During the summit French President François Hollande pledged one billion dollars to the Climate Fund over the next few years. Several other countries, including Norway and Switzerland, also promised to contribute smaller amounts. Germany pledged one billion dollars to the fund several months ago.

Still, these efforts do not nearly close the climate resilience gap between rich and poor states.

Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced a common frustration in his statement on behalf of the G77 and China, a group of developing countries.

“Developing countries continue to suffer the most from the adverse impacts of climate change… even though they are historically the least responsible for climate change,” he said.

Morales criticised developed countries for failing to uphold their commitments, and said that developing countries would only be able to fulfil their commitments to reducing carbon without substantial financial assistance from developed countries.

It’s easy “to get caught in the zero-sum game” when talking about steps to mitigate climate change, David Waskow, head of WRI’s International Climate Initiative, told IPS. However, “one of the things that was heard frequently today from the podium was the recognition that climate action and economic growth and development can go hand in hand.”

Historical responsibility is a concern, he said, but it should not stop poor countries from recognising that “there are paths forward on climate action that can in fact be beneficial for development.”

Waskow pointed out that renewable energy will soon be just as cheap as fossil fuels in many countries, and could provide significant development benefits in rural areas far from the main electricity grid.

In addition to the climate summit’s main speeches, numerous side events took place, including thematic debates on the economic case for action and on climate science. A special session entitled “Voices from the Climate Front Lines” highlighted the experiences of children, youth, women and indigenous peoples in building resilience to climate change.

Meanwhile, popular support for action against climate change is gaining energy.

Around 100 climate-related events are taking place in New York between Sep. 22 and 28 as part of the Climate Week NYC campaign.

Two days before the summit, around 400,000 climate supporters joined the People’s Climate March in New York, several times the expected number.

Buses carried in marchers from across the United States. Solidarity marches and events occurred in 166 countries.

Ban, Leonardo DiCaprio, climate change activist and ex-U.S. President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio all participated in New York’s march.

Despite the strong turnout, many climate supporters fear that the hype surrounding the summit and the 2015 Paris conference will amount to nothing more than it did in 2009, when hopes of a climate agreement in Copenhagen fizzled.

When asked whether enough had changed since 2009 to result in a successful climate treaty, Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA, told IPS “I think there’s been enough [change] to get something through. I don’t think there’s been enough to get through something as ambitious as we need.”

For the 2015 Paris agreement to succeed, negotiators will need a “clear, focused and strong draft agreement” by the end of the U.N.’s climate change conference (COP20) in Lima this December, said COP20 president and Peruvian environmental minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal in a press call.

Major economies will need to come forward by March 2015 with their proposed contributions to the Paris framework.

In his remarks at the climate summit, Al Gore put forward his take on what was necessary for a successful climate treaty.

“All we need is political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Mandates Climate Resilience in All U.S. Development Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:32:59 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136839 U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the U.N. Climate Summit 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the U.N. Climate Summit 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

All international development assistance and investments from the United States will now be required to take into account the potential impacts of climate change, according to a new rule signed Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

When designing development programmes of any type, federal agencies will need to factor in climate resilience, referring to the ability of a host country or community to anticipate and prepare for global warming-related changes. Those agencies will likewise be required to encourage similar planning by multilateral development institutions.“Climate resilience is of critical importance to the 500 million smallholder farmers that provide the majority of food in developing countries.” -- Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium

“The president is setting the right course with his executive order,” Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programmes at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, said in a statement. “We can’t pursue development around the world without recognising the risks that climate change poses every day.”

President Obama announced the new directive at the opening of a United Nations summit on climate that brought together some 120 heads of state to discuss new commitments. There, the president also announced a suite of new “tools” and initiatives aimed at assisting developing countries prepare for the impacts of a changing climate, particularly around the sharing of scientific and weather data.

“Today, I’m directing our federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into our international development programmes and investments,” the president said U.N. headquarters in New York.

“And I’m announcing a new effort to deploy the unique scientific and technological capabilities of the United States, from climate data to early-warning systems … to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters, and better plan for long-term threats like steadily rising seas.”

The president did not announce a new U.S. carbon emissions-reduction target during Tuesday’s highly anticipated address. However, he did pledge that such a target would be made public by early next year.

Safeguarding progress

Acknowledging that those countries that bear the least responsibility for climate change “often stand to lose the most”, Obama noted that U.S. assistance for climate-related adaptation efforts has expanded eightfold since 2009.

In an executive order detailing the new mandates, also signed Tuesday, Obama warns that failure to take into account the potential impacts of climate change could “roll back decades of progress in reducing poverty and improving economic growth in vulnerable countries” and weaken the overall effectiveness of U.S. development assistance.

“Development investments in areas as diverse as eradicating malaria, building hydropower facilities, improving agricultural yields, and developing transportation systems will not be effective in the long term if they do not account for impacts such as shifting ranges of disease-carrying mosquitoes, changing water availability, or rising sea levels,” a White House fact sheet notes.

The new mandate could mean, for instance, ensuring that a new road built with U.S. assistance is engineered and sited to withstand strengthened flooding, or that a planned school is moved out of the way of forecasted rising sea waters. It could also mean increased aid focus on agricultural seeds and techniques able to withstand weather extremes, as well as data to allow for better planning by farmers.

“Climate resilience is of critical importance to the 500 million smallholder farmers that provide the majority of food in developing countries,” Frank Rijsberman, the CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, a global organisation that promotes agricultural research to advance food security, told IPS.

“It is an important step for the U.S. to announce that it will mainstream climate resilience in all its development investments – as did a number of other countries and multilateral organisations at the summit.”

A new working group, led by the heads of the U.S. Treasury and USAID, the country’s main foreign aid agency, will now come up with guidelines for integrating these considerations into federal strategies.

But U.S. development agencies are already expressing excitement about the new requirements. An official with USAID told IPS that “it is essential that, as the world’s leading development agency, USAID continue to set a high bar for building resilience into all efforts to end extreme poverty and build flourishing societies.”

An official with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance agency, likewise called the executive order “incredibly significant”.

“OPIC is eager to take part in this administration-wide action that underscores the seriousness of the challenge the whole world faces from a changing climate,” Charles Stadtlander, an OPIC spokesperson, told IPS. “If one thing is clear, it’s more cost-effective to act now than to wait until after it’s too late.”

Low-emissions development

In recent years, OPIC has been increasingly lauded by environmentalists and development groups for its overseas investments in renewable energies. Last year, Stadtlander says, those commitments topped 1.2 billion dollars, marking more than a 50-fold increase since 2007.

For some, it is expanding such efforts, and the U.S. government’s still-nascent focus on overseas alternative and low-carbon energy sources, that remains of paramount importance.

Importantly, the new executive order requires that federal agencies “continue seeking opportunities to help international partners promote sustainable low-emissions development”. It also orders the U.S. National Security Council, within a year, to bring together federal agencies to “explore further mitigation opportunities” in U.S. development activities, and to come up with recommendations for additional action.

“An important element of this order is the mandate to continue seeking avenues for mitigation and low-carbon development,” Justin Guay, a Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“Already important initiatives like OPIC’s Africa Clean Energy Finance programme are building a pipeline, and new loan guarantees and the private investment they’ll leverage can take that pipeline to scale.”

Guay points to a new U.S. government project, announced this summer, called Beyond the Grid, aimed at expanding renewable energies in Africa. Strengthening that initiative would now offer a key opportunity to put the executive order’s mitigation mandate into action, Guay notes.

Meanwhile, others are expressing concerns over the impact in developing countries of new resilience assistance from the West.

For instance, while President Obama and others on Tuesday inaugurated a new Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, aimed at addressing food security in the context of a changing climate, some farmers in developing countries worry the initiative will increase their dependence on foreign interventions.

“Climate smart agriculture will lead to further consolidation of land … creating dependency on so-called new technologies,” La Via Campesina, a global group of smallholders, said Tuesday, “while ignoring traditional tried-and-true adaptive farming techniques and stewardship of seed varieties.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Climate-Smart Agriculture is Corporate Green-Washing, Warn NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:01:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136836 Critics say the agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies that have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon-intensive and depend on external inputs. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

Critics say the agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies that have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon-intensive and depend on external inputs. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

On the sidelines of the U.N.’s heavily hyped Climate Summit, the newly-launched Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture announced plans to protect some 500 million farmers worldwide from climate change and “help achieve sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes.”

But the announcement by the Global Alliance, which includes more than 20 governments, 30 organisations and corporations, including Fortune 500 companies McDonald’s and Kelloggs, was greeted with apprehension by a coalition of over 100 civil society organisations (CSOs)."These companies will do all they can to maintain their market dominance and prevent genuine agroecology agriculture from gaining ground in countries." -- Meenakshi Raman of Third World Network

It is a backhanded gesture, warned the coalition, which “rejected” the announcement as “a deceptive and deeply contradictory initiative.”

“The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture will not deliver the solutions that we so urgently need. Instead, climate-smart agriculture provides a dangerous platform for corporations to implement the very activities we oppose,” the coalition said.

“By endorsing the activities of the planet’s worst climate offenders in agribusiness and industrial agriculture, the Alliance will undermine the very objectives that it claims to aim for.”

The 107 CSOs include ActionAid International, Friends of the Earth International, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements, the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, the Third World Network, the Bolivian Platform on Climate Change, Biofuel Watch and the National Network on Right to Food.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who gave his blessing to the Global Alliance, said: “I am glad to see action that will increase agricultural productivity, build resilience for farmers and reduce carbon emissions.”

These efforts, he said, will improve food and nutrition security for billions of people.

With demand for food set to increase 60 per cent by 2050, agricultural practices are transforming to meet the challenge of food security for the world’s 9.0 billion people while reducing emissions, he asserted.

But the coalition said: “Although some organisations have constructively engaged in good faith for several months with the Global Alliance to express serious concerns, these concerns have been ignored.”

Instead, the Alliance “is clearly being structured to serve big business interests, not to address the climate crisis,” the coalition said.

The coalition also pointed out that companies with activities resulting in dire social impacts on farmers and communities, such as those driving land grabbing or promoting genetically modified (GM) seeds, already claim they are climate-smart.

Yara (the world’s largest fertiliser manufacturer), Syngenta (GM seeds), McDonald’s, and Walmart are all at the climate-smart table,
it added. “Climate-smart agriculture will serve as a new promotional space for the planet’s worst social and environmental offenders in agriculture.

“The proposed Global Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture seems to be yet another strategy by powerful players to prop up industrial agriculture, which undermines the basic human right to food. It is nothing new, nothing innovative, and not what we need,” the coalition declared.

Meenakshi Raman, coordinator of the Climate Change Programme at the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS the world seed, agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies.

She said these companies have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon intensive and depend on external inputs.

“These companies will do all they can to maintain their market dominance and prevent genuine agroecology agriculture from gaining ground in countries,” she said.

It is vital that such oligopoly practices are disallowed and regulated, said Raman. “Hence the need for radical overhaul of the current unfair systems in place with real reform at the international level.”

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said the world’s foremost agriculture experts have determined that preventing climate change from damaging food production and destabilising some of the world’s most volatile regions will require reaching out to at least half a billion farmers, fishers, pastoralists, livestock keepers and foresters.

The goal is to help them learn farming techniques and obtain farming technologies that will allow them to adapt to more stressful production conditions and also reduce their own contributions to climate change, said CGIAR.

These researchers are already working with farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to refine new climate-oriented technologies and techniques via what are essentially outdoor laboratories for innovations called climate-smart villages.

The villages’ approach to crafting climate change solutions is proving extremely popular with all involved, and now the Indian state of Maharashtra (population 112.3 million) plans to set up 1,000 climate smart villages, CGIAR said.

Asked for specifics, Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), told IPS countries in the tropics will be particularly impacted, especially those that are already under-developed because such countries don’t have the resources to adapt and respond to extreme weather conditions.

These include many countries in the Sahel region, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, plus countries in Latin America.

Asked if these countries are succeeding in coping with the impending crisis, he said there are good cases of isolated successes, but in general they are not coping.

For example, one success is in Niger where five million trees have been planted, that help both adaptation and mitigation, but an enormous number of other activities are needed, he added.

Raman told IPS there are many rules in the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) agriculture agreement that threaten small-scale agriculture and agroecology farming systems in the developing world.

She said developed countries are allowed to provide billions of dollars in subsidies to their agricultural producers whose products are then exported and dumped on developing countries, whose farming systems are then displaced or threatened with artificially cheap products.

Many developing countries, she pointed out, were also forced to remove the protection they had or have for their domestic agriculture, either through the WTO, the World Bank policies under structural adjustment and free trade agreements.

“These policies do not allow developing country governments to protect small farmers and their domestic agriculture,” she said.

Such rules and policies are unfair and unethical and should not be allowed as they undermine small farmers and agroecology systems,
Raman declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Water: A Defining Issue for Post-2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/water-a-defining-issue-for-post-2015/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:25:23 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136832 A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A Sri Lankan boy bathes in a polluted river. South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
STOCKHOLM, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A gift of nature, or a valuable commodity? A human right, or a luxury for the privileged few? Will the agricultural sector or industrial sector be the main consumer of this precious resource? Whatever the answers to these and many more questions, one thing is clear: that water will be one of the defining issues of the coming decade.

Some estimates say that 768 million people still have no access to fresh water. Other research puts the number higher, suggesting that up to 3.5 billion people are denied the right to an improved source of this basic necessity.

As United Nations agencies and member states inch closer to agreeing on a new set of development targets to replace the soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the need to include water in post-2015 development planning is more urgent than ever.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us." -- Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
The latest World Water Development Report (WWDR) suggests, “Global water demand (in terms of water withdrawals) is projected to increase by some 55 percent by 2050, mainly because of growing demands from manufacturing (400 percent), thermal electricity generation (140 percent) and domestic use (130 percent).”

In addition, a steady rise in urbanisation is likely to result in a ‘planet of cities’ where 40 percent of the world’s population will reside in areas of severe water stress through 2050.

Groundwater supplies are diminishing; some 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are facing over-exploitation, and degradation of wetlands is affecting the capacity of ecosystems to purify water supplies.

WWDR findings also indicate that climbing global energy demand – slated to rise by one-third by 2030 – will further exhaust limited water sources; electricity demand alone is poised to shoot up by 70 percent by 2035, with China and India accounting for over 50 percent of that growth.

Against this backdrop, water experts around the world told IPS that management of this invaluable resource will occupy a prominent place among the yet-to-be finalised Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in the hopes of fending off crises provoked by severe shortages.

“We are discussing the goals, and most member [states] agree that water needs better coordination and management,” Amina Mohammed, the United Nations secretary-general’s special advisor on post-2015 development planning told IPS on the sidelines of the annual Stockholm World Water Week earlier this month.

What is needed now, Mohammed added, is greater clarity on goals that can be mutually agreed upon by member states.

Other water experts allege that in the past, water management has been excluded from high-level decision-making processes, despite it being an integral part of any development process.

“In the next 30 years water usage will rise by 30 percent, water scarcity is going to increase; there are huge challenges ahead of us,” Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), told IPS.

He added that the way the world uses water is drastically changing. Traditionally agriculture has been the largest guzzler of fresh water, but in the near future the manufacturing sector is tipped to take over. “Over 25 percent of [the world’s] water use will be by the energy sector,” Holmgren said.

For many nations, especially in the developing world, the water-energy debate represents the classic catch-22: as more people move out of poverty and into the middle class with spending capacity, their energy demands increase, which in turn puts tremendous pressure on limited water supplies.

The statistics of this demographic shift are astonishing, said Kandeh Yumkella, special representative of the secretary-general who heads Ban Ki-moon’s pet project, the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

Yumkella told IPS that by 2050, three billion persons will move out of poverty and 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities.

“Everyone is demanding more of everything, more houses, more cars and more water. And we are talking of a world where temperatures are forecasted to rise by two to three degrees Celsius, maybe more,” he asserted.

South Asia in need of proper planning

South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people of which 75 percent live in rural areas, is one of the most vulnerable regions to water shocks and represents an urgent mandate to government officials and all stakeholders to formulate coordinated and comprehensive plans.

The island of Sri Lanka, for instance, is a prime example of why water management needs to be a top priority among policy makers. With climate patterns shifting, the island has been losing chunks of its growth potential to misused water.

In the last decade, floods affected nine million people, representing almost half of Sri Lanka’s population of just over 20 million. Excessive rain also caused damages to the tune of one billion dollars, according to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Ironically, the island also constantly suffers from a lack of water. Currently, a 10-month drought is affecting 15 of its 25 districts, home to 1.5 million people. It is also expected to drive down the crucial rice harvest by 17 percent, reducing yields to the lowest levels in six years. All this while the country is trying to maintain an economic growth rate of seven percent, experts say.

In trying to meet the challenges of wildly fluctuating rain patterns, the government has adopted measures that may actually be more harmful than helpful in the long term.

In the last three years it has switched to coal to offset drops in hydropower generation. Currently coal, which is considered a “dirty” energy source, is the largest energy source for the island, making up 46 percent of all energy produced, according to government data.

Top government officials like Finance Secretary Punchi Banda Jayasundera and Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga have told IPS that they are working on water management.

But for those who favour fast-track moves, like Mohammed and Yumkella, verbal promises need to translate into firm goals and action.

“If you don’t take water into account, either you are going to fail in your development goals, or you are going to put a lot of pressure on you water resources,” Richard Connor, lead author of the 2014 WWDR, told IPS.

The situation is equally dire for India and China. According to a report entitled ‘A Clash of Competing Necessities’ by CNA Analysis and Solutions, a Washington-based research organisation, 53 percent of India’s population lives in water-scarce areas, while 73 percent of the country’s electricity capacity is also located.

India’s power needs have galloped and according to research conducted in 2012, the gap between power demand and supply was 10.2 percent and was expected to rise further. The last time India faced a severe power crisis, in July 2012, 600 million people were left without power.

According to China Water Risk, a non-profit organisation, China’s energy needs will grow by 100 percent by 2050, but already around 60 percent of the nation’s groundwater resources are polluted.

China is heavily reliant on coal power but the rising demand for energy will put considerable stress on water resources in a nation where already at least 50 percent of the population may be facing water shortages, according to Debra Tan, the NGO’s director.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Urban Population to Reach 3.9 Billion by Year Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:29:16 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136810 Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums belies the official story that the country is well on its way to providing universal access to safe, clean drinking water. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums belies the official story that the country is well on its way to providing universal access to safe, clean drinking water. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Gloria Schiavi
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

People living in cities already outnumber those in rural areas and the trend does not appear to be reversing, according to UN-Habitat, the Nairobi-based agency for human settlements, which has warned that planning is crucial to achieve sustainable urban growth.

“In the hierarchy of the ideas, first comes the urban design and then all other things,” Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, told IPS while he was in New York for a preparatory meeting of Habitat III, the world conference on sustainable urban development that will take place in 2016."In the past urbanisation was a slow-cooking dish rather than a fast food thing." -- Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat

“Urbanisation, plotting, building – in this order,” he said, explaining that in many cities the order is reversed and it is difficult to solve the problems afterwards.

According to the U.N. Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), urban population grew from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014 and is expected to surpass six billion by 2045. Today there are 28 mega-cities worldwide and by 2030 at least 10 million people will live in 41 mega-cities.

A U.N. report shows that urban settlements are facing unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges, and spontaneous urbanisation often results in slums.

Although the proportion of the urban population living in slums has decreased over the years, and one of the Millennium Development Goals achieved its aim of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers, the absolute number has continued to grow, due in part to the fast pace of urbanisation.

The same report estimates that the number of urban residents living in slum conditions was 863 million in 2012, compared to 760 million in 2000.

“In the past urbanisation was a slow-cooking dish rather than a fast food thing,” Clos said.

“We have seen it in multiple cases that spontaneous urbanisation doesn’t take care for the public space and its relationship with the buildable plots, which is the essence of the art of building cities,” he added.

The former mayor of Barcelona for two mandates, Clos thinks that a vision is needed to build cities. And when he says building cities, he does not mean building buildings, but building healthy, sustainable communities.

Relinda Sosa is the president of National Confederation of Women Organised for Life and Integrated Development in Peru, an association with 120,000 grassroots members who work on issues directly affecting their own communities to make them more inclusive, safe and resilient. They run a number of public kitchens to ensure food security, map the city to identify issues that may create problems, and work on disaster prevention.

“Due to the configuration of the society, women are the ones who spend most time with the families and in the community, therefore they know it better than men who often only sleep in the area and then go to work far away,” Sosa told IPS.

“Despite their position, though, and due to the macho culture that exists in Latin America, women are often invisible,” she added. “This is why we are working to ensure they are involved in the planning process, because of the data and knowledge they have.”

The link between the public and elected leaders is crucial, and Sosa’s organisation tries to bring them together through the participation of grassroots women.

Carmen Griffiths, a leader of GROOTS Jamaica, an organisation that is part of the same network as Sosa’s, told IPS, “When access to basic services is lacking, women are the ones who have to face these situations first.

“We look at settlements patterns in the cities, we talk about densification in the city, people living in the periphery, in informal settlements, in housing that is not regular, have no water, no sanitation in some cases, without proper electricity. We talk about what causes violence to women in the city,” Griffiths added.

As the chief of UN-Habitat told IPS, it is crucial to protect public space, possibly at a ratio of 50 percent to the buildable plots, as well as public ownership of building plans. The local government has to ensure that services exist in the public space, something that does not happen in a slum situation, where there is no regulation or investment by the public.

Griffiths meets every month with the women in her organisation: they share their issues and needs and ensure they are raised with local authorities.

“Sometimes it happens that you find good politicians, some other times they just want a vote and don’t interface with the people at all,” she added.

Griffiths also sits on the advisory board of UN-Habitat, to voice the needs of her people at the global level and then bring the knowledge back to the communities, she explained.

These battles are bringing some results, especially in the urban environment. Sosa said that women are slowly achieving wider participation, while in rural areas the mindset is still very conservative.

About the relationship between urban and rural areas, Maruxa Cardama, executive project coordinator at Communitas, Coalition for Sustainable Cities & Regions, told IPS that an inclusive plan is needed.

Cities are dependent on the natural resources that rural areas provide, including agriculture, so urban planning should not stop where high rise buildings end, she explained, adding that this would also ensure rural areas are provided with the necessary services and are not isolated.

Although they will not be finalised until 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently include a standalone goal dedicated to making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Experts Warn of Dire Consequences as Lake Victoria’s Water Levels Drop Furtherhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/experts-warn-of-dire-consequences-as-lake-victorias-water-levels-drop-further/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=experts-warn-of-dire-consequences-as-lake-victorias-water-levels-drop-further http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/experts-warn-of-dire-consequences-as-lake-victorias-water-levels-drop-further/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 07:50:38 +0000 Joshua Kyalimpa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136819 There are numerous traders operating businesses at Kasenyi landing site, on Lake Victoria. Their wooden and metallic structures are placed about 50 metres into where the lake waters used to be. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

There are numerous traders operating businesses at Kasenyi landing site, on Lake Victoria. Their wooden and metallic structures are placed about 50 metres into where the lake waters used to be. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Joshua Kyalimpa
KAMPALA, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

Over the years, Cassius Ntege, a fisherman from Kasenyi landing site on the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria, has observed the waters of the lake receding. And as one of the many who depend on the lake for their livelihoods, he has had to endure the disastrous consequences of the depleting lake.

Ntege told IPS that he first started going to the lake as teenager to fetch water for domestic use, then as a fisherman, and now as vice chairperson of the beach management unit — a body set up by the government to curb illegal fishing and stop depletion of fish stocks from the lake.

But the declining water levels of Lake Victoria have become his daily concern.Expected changes of plus or minus 10 percent from present annual rainfall totals may seem minimal, but it’s the shift in water patterns that are of concern.

“Look, where that wooden kiosk is placed was previously centre of the lake and now traders have put shops and food kiosks there,” said Ntege as he pointed to the wooden and metallic structures placed about 50 metres into where the lake waters used to be.

There are many traders operating businesses at Kasenyi landing site, which lies about 30 km from the country’s capital, Kampala. And for them, a drop in water levels means additional land to set up shop.

Ntege, like many fishermen here, believes the decline in Lake Victoria’s water levels is because of the effect of wind blowing across the waters from the land — a phenomenon known locally as “Muguundu”.

But climate experts state in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report that a rise in global temperature is what is affecting rainfall patterns over Lake Victoria — and the worst is yet to come.

The report states that increased warming in the western Indian Ocean and precipitation over the ocean system will bring about climate extremes in East Africa and increase precipitation during the short rainy season.

Professor Hannes Rautenbach from the University of Pretoria, and one of the authors of the report, told IPS that temperatures are projected to rise by +2°C in the next 50 years, and by +2.5°C in about 80 years. This, he said, would alter rainfall patterns over Africa’s biggest fresh water lake that is shared by the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania.

Changes in sea surface temperatures in distant tropical oceans will strongly influence annual rainfall amounts and timing, Rautenbach said. He said expected changes of plus or minus 10 percent from present annual rainfall totals may seem minimal, but it’s the shift in water patterns that are of concern.

“The rain belt over Uganda will shift, in that areas like in the Northwest and Western regions, which have been receiving minimal rains, will receive more rains compared to the Lake Victoria region,” Rautenbach explained.

Lake Victoria, which has been receiving high volumes of rainfall, will experience a 20 percent drop in rainfall from present. This, coupled with evaporation due to an anticipated temperature rise of about 1°C over Lake Victoria, will cause a drop in water levels very soon.

East Africa is also projected to experience a change in mean annual precipitation. This will result in increased rainfall over the short September to November rainy season and it will mean that the long rainy season, which takes place between March and May, will reduce. This will negatively impact Uganda’s farmers particularly those in in areas were vital crops such as coffee, tea, cotton and maize are being grown.

Youba Sokona, chair of the IPCC Working Group III that looked at possible mitigation measures, advised that the Uganda government invest in research for varieties to withstand the changing climate.

“Crops varieties as we know them today could not withstand the change and Uganda like other East African governments has no option but to race against time and fund research into new varieties,” said Sokona.

The Ugandan government, however, say they are taking the warning seriously and are developing strategic interventions to mitigate the effects.

Dr. Anuciata Hakuza of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, said strategic interventions include promoting and encouraging highly adaptive and productive crop varieties and cultivars in drought-prone, flood-prone and rain-fed crop farming systems.

She said other adaptation strategies that the government was working on include highly adaptive and productive livestock breeds, conservation agriculture and ecologically compatible cropping systems to increase resilience to the impact of climate change.

Hakuza said the government was also promoting sustainable management of rangelands and pastures through integrated rangeland management.

Uganda’s climate change policy also provides support for community-based adaptation strategies.

Dr. Chebet Maikut, one of Uganda’s negotiators to the Conference of the Parties, told IPS that there are plans to develop innovative insurance schemes, such as low-premium micro-insurance policies, and low-interest credit facilities to insure farmers against crop failure and livestock loss due to droughts, pests, floods and other weather-related events.

“Traditional finance institutions have already been reluctant to fund farming so as the risks grow even further due to climate change there will be need to develop insurance polices,” he said.

Uganda also plans to promote irrigated agriculture, and improved post-harvest handling, storage and value-addition in order to mitigate rising climate-related losses and to improve food security and household incomes.

Maikut argued that all these plans require huge investments. He said in addition to the funds that Uganda was making available out of its national budget, developed countries should also be willing to make contributions.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

 

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World Bank Reports Major Global Support for Carbon Pricinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 00:28:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136817 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-three countries and 22 lower-level governments offered formal support Monday for a global price on carbon dioxide emissions, including China, Russia and the European Union.

Together, these countries account for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Bank, which unveiled a major new push towards global carbon pricing. Other backers include South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and the Philippines.“If governments put good policies and carbon pricing in place, investors can help finance the transition to a low carbon economy.” -- Stephanie Pfeifer

The World Bank also announced that more than a thousand corporations and investors have recently signed several high-level statements on the issue, urging policymakers to take substantive steps towards a global price on carbon emissions.

The data comes as more than 100 government leaders are in New York this week for a United Nations-sponsored summit where governments and the private sector are to announce new climate-related commitments. Around that event, a record 310,000-plus demonstrators took to the streets in New York on Sunday, urging action.

“Today we see real momentum,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said Monday. “Governments representing almost half of the world’s population and 52 percent of global GDP have thrown their weight behind a price on carbon as a necessary, if insufficient, solution to climate change and a step on the path to low carbon growth.”

While there are several ways to impose a financial cost on carbon – including a tax, a trading system and others – proponents say any of these would bring multiple benefits. They would create economic incentives to both reduce emissions and boost the development of renewable energies, while resulting revenues could be used to finance adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Still, carbon prices have also been blamed for raising costs on day-to-day items, including food. Poorly structured carbon taxes could thus impact most immediately on the poor.

The new support builds on a public statement of backing for carbon pricing that the World Bank published in June. At that time, 40 national and more than 20 sub-national carbon taxes or trading schemes had been set up, accounting for a bit more than a fifth of global emissions.

On Monday, Kim also announced a new public- and private-sector grouping, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, that will begin meeting to “advance carbon pricing solutions” in advance of widely anticipated negotiations next year in Paris. There, the global community is expected to agree on a new framework for responding to climate change.

“Carbon pricing if expanded to this scale and then globally has the potential to bring down emissions in a way that supports clean energy and low-carbon growth while giving businesses the flexibility to innovate and find the most efficient choices,” the World Bank noted in a feature story on the new initiatives Monday. “This is a wake-up moment.”

Investor energy

Of course, government representatives have been meeting to discuss options around combating climate change for decades, and there is near universal agreement today that actions taken thus far have not been commensurate with the threat.

Further, market-based schemes such as carbon pricing would only offer a partial solution. Yet even so, the World Bank’s new list of supporters doesn’t include some of the most important players, including the United States and India.

The current phase in the climate discussion is nonetheless distinctive for the new corporate support for some sort of global action around climate change, particularly for a broad price on carbon. Just in the past few days, a series of major calls to action have been made by multinational companies and some of the world’s largest institutional investors.

“Support for carbon pricing among the investor community is greater than it’s ever been,” Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), told IPS.

“Climate change puts the investments and savings of million of people at risk. Investors support ambitious action on climate change and a strong carbon price to reduce these risks and to unlock capital for low carbon investments.”

The London-based IIGCC was involved in developing a major statement from global investors on climate change. The most recent version, released last week, included nearly 350 signatories representing some 24 trillion dollars in assets, and called for carbon pricing, greater support for renewable energy and efficiency, and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

“Investors are willing and able to invest in low carbon energy,” Pfeifer says. “If governments put good policies and carbon pricing in place, investors can help finance the transition to a low carbon economy.”

Environment and economy

The newly stepped-up interest around climate change on the part of corporate executives and investors underscores a strengthening understanding of climate issues as posing threats beyond the environmental. Increasingly, corporations are being forced to explain to their shareholders how climate change and related regulation could impact on their underlying finances – and how prepared they are for that eventuality.

Last week, a widely discussed study found that many of the world’s largest companies, including the oil giant ExxonMobil and financial services firm Goldman Sachs, are already incorporating internal carbon prices into their financial planning and risk management. “[M]ajor corporations not only recognize climate-related regulatory risks and opportunities, but also are proactively planning for them and are outpacing their governments in thinking ahead,” the report found.

Some proponents say this engagement by the private sector could now provide key energy ahead of the Paris climate negotiations next year.

“These are vast and marked changes, and very different from any other time I can remember. The level of interest on the part of the private sector is radically different than it was even five years ago,” Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, a U.S. coalition of investors and others focused on sustainability, told IPS.

“It goes without saying that financial and corporate leaders calling for action does change the debate. It moves the discussion from one of the environment versus the economy to one about both.”

Still, some are concerned that the new focus on the private sector’s role in addressing climate change, including at this week’s U.N. summit, is inverting the proper role of government and state regulation.

“We’re increasingly seeing the private sector telling government how companies can be supported on energy and climate issues,” Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“That’s a perversion, with public sector energy going into supporting the private sector. Instead, the public sector has to set goals and a framework for how we all need to act, both individuals and the private sector.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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U.N. High-Level Summits Ignore World’s Political Criseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 23:56:57 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136814 A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

As the 69th session of the General Assembly took off with the usual political pageantry, the United Nations will be hosting as many as seven “high-level meetings”, “summits” and “special sessions” compressed into a single week – the largest number in living memory.

The agenda includes a world conference on indigenous peoples; a special session on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; a climate summit; and a Security Council meeting of world leaders on counter-terrorism presided over by U.S. President Barack Obama."We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis." -- James Paul

Additionally, there will be a summit meeting on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa; a high-level event on the U.N.’s Global Education First Initiative’s (GEFI); and a summit meeting of business leaders sponsored by the U.N.’s Global Compact.

All of this in a tightly-packed five-day political extravaganza ending Friday, which also includes an address by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama at the GEFI meeting.

At a press conference last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the upcoming events in superlatives.

“This is going to be one of the largest, biggest gatherings of world leaders, particularly when it comes to climate change,” he said.

Still, neither the General Assembly nor the Security Council has seen fit to summon a special session or a summit meeting of world leaders on the widespread crises that have resulted in hundreds of thousands killed and millions reduced to the status of refugees: in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Perhaps the easy way out was to focus merely on counter-terrorism instead of directly engaging Iraq or Syria.

The primary reason for avoiding these crises is the sharp division of opinion among the 193 member states in the General Assembly and a virtual Cold War confrontation between veto-wielding Russia and the United States in the 15-member Security Council, with China supporting the Russians.

James Paul, a former founding executive director of the New York based Global Policy Forum, told IPS: “The U.N.’s unprecedented number of global policy events in the coming days reflects the parlous state of the planet and the fear among those at the top that things are coming apart.”

He said terrorism, the climate crisis, Ebola outbreak, population pushing towards nine billion – these are signs the globalised society once so proudly announced is coming unstuck.

“Lurking in the background are other dangers: the persistent economic crisis, the problems of governability, and the rising tide of migration that are destabilising political regimes everywhere,” said Paul, who has been monitoring and writing extensively on the politics and policy-making at the United Nations since 1993.

Despite some star-studded attendees at the General Assembly sessions this year, there are a couple of high-profile world leaders who will be conspicuous by their absence.

Those skipping the sessions include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who plans to address the General Assembly, is skipping the Climate Summit.

Asked about the non-starters, the secretary-general said: “But, in any event, we have other means of communications, ways and means of having their leadership demonstrated in the United Nations.”

And so it’s extremely difficult to have at one day at one time at one place 120 heads of state in government, he said, in an attempt to justify the absentee leaders.

“In that case,” said a Wall Street Journal editorial rather sarcastically, “why not do a conference call?” of all world leaders.

The editorial also pointed out “the Chinese economy has been the number one global producer of carbon dioxide since 2008, but President Xi Jinping won’t be gracing the U.N. with his presence.”

Paul told IPS since the problems facing the international community are global in scope, everyone realises they must be addressed globally, hence the turn towards the United Nations.

“But the powerful countries are uncomfortable with the U.N. even as they seek to impose their own global solutions,” he said.

So there is the paradox of global crises and global conversations, without effective global governance. Democracy is definitely off the table, said Paul, whose honours include the World Hunger Media Award and a “Peacemaker” award by Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis,” he said.

Above all, he said, the business leaders of the Global Compact, will be gathering to “bluewash” their companies and to declare their commitment to a better world while promoting a neoliberal society of weak governance and the invisible hand.

“They will be waltzing in dreamland. Please pour another champagne,” Paul declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Climate Change an “Existential Threat” for the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-change-an-existential-threat-for-the-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-an-existential-threat-for-the-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-change-an-existential-threat-for-the-caribbean/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:34:30 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136806 In this St. Vincent community, many people build their houses on the banks of a river flowing through the area, leaving them vulnerable to storms and flooding. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

In this St. Vincent community, many people build their houses on the banks of a river flowing through the area, leaving them vulnerable to storms and flooding. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

When it comes to climate change, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves doesn’t mince words: he will tell you that it is a matter of life and death for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

“The threat is not abstract, it is not very distant, it is immediate and it is real. And if this matter is the premier existential issue which faces us it means that we have to take it more seriously and put it at the centre stage of all our developmental efforts,” Gonsalves told IPS."The world is a small place and we contribute very little to global warming, but yet we are in the frontlines of continuing disasters.” -- Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

“The country which I have the honour to lead is a disaster-prone country. We need to adapt, strengthen our resilience, to mitigate, we need to reduce risks to human and natural assets resulting from climate change.

“This is an issue however, which we alone cannot address. The world is a small place and we contribute very little to global warming but yet we are in the frontlines of continuing disasters,” Gonsalves added.

Since 2001, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had 14 major weather events, five of which have occurred since 2010. These five weather events have caused loss and damage amounting to more than 600 million dollars, or just about a third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“Three rain-related events, and in the case of Hurricane Tomas, wind, occurred in 2010; in April 2011 there were landslides and flooding of almost biblical proportions in the northeast of our country; and in December we had on Christmas Eve, a calamitous event,” Gonsalves said.

“My Christmas Eve flood was 17.5 percent of GDP and I don’t have the base out of which I can climb easily. More than 10,000 people were directly affected, that is to say more than one tenth of our population.

“In the first half of 2010 and the first half of this year we had drought. Tomas caused loss and damage amounting to 150 million dollars; the April floods of 2011 caused damage and loss amounting to 100 million dollars; and the Christmas Eve weather event caused loss and damage amounting to just over 330 million. If you add those up you get 580 million, you throw in 20 million for the drought and you see a number 600 million dollars and climbing,” Gonsalves said.

In this St. Vincent community, many people build their houses on the banks of a river flowing through the area, leaving them vulnerable to storms and flooding. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Vincent’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Over the past several years, and in particular since the 2009 summit of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, the United States and other large countries have made a commitment to help small island states deal with the adverse impacts of climate change, and pledged millions of dollars to support adaptation and disaster risk-reduction efforts.

On a recent visit to several Pacific islands, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the importance of deepening partnerships with small island nations and others to meet the immediate threats and long-term development challenges posed by climate change.

He stressed that through cooperative behaviour and fostering regional integration, the U.S. could help create sustainable economic growth, power a clean energy revolution, and empower people to deal with the negative impacts of climate change.

But Gonsalves noted that despite the generosity of the United States, there is a scarcity of funds for mitigation and adaptation promised by the global community, “not only the developed world but also other major emitters, China and India, for example,”  adding that these promises were made to SIDS and to less developed countries.

Twelve people lost their lives in the Christmas Eve floods.

Jock Conly, mission director of USAID/Eastern and Southern Caribbean, told IPS that through strategic partnerships with regional, national, and local government entities, USAID is actively working to reduce the region’s vulnerability and increase its resilience to the impacts of climate change.

“We are providing assistance to increase the capacity of technical and educational institutions in fields such as meteorology, hydrology, and coastal and marine science to improve forecasting and preparation for climate risks,” he said.

“This support includes work with the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, and current partnerships with organisations like the World Meteorological Organisation and its affiliate, the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, the government of Barbados, and the OECS Commission.

“Under an agreement with the World Meteorological Organisation and in partnership with CIMH, a Regional Climate Center will be established for the Caribbean that will be capable of providing tailored climate and weather services to support adaptation and enhanced disaster risk reduction region-wide.”

Conly said the centre will improve climate and weather data collection regionally to fill critical information, monitoring and forecasting gaps allowing the region to better understand and predict climate impacts.

At the same time, USAID is pursuing efforts under the OECS Commission’s programme to educate communities and local stakeholders about climate change impacts and the steps that can be taken to adapt to these impacts.

“A key feature of this programme is the development of demonstration models addressing different aspects of the adaptation process.  This includes the restoration of mangroves, coral reefs, and other coastal habitats, shoreline protection projects, and water conservation initiatives,” Conly said.

Opposition legislator Arnhim Eustace is concerned that people still “do not attach a lot of importance” to climate change.

“People are more concerned with the day-to-day issues, their bread and butter, and I am glad that more and more attention is being paid to that issue at this this present time to let our people have a better understanding of what this really means and how it can impact them,” he told IPS.

“When a fellow is struggling because he has no job and can’t get his children to school, don’t try to tell him about climate change, he is not interested in that. His interest is where is my next meal coming from, where my child’s next meal is coming from, and that is why you have to be so careful with how you deal with your fiscal operations.”

Eustace, who is the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, said people must first be made able to meet their basic needs to that they can open their minds to serious issues like climate change.

“The whole environment in your country at a particular point in time makes persons conducive or less conducive to deal with issues like climate change and so on,” Eustace added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Biodiversity Offsetting Advances in Latin America Amidst Controversyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/biodiversity-offsetting-advances-in-latin-america-amidst-controversy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biodiversity-offsetting-advances-in-latin-america-amidst-controversy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/biodiversity-offsetting-advances-in-latin-america-amidst-controversy/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:08:50 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136798 The El Cielo biosphere reserve in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Critics of biodiversity offsetting say it could open up unspoiled natural areas to human activity, and complain that it commodifies ecosystems. Credit: Courtesy of the government of Tamaulipas

The El Cielo biosphere reserve in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Critics of biodiversity offsetting say it could open up unspoiled natural areas to human activity, and complain that it commodifies ecosystems. Credit: Courtesy of the government of Tamaulipas

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Compensation for biodiversity loss, which is taking its first steps in Latin America, is criticised by social organisations for “commodifying” nature and failing to remedy the impacts of extractive industries and other activities that destroy natural areas and wildlife.

“No market mechanism resolves the underlying problem,” Margarita Flórez, executive director of the Environment and Society Association (AAS), a Colombian non-governmental organisation, told Tierrámerica.

“The most serious thing is the environmental liabilities. What should be done about the damage that has already been caused? How do we make sure it’s really compensation and not just remediation?

“We keep losing resources and we haven’t been able to curb the loss at all. This mechanism is plagued with contradictions,” she said.

Since August 2012 Colombia has had a “manual for the allotment of compensation for the loss of biodiversity”, although it is not yet applied. The manual enables businesses to know precisely where, how and how much to compensate for the ecological impact of their activities.

The plan stipulates that compensation must be made in areas that are “ecologically equivalent” to the place that will be damaged, and that it can be carried out in areas listed as a priority by the National Restoration Plan or the National System of Protected Areas.

The compensation or “biodiversity offsetting” activities must last as long as the useful life of the mine or other project, and can entail financing to create or strengthen protected areas or conservation agreements with private property owners or indigenous or black communities on collectively-owned land.

The manual is to apply to projects or works in the mining, oil, gas and energy industries as well as ports, infrastructure, and new international airports.

Excluded are national protected areas, national parks, and biosphere and forestry reserves whose activities depend on special legislation.

Compensation for secondary vegetation ranges between 0.01 and 0.02 square km for every square km affected. And in the case of natural ecosystems, it ranges from 0.02 to 0.1 square km for every square km affected.

In Colombia there are 55 national protected areas, representing 10 percent of the country’s total territory.

Biodiversity offsetting is one of the six Innovative Financial Mechanisms outlined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which entered into force in 1993 and has been ratified by 193 countries. The treaty is widely seen as the key document on sustainable development.

The other mechanisms are environmental fiscal reform, payments for ecosystem services, green markets, biodiversity in climate change funding, and biodiversity in international development finance.

Currently only one-fifth of the signatory countries have biodiversity offsetting mechanisms, and some 45 programmes are in operation, with an investment between 2.4 and 4.0 billion dollars.

Map of the offsetting factors in terms of representativity of ecosystems and biomes in the biological-geographic districts of Colombia. Credit: Courtesy of the Colombian Environment Ministry

Map of the offsetting factors in terms of representativity of ecosystems and biomes in the biological-geographic districts of Colombia. Credit: Courtesy of the Colombian Environment Ministry

In Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela are the countries with some kind of biodiversity offsetting system, while Ecuador is studying how to implement a mechanism.

Chile, for example, is working on the creation of compensation for biodiversity loss, based on new Environmental Evaluation Service regulations that incorporate the guidelines for offsetting, in a country where protected areas cover 19 percent of the territory.

In Peru, where 166 natural areas cover 17 percent of the country, the guidelines for the design and application of the Environmental Impact Evaluation System’s Environmental Compensation Plan are being debated.

In Mexico, Pedro Álvarez, the head of biological resources and corridors in the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), a government agency, sees it as feasible to combine conservation mechanisms with economic production.

“If communities learn that biodiversity has value, it becomes a good opportunity to generate hope in the management of natural resources,” he told IPS. “But in order for it to work, public funds must be guaranteed for lengthy periods of time.

“In addition, we have to choose the areas with the greatest biodiversity, and prevent it from becoming a situation of ‘if they pay me, I’ll take care of it’,” he said.

The 2013-2018 Sectoral Programme on Environment and Natural Resources indicates that 29 percent of Mexican territory has lost natural ecosystems, in a country with 176 natural areas.

The National Commission on Protected Natural Areas administers the 176 areas, which cover 13 percent of Mexico’s territory.

With the Environmental Compensation Programme for Change of Land Use in Forested Areas, the National Forestry Commission financed 275 projects last year covering 321 square km of land.

“In Colombia, the incentives for conservation have been tiny,” AAS’ Flórez said. “The manual is full of declarations and fails to explain precisely how it can be applied. Details are needed – when, in what conditions, and what will happen if this isn’t applied.”

Tremarctos-Colombia, a system that conducts a preliminary assessment screening of the impacts of an infrastructure project on local biodiversity and provides recommendations regarding the compensatory measures a project will have to assume, can be used in the first phase of the project.

The manual for establishing the compensation for biodiversity loss will be used in the second stage, and in the third stage monitoring will be carried out to compare it to the baseline and guarantee that there is no net loss of biodiversity.

Countries like Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela suffered biodiversity loss between 1990 and 2008, according to the Inclusive Wealth Index, a study of 20 countries led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“New mechanisms must be created,” said CONABIO’s Álvarez. “But it’s not a question of paying people for polluting; that is dangerous. The precautionary principle [the precept that an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous] must be included in environmental rulings, and there should be a kind of environmental insurance premium in case of accidents.”

The “No to Biodiversity Offsetting!” movement issued a manifesto in November 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland, complaining that it “could lead to an increase in damage, but even more concerning is that it commodifies nature.”

The document, signed by dozens of organisations around the world, says “biodiversity offsetting allows, or even encourages, environmental destruction…[and] is the promise to replace nature destroyed and lost in one place with nature somewhere else.”

Offsetting, according to the signatories, “is beneficial to the companies doing the damage, since they can present themselves as a company that invests in environmental protection, thereby green-washing its products and services.”

The campaign argues that biodiversity offsetting will not prevent loss, and will harm communities and separate them from the environment in which they live, where their culture is rooted, and where their economic activities have traditionally taken place.

One of the aims of the CBD’s strategy for resource mobilisation is to consider offsetting mechanisms, where they are relevant and appropriate, as long as there are guarantees that they will not be used to weaken the unique components of biodiversity.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Green Economy Isn’t Rocket Science – And It’s Not Even Costlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/green-economy-isnt-rocket-science-and-its-not-even-costly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=green-economy-isnt-rocket-science-and-its-not-even-costly http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/green-economy-isnt-rocket-science-and-its-not-even-costly/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:25:08 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136794 A framework for this transformation includes a price on carbon, green investment funds, and strong policies to decarbonise energy and land use. Credit: Bigstock

A framework for this transformation includes a price on carbon, green investment funds, and strong policies to decarbonise energy and land use. Credit: Bigstock

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Acting on climate change will not hurt domestic economic growth, and in fact is more likely to boost growth, most analyses now show.

The latest to confirm the dictum that swift action is eminently affordable is the recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, released on the eve of the Sep. 23 U.N. Climate Summit in New York.“We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments.” -- Princeton University’s Robert Socolow

“There is no reason to fear that more ambitious action to reduce carbon emissions will have a high economic cost,”said economist Robert Repetto, an International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) fellow and former professor at Yale University.

“Those claiming the costs of climate action will be high represent the economic sectors that will be adversely affected,”Repetto told IPS.

These include the fossil fuel industries and others that profit from burning carbon including railroads, pipeline and other industries.

Repetto was not involved in the Global Commission’s report by the U.N., the OECD group of rich countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and co-authored by leading climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern.

Repetto agrees with their findings that the costs of acting on climate now will not hurt economies but delaying action will be extraordinarily costly.

“The costs of burning fossil fuel are enormous even without factoring in climate impacts,”he said

Air pollution costs China 10 per cent of its annual GDP due to increase health costs from particulate pollution and smog damage to crops and buildings. In India, pollution costs are up to six per cent of GDP. Germany also loses six percent of its GDP to pollution because it and neighbouring countries like Poland continue to rely on coal, Repetto told IPS.

“Those costs alone are way more than additional costs of installing renewable energy,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes that, “Domestic economic growth and acting on climate change are two sides of the same coin.”

Too many governments and leaders don’t understand this reality and that must change, Ban said at the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate press conference.

However, the U.S. government, among others, continue to rely on a high-profile but deeply-flawed economic model called DICE. Developed by well-known Yale economist William Nordhaus, the DICE model claims that action on climate will cost more than the damages from climate change.

Repetto and Robert Easton, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Colorado, have just completed a “sensitivity analysis”of the DICE model. They found that DICE has many questionable assumptions, including that damages from climate impacts will increase at a modest level no matter how high the global temperature rises.

It also assumes improvements in renewable energy will be far slower than they actually have been over the last decade.

When these and other dubious assumptions are corrected, the DICE model shows that “much more aggressive policies to reduce emissions are warranted”because economic growth would continue to be robust. The actual costs of keeping global temperatures below 2C are far less than previously estimated, they conclude.

Staying below 2C means that by 2018, no new electrical power plant, factory, school, home or car can be built anywhere in the world unless they are replacing old ones or are carbon-neutral.

That’s the shocking implication of a recent study looking both CO2 emissions and CO2 commitments. Build a new coal or gas power plant and it will emit CO2 every year for the 40- to 60-year lifespan of the plant. That’s a CO2 commitment.

The study “Commitment accounting of CO2 emissions,”is the first to total these commitments.

Last year, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report established a global carbon budget in order to stay below 2C. Adding up current CO2 emissions and commitments, in less than five years that global carbon budget will be fully allocated with business as usual.

Carbon commitments should be a fundamental part of any decision to build most things. Instead, hundreds of billions of dollars are invested in new infrastructure that will make climate change worse.

“We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments,” said Princeton University’s Robert Socolow, a co-author of the commitment study.

Any plan or strategy to cut CO2 emissions has to give far greater prominence to those investments. Right now the data shows “we’re embracing fossil fuels more than ever,” Socolow previously told IPS.

The time has long passed where “we can burn our way to prosperity,” said Ban Ki-moon. “A structural transformation is needed.”

A framework for this transformation includes a price on carbon, green investment funds, and strong policies to decarbonise energy and land use.

Time is not on our side; the urgency grows with each passing day.

“We’ve already waited too long…significant climate impacts are now unavoidable,”Repetto said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Only the Crazy and Economists Believe Growth is Endlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 05:00:00 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136766 Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

By Justin Hyatt
LEIPZIG, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

From the mid-20th century onwards, economic growth has come to count as a self-evident goal in economic policies and GDP to be seen as the most important index for measuring economic activities.

This was the premise underlying the recent Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equityheld in Leipzig to take stock of the “degrowth” movement’s progress in efforts to debunk the mantra of growth and call for a fundamental rethink of conventional economic concepts and practices.

Many followers of the movement, who argue that “anyone who thinks that growth can go on endlessly is either a crazy person or an economist”, base their philosophy on the findings of a 1972 book – The _Limits_to_Growth – which reports the results of a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.“In China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities” – Alberto Acosta, economist and former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador

After Paris (2008), Barcelona (2010) and Venice (2012), this was the fourth such conference but, with some 3,000 participants, the largest so far. Hundreds of workshops, roundtable discussions and films or presentations were organised for the scientists, researchers, activists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who gathered to discuss economic degrowth, sustainability and environmental initiatives, among others.

Internationally acclaimed Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta, who was President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador in 2007-2008 told participants that in China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities.

Acosta, who developed the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a scheme to forego oil exploitation in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, is also an advocate of buen vivir, arguing that extractivism is one of the most damaging practices linked to latter day capitalism, as more and more non-renewable natural resources are taken from the earth and lost forever, while producing gigantic quantities of harmful emissions.

To counter extractivism, Acosta calls for the adoption of buen vivir, which is based on the Andean Quechua peoples’ sumak kawsay (full life) – a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive – and loosely translates as “good living”.

For Giorgos Kallis, an environmental researcher and professor at the University of Barcelona, degrowth needs to provide a space for critical action and for reshaping development from below, in an attempt to divert more time away from a capitalist and towards a care economy.

When asked if the concept of degrowth was not too radical or uncomfortable a message, Kallis said: “Yes, perhaps degrowth doesn’t sit well, but that is precisely the point, to not sit well – it is time to make this message relevant.”

Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein, known for her criticism of corporate globalisation and author of No Logo – which for many has become a manifesto of the anti-corporate globalisation movement – joined the conference by Skype to tell participants that radical change in the political and physical landscape is our only real possibility to escape greater disaster and that reformist approaches are not enough.

One of the main driving forces behind the degrowth movement is Francois Schneider, one of the first degrowth activists who promoted the concept through a year-long donkey tour in 2006 in France and founded the Research and Degrowth academic association.

“Systemic change involves whole segments of society,” Schneider told IPS. “It doesn’t involve just one little part and we don’t expect a new decision from the European Parliament that will change everything. Dialogue is the key. And putting forward many different proposals.”

Taking the example of transport and mobility, he explained that it is useless to tackle the transformation of transport alone because “transportation is linked to energy and advertising is linked to the car industry.”

Vijay Pratap, Indian activist from the Gandhi-inspired Socialist youth movement era and member of South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) pleaded for the inclusion of marginalised majorities in the degrowth movement. Pratap told IPS that “unless we initiate the processes so that they can become leaders of their own liberation, no real post-growth society can come into being.”

While he was satisfied with what he said as a very egalitarian and democratic approach to the organisation of the conference, Pratap said that inclusion should be guaranteed for those who do not speak English, those who do not know how to navigate social networking sites and those who do not have access to international philanthropic donor agencies.“

According to Pratap, who participated as an organiser in the World Social Forum (WSF) gathering in Mumbai in 2004, this was one major lesson of the WSF process.

On the final day, Lucia Ortiz, a programme director for Friends of the Earth International and active in Brazilian social movements, did not mince her words in the closing plenary when she proclaimed that “degrowth is the bullet to dismantle the ideology of growth.”

The movement to dismantle this ideology will now continue in preparation for the next degrowth conference in two years’ time.

And Kallis is convinced that it will be even more successful than this year’s event. Commenting on the increase in participation from a few hundred in Paris in 2008 to the 3,000 in Leipzig, he quipped: “At this pace, in twenty years, we’ll have the whole world at our conference.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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French Add Voice to Global Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 23:13:37 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136781 Calling for climate action at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Calling for climate action at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

As if to highlight the reality of climate change, the rain came pouring down here as demonstrators prepared to rally for political action to combat global warming.

But as the march got under way from Paris’ historic Place de la Republique, bright sunshine broke from behind the ominous clouds, giving a boost to the several thousand people who had heeded the call to send a message to world leaders.

“I’m here because we need to make governments realise that a new economic model that respects nature must be possible,” street artist Rémi Gautier told IPS. “We need to work for the future.”“It’s the poor who feel the greatest impact of global warming. Laws on the environment must do more for more people. We can’t continue with the status quo” – Monique Morellec, Front de Gauche (Left Front) activist

The Paris march was one of 2,500 events that took place around the world Sunday, involving 158 countries, according to Avaaz, the international civic organisation that coordinated the “People’s Climate March” in Paris.  French cities Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux also held marches.

The demonstrations came two days ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Summit scheduled for Tuesday, when world leaders will gather in New York to discuss the wide-ranging effects of global warming, including ocean acidification, extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels.

“The leaders can’t ignore this massive call for action,” said Marie Yared, an Avaaz global campaigner in Paris. “The message is much stronger now because we’re seeing people in all their diversity making their voices heard. It’s not just activists.

To reflect the global concern, the rallying cry at the march was: “To change everything, we need everyone (Pour tout changer, il faut tout le monde).” The diversity of those taking part was notable, with demonstrators including senior citizens, students, children, non-governmental organisations, union members and religious groups.

Citizen carrying a succinct CLIMATE IN DANGER warning at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Citizen carrying a succinct CLIMATE IN DANGER warning at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

They chanted, beat drums, danced and carried large banners as well as self-made drawings and signs. Other demonstrators met the marchers as the rally moved to the square in front of the city’s town hall.

The largest French Protestant organization, the Fédération Protestante de France, had urged its members to participate in the movement, saying “it’s time to change the course of things”.

“From New York to Berlin, from Bogota to New Delhi, from Paris to Melbourne, thousands of people are marching together to make their voices heard and to remind heads of state that the climate issue is universal, urgent and affects ecosystems and the future of mankind,” the Federation stated.

Joining in were farmers organisations, Oxfam France, Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger), Catholic groups and others who wanted to draw attention to the less obvious consequences of global warming, which also affects food security and has created “climate refugees”.

“It’s the poor who feel the greatest impact of global warming,” Monique Morellec, a Front de Gauche (Left Front) activist, told IPS. “Laws on the environment must do more for more people. We can’t continue with the status quo.”

The Left Front was one of the political parties, including Europe Ecologie Les Verts (Greens) and Jeunes Socialistes (Young Socialists), that was out in support as well, with members handing out leaflets bearing the slogan: “We must change the system, not the climate”.

Participating groups stressed that France has a crucial role to play because Paris will be the host city of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) where binding agreements are expected to be made on reducing carbon emissions.

“People need to stay alert and to keep the politicians awake until we see what happens next year in Paris,” Yared of Avaaz told IPS.

Some rights organisations that did not take part in the march are planning their own events to put pressure on politicians to act. Amnesty International is launching a campaign on Sep. 23 titled “Faites Pas l’Autruche (Don’t be an ostrich, don’t ignore what’s going on) to highlight the lack of laws governing multinational companies whose local subsidiaries may cause human rights violations.

The group wants French lawmakers to enact a law that will hold companies to account, an Amnesty spokesperson told IPS, citing incidents such as oil pollution in Nigeria and the dumping of toxic waste in Cote d’Ivoire.

The group said that victims of corporate malfeasance should have recourse to French law and courts, wherever they happen to live.  To raise public awareness, Amnesty will hold demonstrations at political landmarks in Paris, such as at the Assemblée Nationale, the seat of parliament, on the day that leaders meet in New York.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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