Inter Press Service » Environment http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 24 Jan 2017 15:37:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Philippines Joins Space Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/philippines-joins-space-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-joins-space-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/philippines-joins-space-race/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 11:33:18 +0000 Diana G Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148641 Filipino scientists and engineers with their Japanese counterparts look at the completed Diwata-1. Credit: Philippine Microsatellite Program

Filipino scientists and engineers with their Japanese counterparts look at the completed Diwata-1. Credit: Philippine Microsatellite Program

By Diana G Mendoza
MANILA, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

The Philippines, a tiny developing country, has joined the colossal world of space technology, building its second microsatellite that it plans to launch late this year or in early 2018 — not to study other planets, but to monitor weather patterns and climate change to protect the country’s natural resources and improve disaster risk management.

Located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a wide area in the Pacific Ocean with frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that makes it the fourth most disaster-prone nation in the world, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the Philippines can now benefit from its first eye in the sky – a 50-kilogramme imaging and earth observation satellite while venturing, with baby steps, into space science.“Typhoon Haiyan was a big wake-up call. We thought hard about having remote sensing technology and scientific cameras and cable systems to help prepare for and mitigate devastation from disasters." --Joel Joseph Marciano, leader of PHL-Microsat

Diwata (a Filipino term for a mythological character meaning “fairy”), the first small satellite, has just completed over 4,000 orbits around the world. While it continues to circle the globe, its sister Diwata-2 is now being built.

The microsatellite was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Mar. 23, 2016 and deployed into space from the ISS’ Japanese Experiment Module, nicknamed “Kibo,” where it was housed and calibrated, on Apr. 27, 2016.

Joel Joseph Marciano, Jr., a professor of electrical and electronics engineering at the University of the Philippines (UP), said Diwata-1 is the first microsatellite built under the Development of Philippine Scientific Earth Observation Microsatellite (PHL-Microsat) Program that aims to enhance capacity in space technology through the development of microsatellite systems.

The three-year programme, which started in 2014 and with a budget of 840 million pesos (17.1 million dollars) is supported by the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and implemented by several departments of UP.

Marciano, the programme leader of the PHL-Microsat, said the microsatellite was a result of ruminations by scientists after storm Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines and the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history, flattened Tacloban City (573 kilometers southeast of Manila) and its peripheral cities and provinces on Nov. 8, 2013.

With 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges, it killed more than 6,500 people, damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land and more than 1,000 public structures.

“Typhoon Haiyan was a big wake-up call. We thought hard about having remote sensing technology and scientific cameras and cable systems to help prepare for and mitigate devastation from disasters,” Marciano told journalist-fellows of the recent Graciano Lopez Jaena Journalism Workshop on science journalism organized by the UP College of Mass Communications.

A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Credit: Henry Donati/Department for International Development

A man stands surrounded by the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the city of Tacloban. Credit: Henry Donati/Department for International Development

He said the Philippines is one of the 10 most biologically “mega-diverse” countries in the world, with over two million sq kms of maritime waters encompassing an important part of the “coral triangle” and thousands of species of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, it is frequented by an average of nine typhoons and 10 weaker storms that make landfall each year.

“The presence of environment sensing and earth observation technology would provide a faster turn-around of information-giving and intervention,” said Marciano, who is also director of the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the DOST.

His colleague Gay Jane Perez, a professor of the UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology who is the project leader of the PHL-Micosat Remote Sensing Product Development, said one of Diwata-1’s first missions on disaster assessment were evidentiary images of the destruction caused by typhoon Haima (called Lawin in the Philippines) that struck the northern Philippines on Oct. 20, 2016.

The images, which were taken five days after the storm made landfall, provided clarity to government bodies handling the coordination of disaster relief and rehabilitation.

Perez said Diwata-1, which is barely the size of two suitcases stacked on top of each other and weighs only 50 kilograms, has special cameras that take images of the Philippines while in orbit. “The microsatellite has a unique ability while in a high vantage point to do research and to get information that complements ground monitoring,” she said. “We can translate this research product into more useful information.”

Its main parts include a high precision telescope for high resolution imaging that can be used for assessing the extent of damage during disasters; a wide field camera for observing large-scale weather patterns; and a space borne multispectral imager for monitoring bodies of water and vegetation.

Perez said resource inventory and assessment in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining and energy will be better. ”The microsatellite can observe meteorological events and weather updates such as typhoons and heavy rains and provide information essential to farmers and fisher folk that can help them adjust their planting and fishing methods amid changing climate conditions,” she said, adding that it can also monitor forest cover and protect cultural and historical sites and the Philippines territorial borders.

Currently in orbit with an altitude of over 400 km, Diwata-1 passes four times a day, with six minutes per pass, over the Philippines. It is expected to capture 3,600 images daily. Through its sensor, it sends images and data back to the Philippine Earth Data Resources and Observation (PEDRO) Center at the Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales province, 254 km north of Manila, its ground station.

Marciano and Perez are part of the PHL-Microsat program that includes Filipino scientists who assembled Diwata-1 in collaboration with Tohoku University and Hokkaido University, the UP and DOST’s partner universities. The all-Filipino team of scientists and engineers who designed and built Diwata-1 are now based in Japan.

Under the Philippines-Japan partnership, seven engineering students from UP and two science researchers from DOST were sent to Tohoku and Hokkaido universities to work on the microsatellite bus system and payload design while pursuing their advanced degrees.

With its first satellite blasting into space, the Philippines joins 70 other countries which, according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as of 2015, are operating government space agencies and are capable of human spaceflight, which is the gold standard for space programmes.

Marciano said the country’s first steps into space technology development expects to boost governance through land use, local development planning, zoning generation and revenue  through tax mapping, real property administration and tourism and infrastructure planning and monitoring in transportation and development corridors.

As it assembles Diwata-2, the Philippines also hosted for the first time in its 23‐year history the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum in November last year. Already, Diwata-1 was cited by NASA’s Presidential Transition Binder as its poster child for small spacecraft technology.

The document that will be given to the new U.S. administration cited Diwata-1 as an example for small spacecraft technology that has many advantages of being small but powerful, adding the ease of deployment and low cost of building it.

With these initial strides, the PHL-Microsat hopes to motivate the Filipino youth to take an interest in the sciences and take advantage of this new era of space science. The UP is also introducing science journalism in its curriculum to train future journalists in understanding the sciences and to widen media writing and reporting on science.

Perez said the country’s space programme is incremental but it hopes to motivate more young people to take interest in it. “We are now training students to develop capabilities to arrive at something like Diwata-1 in the future, perhaps with their own creative and better designs.”

In addition, she said the Microsatellite Research and Instructional Facility is currently being established at the UP that will be the hub for the country’s inter-disciplinary research and development activities in space technology.

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Learning Alliances Help Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices Take Roothttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/learning-alliances-help-climate-smart-agricultural-practices-take-root/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=learning-alliances-help-climate-smart-agricultural-practices-take-root http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/learning-alliances-help-climate-smart-agricultural-practices-take-root/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 09:43:22 +0000 Nteranya Sanginga and Edidah Ampaire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148636 Nteranya Sanginga is Director General of IITA, and Edidah Ampaire is an IITA Project Coordinator based in Kampala, Uganda.]]> Smallholders in developing countries all too often do not have the resources or incentives to commit to the transformation to sustainable agriculture that scientists know is needed. Credit: IITA

Smallholders in developing countries all too often do not have the resources or incentives to commit to the transformation to sustainable agriculture that scientists know is needed. Credit: IITA

By Nteranya Sanginga and Edidah Ampaire
IBADAN, Nigeria, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

Development advocates and professionals are very keen on harnessing the power of agriculture to promote the cause of climate change these days. And rightly so, because agriculture is both a major emitter of greenhouse gases and so a potential force for mitigation, and because billions of people will need to eat, and so adaptation is an absolute necessity.

That said, it’s actually quite hard to achieve lasting consensus on the ground. For a plethora of reasons, smallholders in developing countries all too often do not have the resources or incentives to commit to the transformation to sustainable agriculture that scientists know is needed.

However, these challenges can be faced and overcome. Doing so requires that experts listen closely to what people are saying.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture is highly engaged in promoting climate-sensitive farming practices and full-fledged Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA). Our experience in the field has given us the opportunity to learn why some useful adaptive techniques struggle to take hold.
Some examples from our work in Northern Uganda are noteworthy.

For example, some agroforestry initiatives and other projects geared to using perennial crops fail to achieve traction among women farmers because they do not own land. The absence of equitable tenure rights leads many women naturally to prefer annual crops that can be harvested in the short term.

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA


Another issue is that while perhaps new and improved seeds have been developed to bolster adaptation to a changing climate in a given locale, it is often not the case that an adequate distribution system is in place. Farmers lament that inputs arrive too late, or that they cost too much and no credit or seed loaning system is available.

It is important to realize that what often appears as farmers’ resistance to change is a fairly well-grounded assessment of the risks and uncertainties that smallholders face. Indeed, when they see a successful technique work over time, they are usually quite interested in adopting it. But, in the absence of a steady and reliable safety net, short-term results are a requirement, which can lead to slower take-up of practices such as no-till that boost long-term soil fertility but may dent present yields.

It’s also true that culinary preferences matter. In Uganda, farmers prefer the aroma of local Sindani rice to the Nerica variety that offers improved performance in upland areas. But here, too, it turns out that Sindani is less damaged by birds, so their rationale is on solid ground. It is only through dialogue that such factors emerge.

IITA has sought to foster and tap such dialogues through its leading role in Policy Action for Climate Change Adaptation (PACCA) projects in Uganda and Tanzania, which seek to prioritize CSA practices with local stakeholders.

One of the core features of our efforts, much of which is done in partnership with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Bioversity International and local partners, is what we call the learning alliance model. After several years of engagement, we are harvesting useful knowledge.

First, and unsurprisingly, it is essential to be reminded by farmers of what their priorities are when asked to consider a change. Yield, income, labor, cost, inputs, equipment, and appropriate farm size are all top priorities.

A set of on-farm demonstrations done in Nwoya district in 2015 allowed for more specific feedback, which we culled from a farmers’ “reflection workshop” organized earlier this year.

While farmers noted that the learning process itself represented a significant cost, due to the risk of crop theft or stray animals entering fields while they travelled long distances to reach training sessions, many CSA practices won plaudits from smallholders. These included: improved varieties, which tend to yield more, mature earlier and resist disease; row planting, which requires fewer seeds and facilitates weeding and harvesting as well as pest control; and minimum tillage, which was seen as a labor saver requiring little specialized skills.

Greater awareness of the risk of climate change would help give more balance to farmers’ concerns. Farmers are increasingly aware of depleted water sources, fewer bird species, lower water tables and other impacts of climate change, but such factors can’t be tackled by a smallholder acting alone and require collective action.

One intriguing idea, which emerged at our recent Learning Alliance reflection meeting in Tanzania, is for the government to set up an agency to address issues of climate change in the same way that special committees were set up in the past to deal with HIV/AIDS.

National platforms with that level of focus are warranted given the magnitude and full spectrum of risks posed by climate change. But the key issue is to make sure they are capillary and local.

The Learning Alliance model is promising in that regard.

Bringing together different partners drawn from policy makers, academic, research organizations, civil society, the private sector and farming communities themselves, the platform has facilitated the sharing of information, knowledge and experiences. They have retained smallholder interest, which is the gold standard for such initiatives.

And increasingly we see local participants in Learning Alliances advocate effectively for deeper plans, the kind that can win funding from international sources, allowing them to last longer and clinch the loyalty of farmers who buy in to the campaign. In short, they are embryonic institutions based on participation and, as such, a replicable approach to tackling the great challenge for climate-smart agriculture practices – sustainable implementation.

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Zambia’s Armyworm Outbreak: Is Climate Change to Blame?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/zambias-armyworm-outbreak-is-climate-change-to-blame/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zambias-armyworm-outbreak-is-climate-change-to-blame http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/zambias-armyworm-outbreak-is-climate-change-to-blame/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:05:01 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148624 Zambian farmer Surrender Hamufuba inspecting a maize plant in his field. Experts say a changing climate is bringing more crop pests to parts of Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Zambian farmer Surrender Hamufuba inspecting a maize plant in his field. Experts say a changing climate is bringing more crop pests to parts of Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA, Zambia, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

Surrender Hamufuba of Mwanamambo village in Pemba district recalls how he battled Armyworms in 2012. Fast-forward to 2016 and it is a similar story — another pest infestation on an even larger scale.

“I am not sure why, but there could be more to the increased frequency of these pest attacks, maybe weather changes,” speculates the 48-year-old farmer, who seems quite knowledgeable about climate smart agricultural fundamentals.“As temperature is projected to rise, insects like stalk borers will develop faster and this could lead to earlier population growth than expected.” --Researcher Donald Zulu

Out of the five hectares he planted, Hamufuba estimates the damage to be up to 1ha. In Pemba alone, at least 5,000 smallholders have reported some stalk borer damage in varying proportions.

Aside from the stalk borers, the Armyworm invasion has caused larger damage across the country. According to Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya, at least 124,000 hectares of maize have been invaded, representing just under 10 percent of the 1.4 hectares of maize planted this farming season.

National Coordinator of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) Patrick Kangwa said “the pests were under control” as government bought and delivered 87,000 litres of pesticides for spraying in the affected farmers’ fields.

While farmers are being supported in every way possible to safeguard their crops in the short term, the long-term concern is the frequency — and unpredictability — of these devastating pests.

Donald Zulu, a lecturer and researcher at the Copperbelt University, says climate change may complicate the pattern of infestations.

“Outbreaks of Armyworms are highly dependent on the seasonal patterns of wind and rainfall. With global warming, the weather pattern in Africa will continue to change, which could mean more or fewer Armyworm outbreaks,” says Zulu, prescribing long-term integrated approaches built around “robust, country-wide surveillance and early warning systems” considering the devastating nature and feeding pattern of Armyworms.

Armyworms are serious migratory crop pests that feed on young maize plants, and also attack other cereal crops such as wheat, rice, sorghum, millet and most grass pastures, affecting both crop and livestock production. They feed with such devastating speed that by the time they are discovered, notable damage would already have been caused. Stalk borers on the other hand, have the habit of boring into stalks, affecting plant growth.

There are several types of Armyworms, among them the African Armyworm, which occur in Africa. While the 2012 attack was the African Armyworm, this year’s outbreak is different.

“This particular pest is the Fall Armyworm, and not the African Armyworm,” says Dr. Eliot Zitsanza, chief scientist at the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRCO-CSA). “The two are closely related though. The Fall Armyworm is native to the Americas and may have been introduced to Zambia accidentally.”

Coincidentally this year, the Armyworm outbreak is occurring alongside stalk borers. Both belong to the same scientific family, called ‘Noctuidae’, of moths. From a scientific perspective, the two types of pests depend on weather for their production and growth, highlighting another importance of reliable early warning systems.

One of the most notable early warning systems uses an extensive network of pheromone traps that attract male armyworm moths using the artificial scent of mating female armyworms. The catches of Armyworm in the traps are used in combination with local weather reports to forecast armyworm outbreaks and help to alert farmers much faster to the need for control.

But with global warming causing massive weather unpredictability, is it to blame for increased incidences of pests? Professor Ken Wilson of Lancaster University, who has been studying Armyworms for 25 years, says it is very likely that over a few decades, the pattern of outbreaks has changed.

“It is very likely that climate change will affect the incidence of this pest because the armyworm is dependent on weather, so it feeds on crops and grasses that are dependent on the amount of rainfall, and the pattern of outbreaks depends very much on where rain storms occur and how frequently they occur,” Prof. Wilson told IPS, pointing out however, that the relationship is not simple as “we don’t have very good data and information to validate this hypothesis.”

As for stalk borers, just like most insects, they are directly under the control of temperature for their growth and it is the most important environmental factor influencing insect behavior, says Donald Zulu. “As temperature is projected to rise, insects like stalk borers will develop faster and this could lead to earlier population growth than expected.”

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report confirms this strong linkage between warming and increased pest and disease. In highlighting the major risk posed by climate change to agriculture — reduction in crop productivity associated with heat and drought stress — the report cites increased pest and disease damage and flood impacts on food system infrastructure as key indicators.

Similarly, in identifying key adaptation issues and prospects, the report highlights adoption of stress-tolerant crop varieties, irrigation, and enhanced weather observation systems.

While several arguments may have emerged since the outbreak, Southern Province Agricultural Coordinator Max Choombe points to mono-cropping as a major reason, especially for the stalk borer outbreak.

“I believe mono-cropping has brought about this burden because our farmers grow maize after maize, they don’t change,” laments Dr. Choombe, insisting on the importance of crop rotation for breaking the cycle of pests.

Dr. Choombe also believes climate change is a precursor to pest infestations and does not rule out the linkage between the current outbreak and global warming. “Climate change also is a problem, is a precursor for certain pests attack and I believe the attack this season could be as a result of the extreme weather changes we have been experiencing.”

With a looming outbreak of Red Locusts as forecast by the IRCO-CSA, there could be more work ahead in identifying long-term solutions to the rising challenge of pests in a changing climate. Further, the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which places obligations on individual countries to contribute to a global transition to green growth, means that Zambian policy makers would have to double their efforts considering that agriculture is at the forefront of the country’s vulnerability to climate change.

But while they do, Donald Zulu strongly believes in the following premise: “It is generally agreed that the earth is warming. And temperature influences insect development and is the most important environmental factor that affects insect pests. Because of this, climate change is more likely to influence insects’ geography distribution and affect crops.”

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Harvesting Peace: How Rural Development Works for Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/harvesting-peace-how-rural-development-works-for-conflict-prevention/#comments Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:18:59 +0000 Josefina Stubbs http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148622 Josefina Stubbs is candidate for President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She has served in IFAD as Associate Vice-President of Strategy and Knowledge from 2014 to 2016 and as Director of Latin America and the Caribbean from 2008 and 2014.]]> Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

By Josefina Stubbs
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic and ROME, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

The year 2016 has seen a massive population flow, unprecedented in its range and reach. Millions of people have fled war-torn communities, natural disasters and violence, some overflowing neighboring countries’ refugee camps, some crossing perilous seas and walking hundreds of miles to reach safer grounds, others seeking refuge in countries half a world away. Thousands have died on their way to safety, countless more were victims of violence and abuse, among them many women and children.

Conflict and violence force people out of their communities, leaving them without resources or means to start afresh. They stall the lives of millions of people, depriving adults of their dignity and children of their childhood. According to the most recent UNHCR data available, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015 and that figure has been growing at a rate of 34,000 people per day. Of these, 21.3 million are refugees and half of them under the age of 18. Refugees put enormous pressure on receiving countries, where this sudden population increases puts their host countries at risk of food shortages and competition for limited employment opportunities.

In rural areas, conflict has devastating consequences. Being more sparsely populated and more difficult to police, rural spaces offer relatively safe havens for violent groups to gain ground and base their operations, terrorizing rural communities in the process.

This is one way that conflict and rural development are related. In fact, the relationship between the two is complex and tightly intertwined. In addition to brutally affecting rural communities, conflict often stems from competition for land and natural resources, such as water. Poverty, lack of employment and opportunities of a better future fuels resentment and offers extremists fertile recruiting grounds. When conflict erupts, rural development becomes difficult, if not impossible. Conversely, prosperous rural areas are more resilient to conflict. Investing in rural areas with the aim to strengthen rural communities in food production, business creation, productive as well as basic infrastructure and conflict mitigation helps prevent conflict escalation, promotes stability and reduces food insecurity that results from massive displacement of famers.

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has considerable experience in preventing conflict and buffering its impact through investments in inclusive, sustainable rural transformation in Africa, the Middle East and in Latin America. By investing in rural development, we can provide rural people the option to stay and the strength to resist the onset of violence. By focusing on agriculture production and rural business development, countries become more resilient to food shortages and natural resource degradation. This is particularly important in countries that heavily depend on food imports and who have little or no autonomy in food production. On the other hand, rural business development offers alternatives to farmers and producers to diversify their activities and income sources, and invest in their territories, making them more likely to survive bad harvest as well as natural or man-made disasters. Building rural centers of diverse economic activities is key to reducing the pressure from highly populated urban areas and to creating opportunities for youth to plan their future in the countryside.

Development is a complex process – a social, cultural, religious, political, economic and technological puzzle in which the pieces constantly change shapes. Investment in inclusive rural transformation strengthens the fabric of the society that will build the puzzle and hold the pieces together for years to come. In conflict zones, the coordinated work and investment of the international community is crucial and should be geared toward providing the tools and knowledge to rural organizations and local institutions to take ownership of their communities’ development. It should support local and national authorities how represent the people to create policies that favor sustainable and peaceful growth, and to gain the skills and tools to negotiate, enforce and maintain peace and security. While contributing to achieving Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, it is also a moral obligation.

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Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148561 Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

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Ordinary Citizens Help Drive Spread of Solar Power in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:44:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148502 Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Chile, Latin America’s leader in solar energy, is starting the new year with an innovative step: the development of the country´s first citizens solar power plant.

This South American country of nearly 18 million people has projects in non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) for a combined total of nine billion dollars over the next four years, in the effort to reduce its heavy dependency on fossil fuels, which still generate more than 55 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s 2014 Energy Agenda involves the participation of international investors, large power companies, the mining industry, agriculture, and academia.

Now ecologists have come up with the first project that incorporates citizens in the production and profits generated by NCRE, in particular solar power.

The small 10-KW photovoltaic plant will use solar power to generate electricity for the participating households and the surplus will go into the national power grid.

This will allow the “citizen shareholders“ taking part in the initiative to receive profits based on the annual inflation rate plus an additional two per cent.

“The objective is to create a way for citizens to participate in the benefits of solar power and the process of the democratisation of energy,“ said Manuel Baquedano, head of the Institute of Political Ecology, which is behind the initiative.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant will start operating commercially this month in Buin, a suburb on the south side of Santiago. Its main client is the Centre for Sustainable Technology, which from now on will be supplied with the power produced by the plant.

“In Chile we have experienced an important development of solar energy, as a consequence of the pressure from citizens who did not want more hydroelectric dams. This paved the way for developing NCREs,“ Baquedano told IPS.

“But solar power development has been concentrated in major undertakings, with solar plants that mainly supply the mining industry. And the possibility for all citizens to be able to benefit from this direct energy source had not been addressed yet.”

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

The environmentalist said “we decided to organise a business model to install these community solar power plants using citizen investments, since there was no support from the state or from private companies.”

The model consists of setting up a plant where there is a client who is willing to buy 75 per cent of the energy produced, and the remaining power is sold to the national grid.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant required an investment of about 18,500 dollars, divided in 240 shares of some 77 dollars each. The project will be followed by similar initiatives, possibly in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of the country, Curicó in central Chile, or Coyhaique in Patagonia in the south.

The partners include engineers, journalists, psychologists, farmers, small business owners, and even indigenous communities from different municipalities, interested in replicating this model.

The subway, another example

A symbolic illustration of progress made with solar power is the Santiago Metro or subway. It was announced that 42 per cent of the energy that it will use as of November 2017 will come from the El Pelicano solar power project.

This plant, owned by the company SunPower, is located in the municipality La Higuera, 400 km north of Santiago, and it cost 250 million dollars to build.

“The subway is a clean means of transport… we want to be a sustainable company, and what is happening now is a major step, since we are aiming for 60 per cent NCREs by 2018,” said Fernando Rivas, the company´s assistant manager of environment.

El Pelícano, with an expected generation of 100 MW, “will use 254,000 solar panels, which will supply 300 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to the consumption of 125,000 Chilean households,” said Manuel Tagle, general manager of SunPower.

Dionisio Antiquera, a farmer from the Diaguita indigenous community from northern Chile, who lives in Cerrillos de Tamaya, in Ovalle, 400 km north of Santiago, bought a share because “I like renewable energy and because it gives participation to citizens, to the poor.“

“There are many ways of participating in a cooperative,” he told IPS by phone.

Jimena Jara, assistant secretary for the Ministry of Energy, underlined the progress made in the development of NCREs and estimated that “investment in this sector could reach about nine billion dollars between 2017 and 2020.“

“Considering the projects that are currently in the stage of testing in our power grids, more than 60 per cent of the new generation capacity between 2014 and the end of 2016 will be non-conventional renewable energies,” she told IPS.

”Chile has set itself the target for 70 per cent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2050, and 60 per cent by 2035. We know that we are making good progress, and that we are going to reach our goal with an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient energy supply,” said Jara.

This boom in NCREs in Chile, particularly solar and wind power, is underpinned by numbers, such as the reduction of the cost of electricity.

As of November 2016, the annual average marginal cost of energy in Chile´s central power grid, SIC, which covers a large part of the national territory, was 61 dollars per mega-watt hour (MWh), a fall of more than 60 per cent with respect to 2013 prices.

SIC´s Power Dispatch Center said that this marginal cost, which sets the transfer value between generating companies, is the lowest in 10 years, and was lower than the 91.3 dollars per MWh in 2015 and the nearly 200 MWh in 2011 and 2012, caused by the intensive use of diesel.

David Watts, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Electrical Engineering Department, told IPS that “solar and wind energy have offered competitive costs for quite some time,” and for this reason have permanently changed Chile´s energy mix.

“In the past, Chile did not even appear in the renewable energy rankings. Now it ranks first in solar power in Latin America and second in wind power,” he said.

The expert said “this energy is spreading and we expect it to continue to do so over the next couple of years, when the battery of projects that were awarded contracts in the last tendering process of regulated clients,” those which consume less than 500 KW, come onstream.

Once the economy recovers from the current weak growth levels, “we hope that a significant proportion of our supply contracts with our non-regulated clients (with a connected power of at least 500 KW) will also be carried out with competitive solar and wind power projects,“ said Watts.

“There is no turning back from this change. From now on, some conventional project may occasionally be installed if its costs are really competitive,“ he said.

Watts, who is also a consultant on renewable energies at the Ministry of Energy, pointed out that the growth in solar and wind power was also driven by changes in the country’s legislation, which enabled energy to be offered in blocks, and permitted the simultaneous connection of NCREs to the grid.

The report New Energy Finance Climatescope, by Bloomberg and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ranked Chile as the country that invests the most in clean energies in Latin America, only surpassed by China in the index, which studies the world’s major emerging economies.

Commenting on the report, published on December 14, Bachelet said “we invested 3.2 billion dollars last year (2015), focusing on solar power, especially in solar photovoltaic installations, and we are also leading in other non-conventional renewable energies.”

“We said it three years ago, that Chile would change its energy mix, and now I say with pride that we have made progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energies,“ she said.

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Oceans, Tuberculosis and Killer Robots – the UN’s Diverse Agenda in 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 02:12:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148445 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

UN member states hope to reach agreement on a diverse range of global issues in 2017, from managing the world’s oceans to banning killer robots to stopping tuberculosis, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

Many pressing environmental, humanitarian and development issues continue to fill the UN’s agenda – even as incoming President of the United States has argued that things will be different at the UN after his inauguration on 20 January.

Trump has suggested that the UN “is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” However UN discussions have led the 71 year old organisation with 193 member states to create more than 560 international treaties.

Oceans and Life Below Water

One of the biggest meetings on the UN’s agenda this year is focused on the oceans or more specifically Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

“The United Nations has the opportunity to drive profound change for the oceans in 2017,” Elizabeth Wilson, director, international ocean policy at the Pew Charitable Trusts told IPS.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

“This event will provide UN member states an opportunity to assess progress on ocean conservation, make new commitments, and create meaningful partnerships,” she said.

The meeting – which will take place in New York from 5 to 9 June – is considered to be of global importance for many reasons. For example, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum report, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by the year 2050. Declining fish stocks will effect the more than two billion people worldwide who rely on fish as a source of protein. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation also estimates that 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing or related activities for their livelihoods, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries.

Another important related issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be working towards creating a treaty to protect the high seas, the areas of the global oceans, which fall beyond any country’s sea borders, said Wilson.

Tuberculosis

The UN General Assembly has only ever convened special high-level meetings on two global health threats, HIV/AIDS and antimicrobial resistance. However in 2018, the General Assembly will meet to discuss Tuberculosis.

Although the decision to convene the special meeting has been welcomed, it will not come soon enough for the nearly two million people who will likely die of tuberculosis in 2017.

“The tuberculosis burden is much higher than we expected and the measures to be taken must be much more focused and serious than before,” Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership told IPS.

A series of global meetings will be held in 2017, in preparation for the 2018 meeting however, said Ditiu who also noted that these global meetings should not be seen as a silver bullet.

Although tuberculosis is treatable, the emergence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in recent years is a major cause for concern. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is just one example of antimicrobial resistance – a serious health problem which world leaders addressed at the UN General Assembly in 2016.

Banning Nuclear Weapons and Killer Robots

Possibly the most ambitious item on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be an attempt to create an international treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The first session of the UN conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination will take place in New York from 27 to 31 March.

The treaty will be a more ambitious iteration of the already existing Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

However proponents of total abolition of nuclear weapons will face an even more challenging political context in 2017, with US President-elect Donald Trump appearing to have unpredictable views on nuclear weapons potentially at odds with the existing non-proliferation treaty which bans new countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Another, more contemporary issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be killer robots. UN member states have agreed to begin talks to ban killer robots this year. According to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots the talks will “(bring) the world another step closer towards a prohibition on the weapons.” A similar agreement back in 1995, led to government agreeing to pre-emptively ban lasers that would permanently blind, according to the campaign.

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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Anti-Fracking Movement Alarmed at Trump’s Focus on Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 01:09:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148396 A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, USA , Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Earl Hatley, a descendant of the Cherokee/Delaware tribe, has witnessed the consequences of using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on his native land to produce shale gas.

“Fracking is harmful to water supplies, wildlife, and property values. It has caused earthquakes where there were none. Since 2007, it began to tremble more and more near the wells. I can smell the foul emissions, which make me sick,” the founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.), a non-governmental organisation based in Oklahoma, told IPS.

Hatley has property in Payne, Oklahoma, in the Midwest, which he says he cannot visit anymore because of the toxic emissions from the wells.“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active.” -- Andrew Grinberg

“The oil and and gas industry flares their escaping gas and also do not monitor leaks, as there are no regulations in Oklahoma demanding they do. We had the opportunity to test a few wells and found all of them were bad,” he said.

In the state of Oklahoma there are about 50,000 active natural gas wells, of which some 4,000 use fracking. At least 200 of them are in Payne.

With similar scenarios in other states, the anti-fracking movement in the US is especially worried about what President-elect Donald Trump will do after he takes office on Jan. 20, since he pledged to give a boost to the fossil fuel industry, despite its impact on global warming.

The United States is the country that produces the largest quantities of shale oil and gas, which has made it the main global producer of fossil fuels, ranking first in gas extraction and third in oil.

Trump “is sending signals of the support the industry will receive, which will exacerbate the already-known impacts of fracking, such as water pollution and methane emissions,” Argentine activist Daniel Taillant, head of the non-governmental Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), told IPS during a workshop on fracking in the Americas, held in Little Rock, the capital of the southern state of Arkansas.

Natural gas trapped in underground shale rock is released by the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure, which fractures the rocks. Fracking requires large amounts of water and chemical additives, some of which are toxic. Drilling and horizontal fracking generate enormous quantities of waste fluid.

The waste liquid contains dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that need to be treated for recycling, and methane emissions, which pollutes more than carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.

Numerous studies have confirmed the damage fracking causes to water, air and the landscape, and how it triggers seismic activity.

For the fracking industry, good times will return when Trump is sworn in. In May he launched a plan for the first 100 days of his administration, which included giving a strong boost to the sector, despite the denounced environmental, social and economic impacts.

The programme includes the removal of all barriers to energy production, including fossil fuels, natural gas, oil and “clean coal”, valued in the document at 50 trillion dollars, in what it calls an “energy revolution” destined to produce “vast new wealth”.

In addition, the president-elect promised to eliminate existing regulatory barriers on fossil fuels and promote the development of “vital energy infrastructure projects,” such as oil and gas pipelines.

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that, of the daily US production of over nine million barrels of gas and oil equivalent, 51 per cent were extracted in 2015 by fracking, in spite of the collapse in international prices this year.

The cost of extracting a barrel of oil by fracking is at least 65 dollars. Apart from Trump’s promises, the gradual rise in prices as a consequence of the reduction in production by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since January, has encouraged the sector to continue to extract.

The growing use of fracking has sparked lawsuits over its effects and scientific research to determine the impacts.

The fourth edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)” lists 685 scientific studies published between 2009-2015 that prove water pollution, polluting emissions released into the atmosphere and their impacts on human health.

The compendium, drafted by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), cites more than 900 studies in the US on the impact of fracking, which demonstrate the concern generated by the use of this technology.

Meanwhile, people affected by fracking have filed more than 100 lawsuits since 2011, according to a count carried out by Blake Watson with the School of Law of the private University of Dayton, Ohio.

In the specific case of Arkansas, a state where fewer people have been affected because the gas fields are located in sparsely populated areas, five cases have been settled out of court, three are still in progress and 10 have been thrown out of court.

Fracking has also sparked local reactions.

The states of Vermont and New York have banned the use of this technology, while in California six counties have followed suit, and in Florida 32 counties and 48 cities.

Meanwhile, the state of Maryland has imposed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium, while Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled in May to lift the bans applied by two cities, and Texas passed a law making local bans on fracking illegal.

“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active,” said Andrew Grinberg, National Campaigns – Special Projects manager for the non-governmental Clean Water Action.

For economic reasons, coal has lost ground to gas. In addition to the expansion of solar and wind energy, the resurrection promised by Trump faces a complex panorama.

“Resistance against fracking is growing, especially in places where it is not yet widely practiced, because there is more knowledge about the harm it causes and that knowledge will increase. But the results of Trump’s support remain to be seen,” said Taillant, whose organisation operates in the state of Florida.

Hatley said that opposition to fracking is slowly growing due to the reported increase in seismic activity, but “people are afraid, because the industry is very powerful.”

In Oklahoma, 1,900 earthquakes have been documented since 2015, blamed on the injection of fluid byproducts from drilling operations into deep underground wells.

Grinberg told IPS there are still pending issues in relation to regulation, such as the need for more public information on the chemicals used, and for a ban on basins for disposal of liquid waste, gas storage and methane emissions, a gas much more polluting than carbon dioxide.

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No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 20:57:42 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148366 Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

By Mario Osava
OURICURI, Brazil, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past.

There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, like in the past when huge numbers of people would swarm into cities and towns and even loot the shops, or head off to distant lands in the more developed centre-south of the country, in search of a better life.

The lack of rains, nevertheless, impacts everything. The caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, which consists of shrubland and thorn forest, looks dead with the exception of a few drought-resistant trees and areas where recent sprinkles have turned some shrubs green again.

The Tamboril reservoir, on the outskirts of Ouricuri, a city of 68,000 people in the state of Pernambuco, has been dry for more than a year now. Fortunately, the city is also supplied by water piped in from the São Francisco river, 180 kilometres away.

“The 1982-1983 drought was worse, not so much due to the lack of water, but because we did not know how to cope with the situation,” Manoel Pereira Barros, a 58-year-old father of seven, told IPS on his farm in Sitio de Santa Fe, about 80 kilometres from Ouricuri.

He got married at the height of the crisis, in 1983. “It was difficult for the entire family…we killed some oxen, we survived on the water from a cacimba (water hole), a few cattle and many goats. The animals saved us, the bean crop dried up,” he said.

That year, the governors of the nine states that make up Brazil’s semiarid region requested more help from the national government, pointing out that one hundred people a day were dying as a result of the drought.

According to the state governments in the region, 100,000 people died in the space of five years, although researchers put the number of deaths at more than 700,000. Most of those who died were children.

And one million deaths is the estimate of Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations created in 1999 to promote the transformations which are improving the life of the population most affected by the drought: poor farmers in the Northeast.

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Distributing water tanks to collect and store rainwater for drinking and cooking was their first goal. Beyond assuring safe drinking water during the eight-month dry season, this initiative was at the centre of a new approach towards the development of the semiarid region, which is home to more than 23 million people in this country of 208 million.

One million water tanks have been built so far, about one-third by ASA, which distributes 16,000-litre family units made of concrete slabs that are installed with the participation of the beneficiaries, who also receive citizenship classes and training in water management.

To coexist with the local climate, overcoming the failed policies of the past based on “combating the drought”, is the movement’s slogan, which thus promotes learning about the ecosystem, capitalising on farmers’ traditional knowledge and fostering an intense exchange of experiences among rural communities.

Other methods for coexisting with the local ecosystem include contextualised education, which prioritises the local reality, agroecological practices, and the principle of storing everything, including the water used for irrigation and livestock, fodder for the dry season, and native seeds adapted to the local soil and climate.

These technologies, provided by the Advice and Help Centre for Workers and Alternative Non-Governmental Institutions (CAATINGA), a member of ASA, did not exist during previous droughts and are making the difference today, Barros said.

To these are added the Bolsa Familia, a monthly grant of 53 dollars on average, new retirement pensions for farmers, and other government social programmes that help farmers survive even when it doesn’t rain.

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Barros decided to leave his land in 1993, at the end of another two-year drought, to look for work in vineyards and on mango plantations in the municipality of Petrolina, 200 km south of Ouricuri, on the shores of the São Francisco river.

“I spent 15 years away from my family, working with poisonous agricultural chemicals, that is why I look older than my age,” he said jokingly. “Here I only eat organic food.”

“I dreamed of having a water tank, which did not exist. Now I have three, and one of them still has water from the January rains. Used only for drinking water, it lasts over a year for five people,” he said. “We are very strict about saving, we used to waste a lot of water.”

Besides the water tanks, the community of 14 families has a pond dug in the rocky ground 70 years ago, to collect water from a stream. It has not dried out yet, but it is very dirty. “It needs to be cleaned,” said Clarinda Alves, Barros’ 64-year-old neighbour.

“Biowater”, a system of filters which makes it possible to reuse household sewage to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees, is another technology which is expanding among the farmers of the semiarid region.

Despite this arsenal of water resources, plus the water increasingly distributed by the army in tanker trucks throughout the Northeast, Barros decided to stop growing vegetables and other crops, unlike many other farmers, who have managed to keep producing. He opted instead to prioritise the water for human and animal consumption.

ASA believes there is still much to do with respect to the question of water supply. To reach the goal of universalising “two water tanks”, there is still a need for 350,000 tanks for drinking water and 800,000 devoted to production.

 The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level - another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS


The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level – another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

“Five water tanks” are needed, according to André Rocha, climate and water coordinator for the non-governmental Regional Institute for Appropriate Small-Scale Agriculture (IRPAA), a member of ASA, based in Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

Domestic use requires two tanks, one for drinking and cooking, and one for hygiene, so water for production purposes would be the third source, he said. The fourth is for emergencies or reserves, “like a blood bank, and the fifth would be dedicated to the environment, to recuperating freshwater sources, restoring the groundwater table and keeping rivers running year-round,” Rocha told IPS in his office.

But the task of “building coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem,” ASA’s goal, faces a political threat.

It will be difficult to maintain water collection and the strengthening of small-scale agriculture as public policies, after Brazil’s government took a conservative turn in August 2016, when the leftist Workers’ Party, which governed the country since 2003, lost power.

It also requires an ongoing ideological battle and communications effort, because “combating drought”, instead of adapting, is still the mindset of the country’s authorities and economic powers-that-be.

Large water projects, like the diversion of the São Francisco river to provide water to other rivers and basins in the Northeast, as well as the irrigation of the monoculture crops of agribusiness or large-scale agriculture destined mainly for export, are still being carried out to the detriment of family agriculture.

Hefty investments and official loans are devoted to agribusiness, despite previous failures and corruption, while funding is dwindling for ASA’s activities, which have proven successful in overcoming the effects of drought.

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Battle Lines Drawn Over Indian Mega Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 10:27:09 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148355 Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

Among those leading the fight against the massive Indian-owned Carmichael coal project in Australia’s Queensland state is 21-year-old Murrawah Johnson of the Wangan and Jagalingou aboriginal people, the traditional owners of the land where the proposed mine is to be located.

“Our people are the unique people from that country,” says Murrawah, whose name means ‘rainbow’ in the indigenous Gubbi Gubbi language. “That is who we are in our identity, in our culture, in our song and in our dance,” she adds.The mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions.

The Wangan and Jagalingou, numbering up to 500 people, regard the Carmichael coal mine as a threat to their very existence and have repeatedly rejected the advances of Adani Mining, the company behind the project. The traditional owners argue the mine would destroy their land, which “means that our story is then destroyed. And we as a people and our identity, as well,” Murrawah, a spokesperson for her people’s Family Council, told IPS.

Adani Mining is a subsidiary of the Adani Group, an Indian multinational with operations in India, Indonesia and Australia cutting across resources, logistics, energy, agribusiness and real estate. In March, the company announced its first foray into the defence industry.

Adani’s Carmichael project envisions a 40km long, 10km wide mine consisting of six open-cut pits and five underground operating for up to sixty years. The company intends to transport the coal to India to aid in that country’s electricity needs. According to the International Energy Agency, 244 million Indians – 19 percent of the population – are without access to electricity.

Should the project go ahead, it would be the largest coal operation here – Australia is already a major coal producing and exporting nation – and among the biggest in the world, producing some 60 million tonnes of thermal coal annually at peak capacity.

But at a time when global warming is a significant threat to humanity, the Carmichael mine is generating substantial opposition. Since the project was announced in 2010, there have been more than ten appeals and judicial processes against the mine.

Shani Tager, a campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, is adamant that the coal that Adani wants to dig up must remain in the ground. “It’s a massive amount of coal that they’re talking about exporting, which will be burnt and used and make the problem of global warming even worse,” she says.

Coal-fired power plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere and which plays an important role in the phenomenon of human-induced climate change.

According to a 2015 report by The Australia Institute, a local think tank, Adani’s project would release more carbon into the atmosphere than many major cities and even countries.

The report states that the mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions. It would surpass Sri Lanka’s annual emissions and be similar to both Austria’s and Malaysia’s.

Despite these alarming figures, both the Australian and Queensland state governments are backing Adani’s Carmichael mine. There has been widespread speculation here that the federal government will provide support via a AUD one- billion loan (722 million U.S. dollars).

The Queensland government, anticipating a boost to jobs, the regional economy and to its own coffers as a result of royalties, announced in October that it was giving the project “critical infrastructure” status in order to fast-track its approvals.

“This Government is serious about having the Adani mine in operation. We want this to happen,” Anthony Lynham, state minister for mines, told local media at the time.

In early December, Adani received what the state government describes as the project’s “final major” approval: Adani’s rail line to the port of Abbot Point, from where the coal will be shipped to India.

In 2011, Adani signed a 99-year lease on the Abbot Point coal terminal, which sits immediately adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Australia’s iconic reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and among the most diverse and richest natural ecosystems on Earth.

In November, scientists from Queensland’s James Cook University confirmed the worst-ever die-off of corals in the reef, following a mass coral bleaching event earlier in the year. Heat stress due to high sea temperatures is the main cause of coral bleaching, with bleaching events expected to be more frequent and severe as the world’s climate warms up.

Adani plans to significantly expand the Abbot Point terminal in order to ship larger amounts of coal. This means dredging up the sea floor right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Carmichael coal mine will have a domino effect of bad impacts on the reef, from driving the need for port expansion and more dredging and dumping to increasing the risk of shipping accidents on the reef,” says Cherry Muddle from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The reef’s tourism industry provides some 65,000 jobs, with numerous operators also speaking out against both the Carmichael mine and the Abbot Point expansion in recent times.

Despite Minister Lynham’s assurances that “200 stringent conditions placed on this project through its court processes” will protect the reef, others remain extremely concerned.

“Adani has a really worrying track record of environmental destruction, human rights abuses, corruption and tax evasion,” says Adam Black from GetUp, a movement which campaigns on a range of progressive issues.

Among the accusations leveled at Adani operations in India in a 2015 report by Environmental Justice Australia are the destruction of mangroves; failure to prevent salt water intrusion into groundwater; bribery and illegal iron ore exports; using political connections to purchase land cheaply; and obtaining illegal tax deductions.

Adani’s CEO in Australia, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, was in charge of a Zambian copper mine owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) when, in 2010, the mine discharged dangerous contaminants into the Kafue River. Found guilty, the company was fined around AUD 4,000 (2,900 U.S. dollars).

Some 1800 Zambians have since taken KCM and its UK-based parent company, Vedanta Resources, to the High Court in London, alleging they were made sick and their farmland destroyed over a ten-year period from 2004. Janakaraj was with KCM from 2008 to 2013.

Now, with Adani hoping to break ground on its Carmichael coal project in mid-2017, opponents are prepared to continue their hitherto successful campaign of dissuading potential financiers from backing the AUD 16-22 billion project (11.5-15.8 billion U.S.).

“If they can’t get the money, they can’t build the mine,” says Murrawah Johnson.

The Wangan and Jagalingou recently set up what they call a “legal line of defence” against Adani and the Queensland government, consisting of four more legal challenges, with plans to take the matter to the High Court if needs be.

They have also been in contact with the United Nations for some time.

For Murrawah, this battle is about maintaining connection with both the past and the future. “I refuse to be the broken link in that chain,” she says.

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Managing Bangladesh’s Dwindling Water Resourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/managing-bangladeshs-dwindling-water-resources/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 18:50:00 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148335 Women collecting water from a deep tube well in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh. Credit: A.S.M. Shafiqur Rahman/IPS

Women collecting water from a deep tube well in Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh. Credit: A.S.M. Shafiqur Rahman/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 28 2016 (IPS)

Experts at Bangladesh’s National Water Convention 2016 in Dhaka urged the sustainable management and conservation of water as the country braces for a water crisis due to wastage, river pollution, declining groundwater tables and intrusion of salinity.

Bangladesh’s Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud told the event there is no alternative to protecting the country’s water bodies and rivers to ensure sustainable management of water resources as envisaged in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.

A United Nations initiative, the SDGs are a set of 17 aspirational “Global Goals” with 169 targets relating to poverty and hunger, the environment and other core issues related to sustainable human development.

“We have many rivers and canals but all are being encroached on, limiting the water conservation scope…we must protect these water bodies to conserve water,” he told the inaugural session of the conference in the capital.

The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a public sector apex body, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad (BUP), a non-profit organisation devoted to the promotion of basic as well as action research on socioeconomic development, and NGO Forum, the apex networking and service delivery body of NGOs, jointly organized the Dec. 27-28 two-day convention titled Water Convention 2016: Sustainable Water Regime in Bangladesh: Availability, Management and Access’.

Minister Mahmud said Bangladesh receives huge amounts of water during the rainy season but 80 percent of it ultimately washes down into the Bay of Bengal, while 20 percent remains available for the rest of the year.

“If this water can be stored, Bangladesh is unlikely to face water scarcity during the dry season,” he said.

Mahmud noted that Bangladesh began investing in flood control and irrigation in the 1970s, and river management in the early 1980s, marking a retreat from its previous approach. “Now the extensive focus is there on river management,” he added.

About the prevailing water challenges, Mahmud said, “To meet our water demand, we’re extracting groundwater, triggering an arsenic problem here…but water availability and its management is very important. We’re polluting water every day because we’re not aware of it.”

According to documents provided at the workshop, some 36 million people are at risk of arsenic exposure in Bangladesh’s 61 districts with excessive arsenic-contaminated water.

Mahmud also said recurring floods and riverbank erosion and declining water flow in trans-boundary rivers cause a huge drop in the water level of the country’s drought-prone zones.

Addressing the event, PKSF chairman Prof. Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said it is important for Bangladesh to focus on water management to achieve the SDGs as there is also a link between poverty and water availability.

Stressing the importance of having a coordinated water management policy in place, Dr. Kholiquzzaman said Bangladesh can best utilise its river routes as those are cheap for goods and passenger transportation.

The prominent economist said poor people are most affected when there is a water crisis as it decimates crops.

Depicting a dismal global scenario of water availability, he mentioned that the earth’s total water volume is about 1,386 cubic kilometres in diameter, of which only 2.5 percent is freshwater.

“But only 0.76 percent of the total water volume which is freshwater is useable since over 68 percent freshwater is locked up in ice and glaciers,” he added.

According to him, the per capita availability of water in Bangladesh is 7,568 cubic metres and just 150-200 cubic metres in its neighbouring countries.

“So the question may arise why Bangladesh faces a scarcity of water. It’s because the country has a plenty of water during monsoon, but a very little water during dry season,” he said.

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Quality Water for All a Life and Death Issue in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/quality-water-for-all-a-life-and-death-issue-in-bangladesh/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 23:29:37 +0000 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148324 Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Photo Courtesy of PKSF

By Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad
DHAKA, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

There is no exaggerating how crucial water is for human survival, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by rivers. The level of water in a river here directly affects the lifestyles and livelihoods of the people living on its two sides, so much so that rivers and water bodies of varied sizes are an inseparable part of Bengali culture and heritage.

Several hundred rivers and their tributaries flow through the country. However, some of the rivers — often called the lifelines of Bangladesh — are dying, inflicting prolonged suffering on the people. For example, the 309-kilometer Teesta flows through northern Bangladesh and drains an area of 12,540 square kilometres on its way from the Himalayas to Fulchhari of Gaibandha in Bangladesh where it meets the Jamuna.While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it.

The river, which can be up to 2.5 kilometres wide, is reduced to a width of about 70 metres during the winter and is even narrower or completely dry at some places during the very dry season (March and April). This leaves fishermen without work and farmers in acute need of water for irrigation.

While a dearth of water plagues the people of northern Bangladesh, particularly during winter, the middle and southern parts of the country reels from the abundance of it, particularly during the monsoon. Also, salinity ingress in the surface and groundwater in the coastal region has reached such a state that not even grass can grow in some areas and people face an acute shortage of drinking water.

Someone said that a third world war may be fought over water. And it indeed is turning out to be a serious issue, not only in Bangladesh but also worldwide. In any case, quality water access on the one hand and devastation caused by flooding on the other are the hallmarks of water being the cause of large-scale suffering of people in many parts of the world. Water-related natural disasters have occurred in the past, but are increasing in recent times in terms of both frequency and extent of the devastations caused.

The reasons behind various water sector problems include a growing population, fast expanding economic activity, spreading water pollution, and the consequences of climate change.

In Bangladesh, as a matter of fact, the average annual per capita availability of water is robust — 7,568 cubic meters per capita, around five times higher than that in India. However, the highly uneven seasonal and spatial distribution of available water in Bangladesh poses serious problems. Adequate water access for drinking or for other purposes by certain groups of large numbers of people and in certain areas of the country is becoming increasingly serious.

Another set of problems related to the water sector arises as Bangladesh is at the bottom of three major rivers systems—the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna. A particular feature in this context is severe water scarcity in certain parts of Bangladesh in the dry season, Jan. 1 to May 31, particularly in March and April, due to low-flows through transboundary rivers as a result of excessive upstream abstraction. Also, floods in Bangladesh mostly originate upstream. Hence, regional cooperation in water management is an important issue.

Increasing salinity in water in coastal areas, arsenic contamination of water, and water pollution caused by human actions are becoming increasingly serious problems. Devastating floods and prolonged droughts also affect various areas of the country from time to time.

Clean, accessible water for all is the sixth among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. The Sheikh Hasina-led Government of Bangladesh is working relentlessly to achieve the goals well before the 2030 deadline. The country already has necessary policies to save the rivers and other water-bodies and to ensure even distribution of quality water.

What the country now needs is stricter enforcement of the policies and relevant laws, and more effective efforts from both government and non-government actors in realising the goal of ensuring accessibility to quality water for all.

Against such a backdrop, the National Water Convention 2016 is being held in Dhaka on Dec. 28-29, 2016. Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) — the government-established apex development agency of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad — a non-profit research organization, and NGO Forum for Public Health are organising the event.

Through 13 sessions participated by experts, scholars, government high-ups and sector-related actors, the Convention will review the state of affairs in respect of various key water sector issues and to reflect on: where we stand regarding those issues, how people’s perspectives can be brought to bear on water policies and water actions, how the increasing water difficulties and problems can be more effectively addressed, how coordination among various stakeholders, particularly between the Government and others can be strengthened, and, overall, how the best possible water regime can be forged under the prevailing circumstances.

Ensuring accessibility to quality water for all is a must for sustainable development. And this has to be ensured before it is too late.

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Agroecology Booming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroecology-booming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 22:04:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148299 Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 23 2016 (IPS)

Organic agriculture is rapidly expanding in Argentina, the leading agroecological producer in Latin America and second in the world after Australia, as part of a backlash against a model that has disappointed producers and is starting to worry consumers.

According to the intergovernmental Inter American Commission on Organic Agriculture (ICOA), in the Americas there are 9.9 million hectares of certified organic crops, which is 22 per cent of the total global land devoted to these crops. Of this total, 6.8 million of hectares are in Latin America and the Caribbean, and three million in Argentina alone.

The Argentine National Agrifood Health and Quality Service (SENASA) reported that between 2014 and 2015, the land area under organic production grew 10 per cent, including herbs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and oilseeds.

Legumes and vegetables experienced the largest increase (200 percent). In Argentina there are 1,074 organic producers, mainly small and medium-size farms and cooperatives.“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model.” -- Eduardo Cerdá


“The organic market is starting to boom. We have been producing since 20 years ago, when this market did not exist in Argentina and we exported everything. Now we sell abroad, but about 50 percent remains here,” said Jorge Pierrestegui, manager of San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, an agroecology company that produces olives and olive oil on some 1,000 hectares in the Argentine province of Córdoba.

“Opting for organic was a company policy, mainly due to a long-term ecological vision of not spraying the fields with poisonous chemicals,” Pierrestegui said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Cerdá, an agroecology adviser, differentiates between this practice and organic. Agroecology doesn’t use agrochemicals either, but it does not seek to certify production which is “concentrated in four or five companies” and which “has a cost for the producer,” he told IPS.

“We basically work to generate experiences, to accompany producers, to train students, as part of a vision of agriculture based on ecological principles,” he said.

Cerdá, who is vice president of the Graduate Centre of the Agronomy School at the National University of La Plata (UNLP), said there is growing interest in agroecology.

In 10 years the area receiving specialised advice grew from 600 to 12,500 hectares. He and his few colleagues are not able to meet the demand.

The expert attributes it to the disappointment in the “current model” based on agrochemicals, which he considers to be “exhausted.” For him, agroecology “is not an alternative but the agriculture of the near future.”

“Producers are seeing that the promise of 20 years ago of what this technology would solve has not been fulfilled. Neither in terms of high yields nor in costs. They see that the costs are very high due to the amount of inputs that they use,” he said.

While in the 1990s, a hectare of wheat cost 100 dollars, by 2015 it had climbed to 400 dollars. However, the yields did not quadruple. Back then, a hectare produced 3,000 kilos, and now “at the most, we may be at 6,000 or 7,000,” he said.

For Cerdá, “it is an extremely expensive technology for a very inefficient result. We have measured agroecological crops which use a mixed scheme of agriculture and livestock against conventional fields where the crops are produced by companies. We can even say that they are more efficient.”
The ICOA attributes the growth of organic agriculture in Argentina to the increase in international demand, mainly in Europe and the United States. But he points out that organic crops still represent only 0.5 of the total planted area.

In this country of 43 million people, agriculture is one of the mainstays of the economy, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 per cent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

“The main crops grown in Argentina are transgenic soybean, corn and cotton. Organic producers are still very few and far between and they mostly grow fresh produce. We can count on our fingers the farmers who produce ecological grains, because there is no government policy that promotes this production,” said Graciela Draguicevich, head of the Mutual Sentimiento Association.

This association runs El Galpón, in the Chacarita neighborhood in Buenos Aires, which for 14 years has been a market supplying organic products based on the social economy.

“We discovered that the main problem was the middlemen so we directly contacted farmers. But we looked for producers of products free of agrotoxics, because we thought that it was not a good thing to keep consuming toxic chemicals and getting sick from our food,” she told IPS.

Members of the association have a different concept of what is organic. “It’s when they have no social or economic poisons either. When there is no exploitation, or gender-based wage differences, or child labour. Everything has to conserve a balance,” she said.

Draguicevich is pleased that there are more and more markets like El Galpón, although not yet “one in every neighborhood,” as she considers necessary.

Alicia Della Ceca sells fruits and vegetables in this solidarity-based market, which she grows along her two children on 3.5 hectares of land about 20 kilometres from the capital.

They stopped using chemicals 10 years ago, when the government offered them technical assistance. “Since my children are young and have an open mind, they were interested,” she told IPS.

“It is beneficial for health, for the product, and for the earth. My husband 40 years ago used pesticides because it was the normal practice, it was thought that nothing would grow otherwise. But my children have demonstrated that it is possible to work this way. The land gives, there is no need to punish it with chemicals,” she said.

“People who work with chemicals want things fast, in abundance, big and shiny. This is driven by the supermarkets. With neighborhood stores it was not like that. But the supermarkets imposed plastic bags and many other things that go against nature,” she said.

Now a “new awareness” is growing among consumers, according to Pierrestegui from San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, in the face of the “abuse of agrochemicals.”

A study on pesticides published in 2015 by the UNLP found that in the 60 samples tested, eight of 10 fruits and vegetables contained agrochemicals.

“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model,” said Cerdá.

“Over the past 20 years, production of soy has grown to 20 million hectares (in Argentina). We are talking about more than 200 million litres of herbicides every year, plus other products that are applied, which is causing a very dangerous environmental explosion. A great loss of fertility lies ahead,” he said.

Pierrestegui considers that this country has special potential for organic production.

“Argentina is not a great world producer of olive oil, but it is one of the few that are able to produce it organically,” he said. “Spain, for example, one of the main global producers, works on very arid lands, where they need to use many agrochemicals and artificial fertilisers. Argentina has the advantage of good soil,” he said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report “World Markets for Organic Fruit and Vegetables” says “conversion from conventional to organic production is generally easy in Argentina, thanks to its physical conditions.”

“The endowment of ample and natural fertile soil, the wide abundance of virgin land, and the low use of chemical inputs in conventional farming practices enable farmers to switch to organic production without major adjustments to their farming methods. The diverse climates throughout the country and a low pest pressure allow organic production virtually throughout the whole country.”

Cerdá urged: “All the research that is carried out, everything that the producers spend, even nature is telling them: Folks, weeds work in a different way, it is not enough to increase the dosage, mix more toxic cocktails, because in the long run we all end up poisoned. The logics of nature are different, try to understand them.”

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Climate Change Needn’t Spell Doom for Uganda’s Coffee Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-change-neednt-spell-doom-for-ugandas-coffee-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-neednt-spell-doom-for-ugandas-coffee-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/climate-change-neednt-spell-doom-for-ugandas-coffee-farmers/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 16:39:11 +0000 Sally Nyakanyanga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148278 Nursery operators raise improved Robusta coffee seedlings in Uganda. Credit: IITA

Nursery operators raise improved Robusta coffee seedlings in Uganda. Credit: IITA

By Sally Nyakanyanga
KAMPALA, Dec 22 2016 (IPS)

Coffee production provides a quarter of Uganda’s foreign exchange earnings and supports some 1.7 million smallholder farmers, but crop yields are being undermined by disease, pests and inadequate services from agricultural extension officers, as well as climatic changes in the East African country.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), one of the world’s leading research partners in finding solutions for hunger, malnutrition, and poverty, is playing a key role in overcoming these challenges with simple, efficient practices like planting shade trees to protect coffee plants that require a cooler tropical climate.“The knowledge I’ve received towards adapting to farming that suits the changes in the climate, such as intercropping and planting shade trees, has transformed my life." --Coffee farmer Cathrine Ojara

Mujabi Yusuf, 41, a coffee farmer in the Nakaseke District of Central Uganda, told IPS prolonged droughts and unpredictable rainfall had been major setbacks.

“I have fed my family and sent them to school through coffee farming, but the weather has failed us,” says Yusuf. “Buying farming inputs such as fertilizer is a challenge because it’s expensive, yet for some time my farming production has been decreasing.”

Uganda has the largest population of coffee farmers in the world, yet 2 percent of its exports are not certified. It is Africa’s largest Robusta producer, accounting for 7 percent of global Robusta exports. The cost of production is low as a result of smallholder farmers using family labour and few inputs.

“Seasons have changed and become unpredictable. The rains sometimes come but for a short period. This has resulted in leaves wilting and eventually dying,” says Kironde Mayanja, a coffee farmer from Central Uganda.

“Drought stress, pests and diseases, poor quality of inputs, inadequate extension services and financial constraints inhibits farmers from adapting efficiently in Uganda,” says Elizabeth Kemigisha, IITA Communications Officer.

“There is a global awareness that if agricultural research for development is to have a positive impact on the beneficiaries of development efforts, all stakeholders in the process need to be on the same page. All stakeholders can all contribute to address the challenges of agricultural development and food security for all,” Kemigisha told IPS.

IITA generates evidence-based solutions such as a shade tree tool, farmer profiles and segmentation, new crop varieties, intercropping coffee and banana, as well as appropriate investment pathways for various stakeholders.

“Our research is used by non-governmental organisations and the private sector, and we work closely with governments, particularly National Agricultural Research Organisations (NARO). IITA has worked with HRNS as an implementing partner to conduct studies to enhance local knowledge on climate change adaptation in coffee growing,” Kemigisha said.

David Senyonjo, the Field Operations Manager in charge of climate change at HRNS, says his organization promotes and provides technical support for coffee production by working with smallholder coffee farmers.

“Research has helped to enhance farmers’ resilience to the adverse effects of climate change by providing them with the know-how to adapt to the changing climatic conditions,” says Senyonjo.

Cathrine Ojara, a female coffee farmer, is one such success story.

“The knowledge I’ve received towards adapting to farming that suits the changes in the climate, such as intercropping and planting shade trees, has transformed my life,” she says.

Ojara said she has been able to send her children to school and improve her household, as well as establish extra income through projects such as poultry.

Mayanja, who has an eight-acre farm, with the help of HRNS Africa has adopted new farming methods and his yields have increased from 20 to 50 percent.

“We have received training that has made me an expert in climate change and I have put to good use what I learnt to improve our crops. I have been practicing mulching, planting and managing shade trees, using fertilizers, digging water trenches and irrigation,” Mayanja told IPS.

Senyonjo noted that women face additional difficulties. “[They have a] lack of control over production resources like land, which in most cases is a prerequisite to having access to credit, hence women are less likely to use yield enhancing inputs like fertilisers,” he said.

“We don’t have our own land and due to time constraints and domestic responsibilities, we are unable to attend trainings on climate change,” Ojara told IPS.

While women do most of the farm labor, they only own 16 percent of the arable land in Uganda.

Hannington Bukomeko, a scientist with the IITA, said effective adaptation to climate change among coffee farmers requires low-cost and multipurpose solutions such as agroforestry, a practice of intercropping coffee with trees.

IITA has developed a shade tree advice tool, offering the best selection criteria for suitable tree species that provide various ecosystems services in different local conditions.

“Shade trees are one of the climate change adaptation practice we recommend for farmers. Shades modify the micro-environment so that it reduces the intensity of sunshine hitting the coffee plant as well as evaporation of water from the soil,” says Senyonjo.

Bukomeko explained that the tool helps coffee farmers to identify appropriate tree-selection.  “Farmers lack the knowledge on selecting the appropriate tree species, lack the tools and technical support to summarize such information to guide on-farm tree selection,” Bukomeko told IPS.

According to Bukomeko, the shade tree tool relies on local agro-forestry knowledge and scientific assessments of local on-farm tree diversity. “Users of the tool can identify their location in terms of country, province and ecological zone, select their desired ecosystem services and rank them according to preference. In return, the tool advises the user on the best tree options for a given location and ecosystem services,” says Bukomeko.

The shade tree tool was tested and validated for the studied regions, and found to serve the purpose of guiding on-farm tree selection for coffee farmers, according to IITA.

“Through government and other partners, the tool can be used by extension workers who will have mobile devices that can access the application tool,” says Kemigisha.

IITA has also conducted research on banana/plantain, cocoa, cowpea, maize, yam, and soy bean.

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Beyond Standing Rock: Extraction Harms Indigenous Water Sourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 20:23:58 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148257 At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

Since the decision by the U.S. army to suspend the Dakota Access pipeline on 4 December, many are still unsure of the controversial pipeline’s future or its implications for other mega infrastructure projects affecting indigenous communities across North America.

After months of demonstrations by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies from across the world, the Army announced that it will not allow the 1,172-mile long pipeline to cross Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

The statement was met with celebrations and tears by those who have taken up residence in camps along the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers as part of the #NoDAPL movement.

“Everyone was very excited, very pleased at the camp,” said Sioux County native involved in #NoDAPL Cannupa Hanska Luger told IPS.

Among concerns over the pipeline is its risk of contaminating the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of water.

However, the excitement over the Army’s decision did not last long, Luger said.

“Primarily this is an issue of Native people not being too comfortable and too steadfast with government decrees. All of our treaties have been broken…we were elated in the moment but then we also readied ourselves for any future statement or outcome,” Luger told IPS.

One such treaty is the 1851 treaty of Fort Laramie which defined Sioux territory as the land where DAPL is being constructed. Though it was later taken away under a 1868 treaty, the land remains disputed as some say they never ceded the territory.

Despite the recent decision and territorial disputes, Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company in charge of the  $3.8 billion project, has vowed to continue DAPL, stating: “[We] are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

Many also fear that incoming President-elect Donald Trump will overturn the decision as he has vowed to divert billions of payments to UN climate programs towards building up domestic coal, oil and gas industries.

His cabinet nominations also suggest an increased focus on such industries including ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt – who has been battling President Obama’s climate change policies – as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Rick Perry as Energy Secretary who, during his time as governor of Texas, expanded oil and gas development.

“This fight is not over, not even close. In fact, this fight is escalating,” said a coalition of grassroots organisations including Sacred Stone one of the Dakota Access resistance camps, pointing to the new administration as a source of uncertainty.

The struggle is far from over, not only for DAPL, which is just one of many extractive projects that threaten access to clean water for many indigenous communities on the continent.

One such case is the legacy of uranium mining in the Navajo Nation in the Southwestern United States.

During the Cold War, the U.S. government extracted uranium from the Navajo Reservation, which is home to the largest indigenous population in the country. According to the EPA, over 30 million tonnes of uranium ore was extracted from or adjacent to Navajo lands.

Executive Director of global water organisation DigDeep George McGraw remarked on the similarities between DAPL and uranium mining to IPS, calling it “if not sister problems, cousin problems.”

“The Sioux, like the Navajo, have struggled to maintain water access for the majority of their population in general…so to come in and threaten, in a really meaningful way, the resources that they do have like a river is an even more gross offense,” he said.

Decades of uranium mining have contributed to a water crisis leaving approximately 40 percent of Navajo households without clean running water.

McGraw noted that water contamination has only worsened because mines have not been cleaned up. There are over 500 abandoned mines with radioactivity levels as high as 25 times above what is considered to be safe.

Such exposure has led to alarmingly high rates of cancer in a population which the medical community previously thought had “cancer immunity.”

By treaty and law, the United States is responsible for protecting the health of the Navajo Nation. However, McGraw pointed to unfulfilled treaty obligations, similar to that of the Sioux Nation.

Despite a recent settlement between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government to help clean up 16 abandoned uranium mines, access to clean water remains elusive as ongoing coal mining in the Navajo reservation poses a further threat to drinking water sources.

McGraw noted that such extractive processes tend to take place more often on Native American land.

“That’s symptomatic of our treatment of Native Americans when it comes to all these energy issues…most of the country ignores this place and they can get away with that, “ he told IPS.

Chair of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS) Rudolph Ryser echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The indigenous world is invisible to the rest of the world…so it’s easy for developers, corporations, governments to press economic development projects that advantage them at the expense of indigenous nations and it’s been going on for a long time.”

Ryser particularly pointed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Canada which was recently approved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The expansion will create a twinned pipeline which was increase oil transports from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.

Some First Nations have strongly opposed the project, citing concerns of an increased risk of an oil spill. Oil company Kinder Morgan only garnered support for the pipeline from one-third of the 120 indigenous groups it consulted.

The Canadian province of Alberta also approved another three oil sands projects including Husky Energy’s Saleski project, the same company responsible for a July oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River from a different pipeline.

Approximately 250,000 litres of oil was leaked, impacting numerous cities including the James Smith Cree Nation territory. Five samples from the First Nation’s water revealed levels of toxins unfit for human consumption.

Though the DAPL movement was important in that it brought different tribes together, Ryser said that as long as these projects continue, the “struggle is not over.”

Similarly, Luger noted that stopping one pipeline does not mean the end.

“The solidarity that was created within Native communities at Standing Rock…set a precedent where we went and decided that we must help one another. And because most of these extractive resources are taking place on or near Native borders, we also know that we are readying ourselves to work towards the future and help one another within our communities nationally and internationally,” he concluded.

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‘Complex’ Climate Fund Procedures Hindering Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/complex-climate-fund-procedures-hindering-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=complex-climate-fund-procedures-hindering-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/complex-climate-fund-procedures-hindering-development/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 13:17:00 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148250 Seated, from left to right: Nicholas Kotch, Lead trainer, Dr Kholiquzzaman, Chairman Palli Karma Sahayak Samity (PKSF), Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General IPS, Mr Abul Maal A Muhith, Finance Minister of Bangladesh, Mr Shahiduzzaman, Senior Advisor and IPS representative South Asia, Mr Robert Watkins, UN Representative and UNDP Resident Coordinator. Credit: Mauro Teodori/IPS

Seated, from left to right: Nicholas Kotch, Lead trainer, Dr Kholiquzzaman, Chairman Palli Karma Sahayak Samity (PKSF), Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General IPS, Mr Abul Maal A Muhith, Finance Minister of Bangladesh, Mr Shahiduzzaman, Senior Advisor and IPS representative South Asia, Mr Robert Watkins, UN Representative and UNDP Resident Coordinator. Credit: Mauro Teodori/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

Though highly hopeful about achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) well ahead of the 2030 deadline, Bangladesh is upset over the procedures to access the Green Climate Fund, calling them ‘ridiculously complex’ and warning that they may slow down its drive to achieve the SDGs.

Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, wants to emerge as a star performer in implementing the SDGs, repeating its success with the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But officials say developed nations are not delivering funds to the affected countries as promised.“The carbon emissions of developed countries are damaging the environment of smaller economies. They must ensure we’re provided enough funds to mitigate this damage.” --Finance Minister AMA Muhith

“The developed countries are mainly responsible for climate change. They’ve demonstrated goodwill in terms of financing climate change programmes all over the world, but Bangladesh is very unfortunate as it doesn’t get a fair share of it. The procedure of the Climate Change Fund is ridiculously complex,” said Bangladesh’s Finance Minister AMA Muhith.

Muhith was inaugurating a two-day media capacity building workshop titled ‘Reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ in Dhaka on Dec. 18. The United Nations Foundation and Inter Press Service (IPS) jointly organised the programme under the theme ‘Working Together: Why and how should the media report on the SDGs?’ Journalists from leading media outlets participated in the workshop.

IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman also spoke at the inaugural session, while UN Resident Coordinator and U.N. Development programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Bangladesh Robert D. Watkins presented the keynote paper. IPS South Asia Representative Shahiduzzaman moderated the session.

According to Muhith, “The carbon emissions of developed countries are damaging the environment of smaller economies. They must ensure we’re provided enough funds to mitigate this damage.”

The Green Climate Fund was announced at the UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico in 2010. Developed nations pledged 100 billion dollars a year to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change.

Referring to the growing adverse impacts of climate change on Bangladesh, a worried Muhith said many poor people in rural Bangladesh have lost everything due to riverbank erosion across the country.

“We’re spending our own money to tackle climate change’s negative impacts, but we don’t get the support we should get as one of the worst sufferers of climate change,” he said.

Families who live on ‘chars’ – river islands formed from sedimentation – are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This family wades through floodwaters left behind after heavy rains in August 2014 caused major rivers to burst their banks in northern Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Families who live on ‘chars’ – river islands formed from sedimentation – are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. This family wades through floodwaters left behind after heavy rains in August 2014 caused major rivers to burst their banks in northern Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

According to a report by the Dhaka Tribune, an English daily, Bangladesh is set to lose 50 million dollars from the Green Climate Fund “because of tension between the World Bank and donors, and lack of government commitment. Even as the government is scrambling to find funds for dealing with climate change impacts, donors have decided to pull the plug on the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF).”

Despite these obstacles, Muhith remains upbeat about Bangladesh’s march forward from the MDGs. He said Bangladesh will be able to achieve the SDGs well before the stipulated time of 2030.

“I personally think Bangladesh will certainly reach the targets well before 2030, although the procedure to initiate the development takes time,” he said.

Bangladesh’s initiatives to eradicate poverty aim to leave no one behind, said the country’s Finance Minister, adding that it would be quite possible for some other countries to reach the targets ahead of 2030 as well.

Bangladesh received a U.N. award for its remarkable achievements in attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly in reducing the child mortality rate in 2010. It also received an FAO Achievement Award in 2015 for its success in fighting hunger, and a Women in Parliaments Global Forum Award, known as the WIP Award, in 2015 for its outstanding success in closing the gender gap in the political sphere.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also received the UN’s highest environmental accolade – Champions of the Earth in 2015 – in recognition of Bangladesh’s far-reaching initiatives to address climate change.

Speaking at a high-profile discussion on ‘MDGS to SDGs: A Way Forward’, at UN Headquarters in New York on Sep. 30, on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “We’ll take the country forward by setting another example by implementing SDGs as Bangladesh did in the case of the MDGs. In this journey, no one will be left behind as we aspire to build Bangladesh as a progressive, peaceful and prosperous country.”

The adoption of the SDGs on Sep. 25, 2015 by the United Nations was a ‘unique show of global unity’ as it holds the promise to build a better world with the first-ever common development agenda.

The 17 SDGs envisage a sustainable future for all by engaging the entire world in collective efforts to end poverty, fight inequality, establish peace and tackle climate change.

“Bangladesh has become a role model in South Asia and in the world in achieving the MDGs, the predecessor of SDGs. We believe Bangladesh will again lead the way in achieving the SDGs,” Nagesh Kumar, head of UN-ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office, told a seminar at the Prime Minister’s Office in Dhaka on Aug. 17.

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Feminism Helps Villagers Coexist with Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 01:26:56 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148244 “This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
CARAÚBAS, Brazil, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

“The vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita Alexandre da Silva, in the village of Primeiro do Maio where 65 families have obtained land to grow crops since 1999, in this municipality in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in Northeast Brazil.

She is part of the Group of Women that organised in 2001 and adopted the slogan “United to overcome”, with the goal of having their own productive activities, reaffirming their rights and combating sexism.

“I used to only stay at home or in the fields, I wasn’t allowed to go out, to go to town. With the garden I started to go to the city to sell our products in the market, over the objections of my husband and my oldest son,” Da Silva told IPS.

“Bringing money home when my husband was sick” helped overcome the resistance, she said. “Now my son, who is married, has a different attitude towards his wife.”

The 60-year-old mother of three grown-up children shares with five other local women one hectare of the village’s collective land, where they grow lettuce, coriander, onions, tomatoes, manioc, papayas, coconuts and other fruits and vegetables.

The difficulty is transporting products to the city of Caraúbas, 22 km away. The women hire a truck for 25 dollars, and they also have to pay for the maintenance and cleaning up of the stand where they sell their produce.

“We get up at two in the morning every Saturday to get to the market,” said Antonia Damiana da Silva, a 41-year-old mother of four.

But “our life has changed for the better, we eat what we produce, without poisonous chemicals, and we are different people, more free, we decide what we’re going to do and tell our husbands,” she said.

The village was created by families of farmers who lived in the surrounding areas, without land of their own, who occupied an unproductive piece of land. Their first attempt to occupy it lasted 18 days in 1997, when the owners of the land obtained a court order to evict them.

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two years later, they tried again, and the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform assigned each family 13 hectares and a good house in the “agro village”. They were also awarded a common area for the community association building, for raising livestock, and for growing fruits and vegetables.

“Agro villages” in Brazil are rural settlements created in isolated areas, where houses and community and service facilities are concentrated near the plots of land. They form part of the government’s land reform programme, and offer previously landless farmers urban advantages such as schools, health posts and in some cases sewerage.

The drought which has dragged on for five years in the semi-arid Northeast is all too evident in the grey vegetation, apparently dead, throughout the entire ecosystem exclusive to Brazil known as the caatinga. But its low and twisted bush-like trees tend to turn green a few hours after it rains, even if it barely sprinkled.

The Primeiro do Maio agro village appears in the landscape almost like an oasis, because of the green of its trees and of the vegetable garden and orchard, populated by birds and other animals.

The traditional crops grown by the families, mostly corn and beans, were lost to the drought. But the community garden is still productive, irrigated with well water and managed according to the principles of agro-ecology, such as crop diversity and better use of natural resources, including straw.

They receive technical assistance and support from Diaconía, a non-profit social organisation composed of 11 evangelical churches, which are very active in the Northeast.

  Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

 

The income from the garden empowers the women, particularly in times of drought when the local crops are failing.

But because of the difficulties in getting the produce to market, and the prevailing but rarely mentioned sexism, the Group shrank from 23 to six members, who work in the garden and sell their produce in Caraúbas.

The garden, irrigated without any water wastage, is based on a production model promoted by Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), which groups together some 3,000 social organisations in the Northeast, including trade unions, religious groups and non-governmental organisations.

“Coexisting with the semi-arid” is its slogan, in contrast to the former official policy of ”fighting drought” which generated one failure after another, with the construction of big dams, aqueducts and canals that do not provide solutions to the most vulnerable: poor peasant farmers scattered throughout rural areas.

The Primeiro do Maio village was one of eight places visited by participants in the National Meeting of ASA, which drew about 500 people Nov. 21-25 to Mossoró, a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, 80 km from Caraúbas.

“There can be no coexistence with the semi-arid, without feminisim,” according to ASA, which supports the Group of Women and other initiatives that bolster gender equality in rural communities.

 The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village stands in sharp contrast to the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village contrasts with the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The “social technologies” that drive that coexistence are in general more rapidly embraced and with more determination by women.

Damiana, for example, has an arsenal of resources in the backyard of her house that enable her to assert that she enjoys “a wonderful life”.

A biodigester, fed with the manure from her small livestock, provides her with cooking gas. In the village there are 10 other houses that use this technology, which consists of a sealed container where organic waste ferments until producing methane gas and natural fertilisers.

“Biowater”, a chain of filters which cleans the wastewater produced in her home, makes it possible to reuse it in her vegetable garden and orchard. She also raises fish in a small three-metre-diameter tank. The fish she raises is the tilapia azul (Oreochromis niloticus), native to the Nile River, which is highly productive in fish farming.

Vanusa Vieira, a 47-year-old mother of two, is another participant in the Group who works in the collective garden, although she says she prefers working with animals. “I love raising animals, I can’t live without them, I look after them from early morning to night,” she told IPS standing in her yard where she has birds, goats and a cow.

“I learned from my father and mother, who had cattle and chicken,” she said. Now that she has her own house with a big yard she has an aviary and pens.

But the drought has forced her to reduce the number of animals she keeps. Corn got too expensive and water is scarce, she said. And her honey production, which “helped us buy a truck,” has stalled because the woods are dry and there are no flowers, Vieira explained.

But small livestock such as goats and sheep that are able to survive on limited food and water are a resource that helps families survive lengthy droughts like the one that has had the Northeast in its grip since 2012.

Also important is the small subsidy that the families of the agrovillage receive from the social programme Bolsa Familia, aimed at the poorest in this country of 202 million people. In addition, some of the men work as day labourers to boost the family income, in light of the fall in production on their plots of land.

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Carbon Tax Could Boost Green Energy in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/carbon-tax-could-boost-green-energy-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-tax-could-boost-green-energy-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/carbon-tax-could-boost-green-energy-in-bangladesh/#comments Mon, 19 Dec 2016 14:27:03 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148234 A worker arranges bricks for burning at a traditional brick factory in Munshiganj, Bangladesh. Such factories are responsible for a large amount of carbon emissions. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A worker arranges bricks for burning at a traditional brick factory in Munshiganj, Bangladesh. Such factories are responsible for a large amount of carbon emissions. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
DHAKA, Dec 19 2016 (IPS)

Bangladesh is weighing a World Bank proposal to introduce a carbon tax, the first of its kind in the South Asian nation, amid fears of a backlash from consumers.

In its proposal, the World Bank suggested that the government introduce the carbon tax initially only on petroleum products. Bank officials advised the government to keep the market price of fuel unchanged by slashing its own profits."The cost of a carbon tax should not be passed on to the consumers." --Dr. Saleemul Huq

Fuel costs are generally much higher in Bangladesh compared to the international market, which has allowed the government to make a huge profit in past years.

“We need to weigh the proposal to assess its pros and cons,” Bangladesh’s state minister for Finance and Planning M.A. Mannan told IPS in Dhaka.

Previous efforts to tax polluting industries by Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith have failed to gain traction, and several senior government officials who asked not to be named believe the government will not act quickly on any new tax.

Still, many climate change activists and scientists were largely happy with the proposal and said those responsible for carbon emissions must pay the price. They believe imposing such a tax would trigger new investments in clean technology, but stress that the market price of fuel should be kept stable for consumers.

“Bangladesh has no obligation to impose a carbon tax but nevertheless it should do so to both raise revenue for investments in cleaner energy and also to impose some cost on polluting energy,” said Dr Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

“At present, the cost the consumers bear is much higher than necessary when the global price of imported petroleum is considered. Hence the cost of a carbon tax should not be passed on to the consumers,” Dr. Huq told IPS.

He said that the tax collected thus would accrue to the government, which could then allocate it to investments in cleaner energy.

The chief of a leading consumers’ rights group disagreed. “I don’t think it’s justified to impose a carbon tax right at this moment,” Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh, told IPS.

Rahman, who earlier headed Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Commission, said it would not only affect consumers but also hamper the country’s production and development.

Bangladesh should not rush to impose a carbon tax when many of the world’s largest polluters have failed to do so, he said.

In a move to address the impacts of climate change, Bangladesh amended its constitution in 2011 to include provisions for the protection of the environment and safeguarding natural resources for current and future generations. Moreover, as part of its Nationally Determined Contribution during the COP21 meeting in Paris, Bangladesh committed to reducing climate-harming emissions by 5 percent.

Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, a professor of economics at the University of Dhaka, said the government should take effective measures to curb carbon emissions, but instead of introducing a carbon tax immediately, it should encourage green and clean technologies by offering tax breaks and other benefits.

Apart from their adverse impacts on the environment, unchecked carbon dioxide emissions take a huge toll on public health, said Titumir, who also heads the policy research group Unnayan Onneshan.

With assistance from the World Bank, Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change due to its low-lying geography, was the first to set up its own Climate Change Trust Fund to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, and this time Bangladesh could take the lead again.

Zahid Hussain, lead economist at the World Bank’s Dhaka office, said, “Petroleum products are the best option for Bangladesh to introduce a carbon tax since the government was making a huge profit by selling petroleum products.”

Initially, Bangladesh could focus on fuel only since it might be difficult to collect carbon taxes from other sources, he said.

Hussain argued that while oil prices do fluctuate, the government could assist the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Apart from tapping a significant source of revenue, Hussain said a carbon tax could even help Bangladesh and its exporters carve a niche the increasingly environmentally-conscious developed markets across the world.

A World Bank document did not rule out the challenges of introducing carbon tax and said policy-makers could justifiably be concerned about the impacts of carbon taxes on the poorer segments of the population and on some economic sectors.

“A carbon tax can have significant benefits for Bangladesh, but it’s not without challenges,” it said.

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New Technologies in Debate in Biodiversity Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 22:18:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148211 In the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, government delegates, representatives of international organisations, and civil society activists came from every continent to Cancún in southeast Mexico, to make their proposals to protect biological resources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, government delegates, representatives of international organisations, and civil society activists came from every continent to Cancún in southeast Mexico, to make their proposals to protect biological resources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CANCUN, Mexico, Dec 14 2016 (IPS)

Synthetic biology, geoengineering and the recognition of ancestral knowledge are the issues that have generated the most heated debate in the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, which ends in this Mexican resort city on Friday Dec. 17.

The outcome of the debates on these questions will be seen this week, in the final stretch of the Dec. 2-17 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or COP 13, and other meetings and international forums focusing on the planet’s natural resources.

For developing countries these issues are vital, due to the biological and biocultural capital that they concentrate in their territories and that could be undermined if their exploitation is allowed within the framework of the CBD.

“On a scale of one to 10, I would say that we are at four. The negotiations are slow. We need to speed them up and they have to in favour of the people,” Venezuelan Santiago Obispo, leader of the non-governmental Amazon Cooperation Network, told IPS.

With respect to synthetic biology, governments and representatives of academia, civil society and indigenous communities are concerned about the possible devastating impacts on ecosystems and on the livelihood of local communities.

This discipline consists of computer-assisted biological engineering to design and build synthetic life forms, live parts, artifacts and systems which do not exist in nature.

Currently, research is being carried out on the creation of synthetic vanilla flavour, whose industrial production threatens the well-being of farmers in countries like Comoros, China, Madagascar, Mexico, Reunion and Uganda.

Similar research is also being conducted on vetiver, a fragrance used in cosmetic products and whose biosynthetic version will affect Brazil, China, Haiti, Indonesia, Japan, India and Reunion.

Laboratory studies are also focusing on genetic drivers, able to permanently alter species by driving one specific characteristic in the reproductive process.

Through this process, the altered genes are the ones inherited by the offspring. But opponents fear that species or ecosystems will be modified or eliminated, with unpredictable consequences.

In Cancún, where more than 6,500 official delegates and representatives of civil society are taking part in the conference, over 160 non-governmental, academic and indigenous organisations called for a moratorium on experiments involving synthetic biology, like gene drivers.

In the COP 13 debates, the African and Caribbean countries, seconded by El Salvador, Bolivia and Venezuela, pronounced themselves in favor of a moratorium, while Australia, Brazil and Canada led the group lobbying for the acceptance of synthetic biology within the CBD.

One issue which did gain unanimous support from the state parties is the rejection of digital genomic sequencing, molecular structures created with computer programmes.

In the text of the Cancun Declaration which is being negotiated, there is no reference to a “moratorium” on bioengineering and genetic drivers, but it does invite countries to postpone this kind of research.

In previous COPs, which are held every two years, the CBD recommended a precautionary approach with respect to the positive and negative effects of synthetic biology and called for further scientific research.

Delegates of the 196 states parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity step up the pace to achieve agreements on conservation and use of the planet’s biodiversity, in a summit that closes on Dec. 17 in Cancún, in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Delegates of the 196 states parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity step up the pace to achieve agreements on conservation and use of the planet’s biodiversity, in a summit that closes on Dec. 17 in Cancún, in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For Barbara Unmüssig, one of the heads of Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, linked to Germany’s Green Party, the Cancún summit will be a success if the CBD adopts a precautionary approach towards bio engineering and geo engineering.

“The COP should come up with a strong declaration to tell companies behind synthetic biology and geoengineering that they take steps towards evaluating them and establishing a moratorium. If it confirms moratoria, it will show that it’s a convention with teeth and that it’s not in favour of certain technologies,” the activist told IPS.

“We have to stop the main drivers behind the destruction of biodiversity. If we are really interested in maintaining ecosystems, we have to think about adequate measures against overexploitation of fisheries and cultivating GMOs. The agroindustry tries to landgrab for monoculture, it’s happening all around the world.”

Geoengineering represents the large-scale intentional manipulation of planetary systems to combat climate change through techniques referring to the management of solar radiation, greenhouse gas reduction and weather modification.

During COP 9, held in Bonn, Germany in 2008, the CBD adopted a moratorium on ocean fertilisation, a geoengineering technique.

Meanwhile, delegates of native communities have been very active in the Cancún summit defending their rights in their territories and as protectors of biodiversity.

Bolivia suggested the creation of an ad hoc body responsible for indigenous peoples issues, now that native communities have gained recognition from the CBD of the concept of “indigenous peoples and local communities” as subjects of rights, in response to a demand that gained the support of organisations worldwide.

But within this recognition, there is one issue that faces opposition: the demand that native peoples settled in the territories must give consent to policies of conservation and best use of biodiversity. The term “free” in the proposed prior, free and informed consent is blocking negotiations due to opposition led by Asian and African countries.

“We want a balance of perspectives, a serious and responsible balance to increase the participation of indigenous peoples,” Diego Pacheco, the head of Bolivia’s delegation at COP 13 and his country’s vice minister of planning and development, told IPS.

The Cancún conference coincides with the halfway mark of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Studies published on the occasion of the summit show that ecosystems continue to be destroyed worldwide, despite conservationist efforts.

The world is living up to less than 60 per cent of the Aichi Targets, the 20 points of the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states parties to the CBD, which refers to the protection of natural resources, participation of indigenous peoples and sustainable use, among others.

“These negotiations will affect biodiversity in the planet. We cannot allow the CBD to try to commercialise biodiversity, to put a price tag on it,” said Obispo, of Venezuela.

Unmüssig recommended addressing the causes of the loss of biological resources.

“We have to stop the main drivers behind the destruction of biodiversity. If we are really interested in sustaining ecosystems, we have to think of adequate measures against the overexploitation of fisheries and the cultivation of GMOs. Agroindustry tries to landgrab for monoculture, it’s happening all around the world.”

For Pacheco, the CBD must not impose “a hegemonic model. It has to listen to alternatives, but there is strong influence from developed countries.”

Topics such as the recognition of natural pollinisers and the designation of protected marine areas have progressed without any major setbacks.

In the first case, the importance of agroecology, of the maintenance of habitats, and of the need to avoid or reduce the use of toxic chemical substances in agriculture was discussed. In the second case, the significance of marine planification was debated.

In Cancún it was decided that Egypt would host COP 14 in 2018.

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