Inter Press Service » Environment Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:52:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Future of the Planet and the Irresponsibility of Governments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 08:23:09 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio – founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News – argues that governments are unwilling to take steps to do something concrete to halt climate change because of their incestuous relations with energy corporations and because they are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Less than a week after everybody celebrated the historical agreement on Nov. 17 between the United States and China on reduction of CO2 emissions, a very cold shower has come from India.

Indian Power Minister Piyush Goyal has declared: “India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate change many years in the future. The West will have to recognise we have the needs of the poor”.

This is also a blow to the Asia policy of U.S. President Barack Obama, who came back home from signing the CO2 emissions agreement in Beijing, touting his success on establishing U.S. policy in the region.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

But, more importantly, will give plenty of ammunition to the Republican Congress, which has been fighting climate control on the grounds that the United States cannot engage on climate control unless other major polluters make similar commitments. This was always directed to China, which had refuse to make any such commitment until President Xi, to the surprise of everybody, did so by signing an agreement with Obama.

India is a major polluter, not at the level of China, which has now reached 9,900 metric tons of CO2, against the 6,826 of the United States. But India is coming up fast. “The incestuous relations between energy corporations and governments are out of the public's eye. It is yet further proof that, even when nothing less than survival is at stake for islands and coastlines, agriculture and the poor, governments are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence”

Goyal has promised that India’s use of domestic coal will rise from 565 million tons last year to more than a billion tons by 2019, and he is selling licences for coal mining at a great speed. The country has increased its coal-fired plants by 73 percent in just the last five years. In addition, Indian coal is of poor quality, polluting twice as much as coal in the West.

Nevertheless, newly-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that he will embark on a major programme of renewable sources of energy, and there is an apparent paradox in the fact that many of the climate scientists who form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) are from India. Its Director-General is an Indian, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, who is also chief executive of the Energy Resources Institute in New Delhi.

The IPCC’s last report was much more dramatic than previous ones, stating conclusively that climate change is due to the action of man, and providing an extensive review of the damage that the agricultural sector is bound to face, especially in poor countries like India. At least 37 million people would be displaced by rising seas.

Indian towns are by far the most polluted in the world, surpassing several times each year the worst polluted day in China.

But what is more worrying is that governments are reacting too slowly. It would take a very major effort, which is not now on the cards, to keep temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Centigrade, and therefore to start to reduce emissions by 2020. Emissions in 2014 are expected to be the highest ever, at 40 billion tonnes, compared with 32 billion in 2010.

The consensus is that to limit warming of the planet to no more 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels, governments would have to restrict emissions from additional fossil fuel burning to about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide.

But, according to the IPCC report, energy companies have booked coal and petroleum reserves equal to several times that amount, and they are spending some 600 billion dollars a year to find more. In other words, governments are directly subsidising the consumption of fossil fuel.

By contrast, less than 400 billion dollars a year are spent to reduce emissions, a figure that is smaller than the revenue of one just one U.S. oil company, ExxonMobil.

The last meeting of the G20 in Brisbane earlier this month gave unexpected attention to climate, but the G20 alone is spending 88 billion dollars a year in subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, which is double that which the top 20 private companies are spending to look for new oil, gas and coal.

The G20 spends 101 billion dollars to support clean energy in a clear attempt to make everybody happy but, according to the International Energy Agency, if G20 governments directed half of their subsidies, or 49 billion dollars a year, to investment for redistributing energy from new sources, we could achieve universal energy access as soon as 2030.

Another good example of the total lack of coherence from Western governments is that they have pledged an amount of 10 billion dollars for a Green Climate Fund, whose task is to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change. That amount is two-thirds of what those countries have been asking for and, since its creation in 1999, the fund has still to become operational.

And it was only after the last G20 meeting that the United States pledged three billion dollars and Japan 1.5 billion, bringing the total so far to 7 billion dollars – one-third is still missing.

And now we have the upcoming Climate Conference in Lima, in December, where opinion is that governments will once again fail to reach a comprehensive agreement on climate change – and the amount of time left for the planet will reduce even further.

Besides the fight to be expected from the Republican Congress in the United States, there will be also be opposition from countries that depend on fossil fuels, such as Russia, Australia, India, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

So, governments show a total lack of consensus and responsibility. If a referendum could be held asking citizens if they would prefer to pay 800 billion dollars less in taxes to avoid subsidising pollution, there are few doubts what the result would be. And there would be same result if they were asked if they would prefer to invest those 800 billion dollars in clean energy or continue to pollute.

But the incestuous relations between energy corporations and governments are out of the public’s eye. It is yet further proof that, even when nothing less than survival is at stake for islands and coastlines, agriculture and the poor, governments are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence. We are direly in need of global governance for this kind of globalisation. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)


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A Game-Changing Week on Climate Change Wed, 19 Nov 2014 00:55:41 +0000 Joel Jaeger UN Climate Wall at COP 15, Copenhagen. Credit: Troels Dejgaard Hansen/cc by 2.0

UN Climate Wall at COP 15, Copenhagen. Credit: Troels Dejgaard Hansen/cc by 2.0

By Joel Jaeger

- In recent days, two major developments have injected new life into international action on climate change.

At the G20 summit in Australia, the United States pledged 3 billion dollars and Japan pledged 1.5 billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), bringing total donations up to 7.5 billion so far. The GCF, established through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will distribute money to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change."While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies.” -- Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA

The new commitments to the GCF came on the heels of a landmark joint announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, creating ambitious new targets for domestic carbon emissions reduction.

The United States will aim to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China will aim to reach peak carbon emissions around the year 2030 and decrease its emissions thereafter.

The two surprising announcements “really send a strong signal that both developed and developing countries are serious about getting to an ambitious climate agreement in 2015,” said Alex Doukas, a climate finance expert at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC think tank.

The GCF aims to be the central hub for international climate finance in the coming years. At an October meeting in Barbados, the basic practices of the GCF were firmly established and it was opened to funding contributions.

The 7.5 billion dollars that have been committed by 13 countries to the GCF bring it three quarters of the way to its initial 10-billion-dollar goal, to be distributed over the next few years. The gap may be closed on Nov. 20 at a pledging conference in Berlin. Several more countries are expected to announce their contributions, including the United Kingdom and Canada.

While the fund is primarily designed to aid developing countries, it has “both developed and developing country contributors,” Doukas told IPS. “Mexico and South Korea have already pledged resources, and other countries, including Colombia and Peru, that are not necessarily traditional contributors have indicated that they are going to step up as well.”

The decision-making board of the GCF is split evenly between developed and developing country constituencies.

“For a major, multilateral climate fund, I would say that the governance is much more balanced than previously,” Doukas said. “That’s one of the reasons for the creation of the Green Climate Fund, especially from the perspective of developing countries.”

As IPS has previously noted, the redistributive nature of the GCF acknowledges that the developing countries least responsible for climate change will often face the most severe consequences.

Advocates hope that the United States’ and Japan’s recent contributions will pave the way for more pledges on November 20th and a more robust climate finance system in general.

According to Jan Kowalzig, a climate finance expert at Oxfam Germany, the unofficial 10-billion-dollar goal for the GCF was set by developed countries, but developing countries have asked for at least 15 billion dollars.

The 10-billion-dollar goal is “an absolute minimum floor for what is needed in this initial phase,” he told IPS.

Brandon Wu, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA and one of two civil society representatives on the GCF Board, asserts that the climate finance efforts will soon need to be scaled up drastically.

“While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the US spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies,” he told IPS.

The GCF may run into problems if countries attach caveats to their contributions, specifying exactly what types of activities they can be used for.

“Such strings are highly problematic as they run against the consensual spirit of the GCF board operations,” Kowalzig said.

He also warned that some of the contributions may come in the form of loans which need to be paid back instead of from grants.

After the pledging phase, much work remains to be done to establish a global climate finance roadmap towards 2020.

“The Green Climate Fund can and should play a major role,” Kowalzig said, “but the pledges, as important and welcome as they are, are only one component of what developed countries have promised to deliver.”

The other major development of the past week, Obama and Xi’s carbon emissions reduction announcement, also deserves both praise and scrutiny.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the historic nature of the agreement.

“Two countries regarded for 20 years as the leaders of opposing camps in climate negotiations have come together to find common ground, determined to make lasting progress on an unprecedented global challenge,” he wrote.

While Barack Obama may be committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Congress has expressed reservations. Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Senate majority leader, has called the plan “unrealistic” and complained that it would increase electricity prices and eliminate jobs.

On the Chinese side, Xi’s willingness to act on climate change and peak carbon emissions by 2030 was a substantial transformation from only a few years ago.

Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said in a press release that China’s announcement was “a major development,” but noted that a few years difference in when peak emissions occur could have a huge impact on climate change.

“Analysis shows that China’s emissions should peak before 2030 to limit the worst consequences of climate change,” he said.

Researchers have said that China’s emissions would have peaked in the 2030s anyway, and that a more ambitious goal of 2025 could have been possible.

Still, the agreement indicates a new willingness of the world’s number one and number two biggest carbon emitters to work together constructively, and raises hopes for successful negotiations in December’s COP20 climate change conference in Lima, Peru.

Héla Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the GCF, was unapologetically enthusiastic about the new momentum built in recent days.

“This week’s announcements will be a legacy of U.S. President Obama,” she announced. “It will be seen by generations to come as the game-changing moment that started a scaling-up of global action on climate change, and that enabled the global agreement.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shale Oil Fuels Indigenous Conflict in Argentina Tue, 18 Nov 2014 16:57:06 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, complains that local indigenous communities were not consulted about the production of unconventional oil in their ancestral territories. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, complains that local indigenous communities were not consulted about the production of unconventional oil in their ancestral territories. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CAMPO MARIPE, Argentina, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

The boom in unconventional fossil fuels has revived indigenous conflicts in southwest Argentina. Twenty-two Mapuche communities who live on top of Vaca Muerta, the geological formation where the reserves are located, complain that they were not consulted about the use of their ancestral lands, both “above and below ground.”

Albino Campo, ”logko” or chief of the Campo Maripe Mapuche community, is critical of the term “superficiary” – one to whom a right of surface occupation is granted – which was used in the oil contracts to describe the people living on the land, with whom the oil companies are negotiating.

“We are the owners of the surface, and of what is above and below as well. That is the ‘mapu’ (earth). It’s not hollow below ground; there is another people below,” he told IPS.

Nor is it hollow for the oil companies, although the two conceptions are very different.

Three thousand metres below Campo Maripe lies one of the world’s biggest reserves of shale gas and oil.

The land that the community used for grazing is now part of the Loma Campana oilfield, operated by the state-run YPF oil company in partnership with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

“More or less 160 wells have been drilled here,” Campo said. “When they reach 500 wells, we won’t have any land for our animals. They stole what is ours.”“The company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.” – Mapuche leader Jorge Nahuel

Because of the urgent need to boost production, YPF started a year ago to make roads and drill wells in the Campo Campana oilfield in the southern Patagonian province of Neuquén.

The Mapuche chief and his sister Mabel Campo showed IPS what their lands had turned into, with the intense noise and dust from the trucks continuously going back and forth to and from the oilfield.

They carry machinery, drill pipes and the products used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a highly criticised technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas and oil trapped in the underground rocks.

“They say fracking and everything aboveground doesn’t pollute…maybe it’ll be a while but we’ll start seeing cancer, skin cancer, because of all the pollution, and we’ll also die of thirst because there won’t be any water to drink,” said Mabel Campo.

YPF argues that it negotiated with the provincial government to open up the oilfield, because it is the government that holds title to the land.

However, “we try to have the best possible relations with any superficiary or pseudo superficiary or occupant, in the areas where we work, Mapuches or not,” YPF-Neuquén’s manager of institutional relations, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

The families of Campo Maripe have not obtained title to their land yet, but they did score one major victory.

After protests that included chaining themselves to oil derricks, they got the provincial government to recognise them legally as a community in October.

“Registration as a legal entity leaves behind the official stance of denying the Mapuche indigenous identity, and now the consultation process will have to be carried out for any activity that affects the territory,” Micaela Gomiz, with the Observatory of Human Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Patagonia (ODHPI), stated in a communiqué released by that organisation.

According to ODHIP, as of 2013 there were 347 Mapuche people charged with “usurpation” and trespassing on land, including 80 lawsuits filed in Neuquén and 60 cases in the neighbouring province of Río Negro.

In the case of Vaca Muerta, Jorge Nahuel, spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, told IPS that the local indigenous communities were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Argentina ratified 25 years ago.

Convention 169 requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

“What the state should do before granting concessions to land is to reach an agreement with the community over whether or not it is willing to accept such an enormous change of lifestyle,” he said.

Furthermore, said Nahuel, “the company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.”

The Mapuche leader said similar violations are committed in the soy and mining industries. “Indigenous people are seen as just another element of nature and as such they are trampled on,” he complained.

In this South American country of 42 million, nearly one million people identified themselves as indigenous in the last census, carried out in 2010. Most of them belong to the Mapuche and Colla communities, and live in Neuquén and two other provinces.

Nahuel noted that of nearly 70 Neuquén indigenous communities, only 10 percent hold legal title to their land.

“The logic followed by the state is that the weaker the documentation of land tenure, the greater the legal security enjoyed by the company,” he said. “It’s a perverse logic because what they basically believe is that by keeping us without land titles for decades, it will be easier for the companies to invade our territory.”

Some have cast doubt on the real interests of the Mapuche.

Luis Sapag, a lawmaker of the Neuquén Popular Movement, triggered the controversy last year when he remarked that “some of them have been doing good business…YPF didn’t go to the Mapuches’ land to set up shop….some Mapuches went to put their houses where YPF was operating, to get this movement started.”

“Until Loma Campana was developed, there were never any demands or complaints from a Mapuche community,” said YPF Neuquén’s manager of unconventional resources, Pablo Bizzotto, during a visit by IPS and correspondents from other international news outlets to the oilfield in the southwestern province of Neuquén.

Nahuel compared that reasoning to “the arguments used by the state when it invaded Mapuche territory, saying this was a desert, we got here, and then indigenous people showed up making demands and claims.

“They’re using the same logic here – first they raze a territory, and then they say: ‘But what is it that you’re demanding? We hadn’t even seen you people before’,” he said.

Nahuel said the production of shale gas and oil, an industry in which Argentina is becoming a global leader, poses “a much greater threat” than the production of conventional fossil fuels, which he said “already left pollution way down in the soil, and among all of the Mapuche families in the area.”

“It is an industry that has a major environmental and social – and even worse for us, cultural – impact, because it breaks down community life and destroys the collective relationship that we have with this territory, and has turned us into ‘superficiaries’ for the industry,” Nahuel said.

He added that as the drilling moves ahead, the conflicts will increase.

He said the country’s new law on fossil fuels, in effect since Oct. 31, will aggravate the problems because “it serves the corporations by ensuring them the right to produce for 50 years.”

The logko, Campo, said: “When YPF pulls out there will be no future left for the Mapuche people. What they are leaving us here is only pollution and death.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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G20 Seeks to Streamline Private Investment in Infrastructure Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:00:43 +0000 Carey L. Biron Water pouring through the sluice gates at Gariep Dam in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Bigstock

Water pouring through the sluice gates at Gariep Dam in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Industrialised countries have agreed to collaborate on a new programme aimed at funnelling significant private-sector investment into global infrastructure projects, particularly in developing countries.

The Global Infrastructure Initiative, agreed to Sunday by governments of the Group of 20 (G20) countries, will not actually be funding new projects. But it will seek to create investment environments that are more conducive to major foreign investors, and to assist in connecting governments with financiers.In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

The initiative’s work will be overseen at a secretariat in Australia, the host of this weekend’s G20 summit and a government that has made infrastructure investment a key priority. This office, known as the Global Infrastructure Hub, will foster collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as multilateral banks.

“With a four-year mandate, the Hub will work internationally to help countries improve their general investment climates, reduce barriers to investment, grow their project pipelines and help match investors with projects,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey said Sunday in a joint statement. “This will help improve how infrastructure markets work.”

Some estimate the undertaking could mobilise some two trillion dollars in new infrastructure investment over the next decade and a half. This would be available to be put into electrical grids, roads and bridges, ports and other major projects.

The G20 has emerged as the leading multilateral grouping tasked with promoting economic collaboration. Together, its membership accounts for some 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

With the broad aim of prompting global economic growth, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will work to motivate major institutional investors – banks, pension funds and others – to provide long-term capital to the world’s mounting infrastructure deficits. In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

In recent years, the private sector has turned away from infrastructure in developing countries and emerging economies. Between 2012 and last year alone, such investments declined by nearly 20 percent, to 150 billion dollars, according to the World Bank.

“This new initiative very positively reflects a clear-eyed reading of the evidence that there are infrastructure logjams and obstacles in both the developing and developed world,” Scott Morris, a senior associate at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank, told IPS. “From a donor perspective, this indicates better listening to what these countries are actually asking for.”

Still, Morris notes, it remains unclear what exactly the Global Infrastructure Initiative’s outcomes will be.

“The G20 clearly intends to prioritise infrastructure investment,” he says, “but it’s hard to get a sense of where the priorities are.”

Lucrative opportunity

The Global Infrastructure Initiative is the latest in a string of major new infrastructure-related programmes announced at the multilateral level in recent weeks.

In early October, the World Bank announced a project called the Global Infrastructure Facility, which appears to have a mandate very similar to the new G20 initiative. At the end of the month, the Chinese government announced the creation of a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Many have suggested that the World Bank and G20 announcements were motivated by China’s forceful entry onto this stage. As yet, however, there is little clarity on the G20 project’s strategy.

“With so many discreet initiatives suddenly underway, I wonder if the new G20 project doesn’t cause confusion,” Morris says.

“Right now it’s very difficult to see any division in responsibilities between the G20 and World Bank infrastructure projects. The striking difference between them both and the AIIB is that the Chinese are offering actual capital for investment.”

The idea for the new initiative reportedly came from a business advisory body to the G20, known as the Business 20 (B20). The B20 says it “fully supports” the new Global Infrastructure Initiative.

“The Global Infrastructure Initiative is a critical step in addressing the global growth and employment challenge, and the business community strongly endorses the commitments of the G20 to increase quality investment in infrastructure,” Richard Goyder, the B20 chair, said Monday.

“The B20 estimates that improving project preparation, structuring and delivery could increase infrastructure capacity by [roughly] 20 trillion dollars by 2030.”

Goyder pledged that the business sector would “look to be heavily involved in supporting” the new projects.

Poison pill?

Yet if global business is excited at the prospect of trillions of dollars’ worth of new investment opportunities, civil society is expressing concern that it remains unclear how, or whether, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will impose rules on the new projects to minimise their potential social or environmental impacts.

“Private investment in infrastructure is crucial for closing the infrastructure funding gap and meeting human needs, and the G20 initiative is an important move by governments to catalyse that private investment,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment at Columbia University, told IPS.

“It is key, however, that the initiative and the infrastructure hub develop procedures and practices not only to promote development of infrastructure, but to ensure that projects are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable for host countries and communities.”

Prominent multilateral safeguards policies such as those used by the World Bank are typically not applied to public-private partnerships, which will likely make up a significant focus of the G20’s new infrastructure push. Further, regulatory constraints could be too politically thorny for the G20 to forge new agreement.

“In the 2013 assessment of the G20’s infrastructure initiative by the G20 Development Working Group, only one item of the whole infrastructure agenda ‘stalled’ – and that was the work on environmental safeguards,” Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a think tank, told IPS.

“I’ve always gotten the feedback from the G20 that such policies are matters of national sovereignty.”

The G20 is now hoping that trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending will create up to 10 million jobs over the next 15 years, spurring global economic growth. Yet Alexander questions whether this spending will be a “magic bullet” or a “poison pill”.

“Some of us are old enough to remember how recklessly the petrodollars of the 1970s and 1980s were spent – especially on infrastructure … Then, reckless lenders tried to turn a quick profit without regard to the social, environmental and financial consequences, including unpayable debts,” she says.

“Seeing the devastation wrought by poorly conceived infrastructure, many of us worked to create systems of transparency, safeguards and recourse at the multilateral development banks – systems that are now considered too time-consuming, expensive and imperialistic.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Will New Climate Treaty Be a Thriller, or Shaggy Dog Story? Mon, 17 Nov 2014 13:28:17 +0000 Stephen Leahy The as-yet unfinished exhibit area which forms part of the temporary installations that the host country has built in Lima to hold the COP 20, which runs Dec. 1-12. Credit: COP20 Peru

The as-yet unfinished exhibit area which forms part of the temporary installations that the host country has built in Lima to hold the COP 20, which runs Dec. 1-12. Credit: COP20 Peru

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

This December, 195 nations plus the European Union will meet in Lima for two weeks for the crucial U.N. Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, known as COP 20. The hope in Lima is to produce the first complete draft of a new global climate agreement.
However, this is like writing a book with 195 authors. After five years of negotiations, there is only an outline of the agreement and a couple of ‘chapters’ in rough draft.

The deadline is looming: the new climate agreement to keep climate change to less than two degrees C is to be signed in Paris in December 2015.

“A tremendous amount of work has to be done in Lima,” said Erika Rosenthal, an attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental law organisation and advisor to the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).Climate science is clear that global CO2 emissions must begin to decline before 2020 – otherwise, preventing a 2C temperature rise will be extremely costly and challenging.

“Time is short after Lima and Paris cannot fail,” said Rosenthal. “Paris is the key political moment when the world can decisively move to reap all the benefits of a clean, carbon-free economy.”

Success in Lima will depend in part on Peru’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. As official president of COP 20, Pulgar-Vidal’s determination and energy will be crucial, most observers believe.

Climate change is a major issue in Peru, since Lima and many other parts of the country are dependent on freshwater from the Andes glaciers. Studies show they have lost 30 to 50 percent of their ice in 30 years and many will soon be gone.

Pulgar-Vidal has said he expects Lima to deliver a draft agreement, although it may not include all the chapters. The full draft with all the chapters needs to be completed by May 2015 to have time for final negotiations.

The future climate agreement, which could easily be book-length, will have three main sections or pillars: mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage. The mitigation or emissions reduction pillar is divided into pre-2020 emission reductions and post-2020 sections.

Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, during one of the many events held to promote the COP 20. As chairman of the conference, his negotiating ability and determination will play a decisive role in the progress made by the new draft climate agreement. Credit: COP20 Peru

Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, during one of the many events held to promote the COP 20. As chairman of the conference, his negotiating ability and energy will be crucial to the progress made towards a new draft climate agreement. Credit: COP20 Peru

Both remain contentious, in terms of how much each country should reduce and by when.

Climate science is clear that global CO2 emissions must begin to decline before 2020 – otherwise, preventing a 2C temperature rise will be extremely costly and challenging.

However, emissions in 2014 are expected to be the highest ever at 40 billion tonnes, compared to 32 billion in 2010. This year is also expected to be the warmest on record.

In 2009, at COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed countries agreed to make pre-2020 emission reductions under the Copenhagen Accord. However, those commitments fall far short of what’s needed and no country has since increased their “ambition”, as it is called.

Some – like Japan, Australia and Canada – have even backed away from their commitments.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a special summit with 125 heads of state on Sep. 24 in hopes countries’ would use the event to announce greater reductions. Instead, developed countries like the U.S. made general promises to do more while hundreds of thousands of people around the world marched to demand their leaders to take action.

The ambition deadlock was evident at the U.N. Bonn Climate Conference in October with developing nations pushing their developed counterparts for greater pre-2020 cuts.

However, the country bloc known as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) proposed a supplementary approach to reducing emissions that involves countries sharing their knowledge, technology and policy mechanisms.

Practical, useful and necessary, this may become a formal part of a new agreement, Rosenthal hopes.

“There were very good discussions around renewable energy and policies to reduce emissions in Bonn,” agrees Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, international policy advisor at CAN-Latin America, a network of NGOs.

“Developed countries need to make new reduction pledges in Lima,” Konstantinidis told TA.

This includes pledges for post-2020 cuts. Europe’s target of at least 40 percent cuts by 2030 is not large enough. Emerging countries like China, Brazil, India and others must also make major cuts since the long-term goal should be a global phase-out of fossil fuel use by 2050 to keep temperatures below 1.5C, he said.

This lower target is what many African and small island countries say is necessary for their long-term survival.

The mitigation pillar still needs agreement on how to measure and verify each country’s emission reductions. It will also need a mechanism to prevent countries from failing to meet their targets, Konstantinidis said.

Ironically, the most advanced mitigation chapter, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), is the most controversial outside of the COP process.

REDD is intended to provide compensation to countries for not exploiting their forests. Companies and countries failing to reduce emissions would pay this compensation.

The Peruvian government wants this finalised in Lima but many civil society and indigenous groups oppose it. Large protest marches against REDD and the idea of putting a price on nature are very likely in Lima, Konstantinidis said.
“Political actors appear totally disconnected from real solutions to tackle global warming,” said Nnimmo Bassey of the No Redd in Africa Network and former head of Friends of the Earth International.

REDD is a “financial conspiracy between rich nations and corporations” happy to trade cash for doing little to reduce their carbon emissions, Bassey said in an interview.

The only way to stop this “false solution” is for a broad alliance of social movements who take to the streets of Lima, he said.

The adaptation pillar is mainly about finance and technology transfer to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. A special Green Climate Fund was set up this year to channel money but is not yet operational.

At COP 15, rich countries said they would provide funding that would reach 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 in exchange for lower emissions reductions. Contributions in 2013 were only 110 million dollars.

Promises made by Germany and Sweden in 2014 amount to nearly two billion dollars, however, payments will be made over a number of years. It is also not clear how much will be new money rather than previously allocated foreign assistance funding.

“Countries need to make new financial commitments in Lima. This includes emerging economies like China and Brazil,” said Konstantinidis.

Loss and damage is the third pillar. It was only agreed to in the dying hours of COP 19 last year in Warsaw, Poland. This pillar is intended to help poor countries cope with current and future economic and non-economic losses resulting from the impacts of climate change.

This pillar is the least developed and will not be completed until after the Paris deadline.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Building Disaster Resilience Amidst Rampant Poverty Mon, 17 Nov 2014 10:51:01 +0000 Amantha Perera Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

Soldiers wait for instructions before they begin search operations at the Meeriyabedda landslide site in central Sri Lanka. Credit: Contributor/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

Of the thousands of landslide-prone villages he has visited and worked with, R M S Bandara, a high-ranking official from Sri Lanka’s National Building Resources Organisation (NBRO), says only one has made him sit up and take note.

Keribathgala, located in the Ratnapura District about 120 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, is the only village out of thousands that keeps a regular tab on the rain gauge donated by the Disaster Management Ministry’s NBRO, the focal point for all landslide-related services in the country.

“It is the only village that calls us back to discuss the information they have and get advice from us. We have distributed thousands of rain gauges, and this has been the only interactive relationship,” Bandara, who heads the NBRO’s Landside Risk Research and Management Division, tells IPS.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs. People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.” -- B Mahendran, a resident of Meeriyabedda
The official said that most villages pay no heed to NBRO advice and training.

“A deadly landslide will occur maybe once every 10 years, so people don’t take notice of them or the dangers they pose,” he explains.

But such negligence can be deadly. On Oct. 29, at 7:15 in the morning, a large section of a hillside in the village of Meeriyabedda in the Badulla District, about 220 km from Colombo, caved in.

Two weeks later, when rescue workers finally gave up looking for victims, 12 bodies had been recovered and 25 were listed as missing.

This was a tragedy that could have been avoided, according to experts like Bandara. There had been two minor landslides in the village in 2005 and 2011. On both occasions the NBRO carried out surveys and recommended that the village be relocated.

In 2009 the NBRO carried out a large-scale community awareness programme that included conducting mock drills and handing a rain gauge over to the village. Bandara says another such programme was carried out last year as well.

All signs at Meeriyabedda prior to the landslide pointed to a disaster waiting to happen. Warnings for relocation had come as early as 2005 and the night before the disaster villagers were alerted to the possibility of a catastrophe. Very few moved out.

Though there is no evidence left of the reading on the rain gauge at Meeriyabedda, a similar device maintained by the NBRO at a nearby school indicated that at least 125 mm of rain had fallen overnight. That information, however, never reached the village.

“People really don’t pay attention to the equipment or the signs, partly [because] disasters don’t occur every day,” Bandara asserts, adding that despite the infrequency of natural hazards, daily vigilance is essential.

Testimony from villagers in Meeriyabedda supports his assessment.

“No one was looking at a rain gauge or other signs,” admits B Mahendran, a resident of the unhappy village. “People in these parts are more worried about where their next meal will come from.”

Villagers here travel 60 km daily to make a wage of about 400 rupees (a little over three dollars). Such hardships are not unusual in this region, home to many of Sri Lanka’s vast plantations. Government data indicate that poverty levels here are over twice the national average of 6.7 percent.

The literacy level in the estate sector is around 70 percent, roughly 20 percent below the national average, and U.N. data indicate that 10 percent of children living on plantations drop out of school before Grade Five, five times the national average dropout rate of just over two percent.

Most victims of this latest landslide were working at a sugarcane plantation about 30 km away, after they lost their jobs in nearby tea plantations, villagers tell IPS.

“Poverty here is a generational issue,” explains Arumugam Selvarani, who has worked as a child health official in Meeriyabedda since 2004. “Government and outside interventions are needed to lessen the impact.” She feels that the government needs to put in more effort to ensure the sector is linked to national planning and systems, and monitor such linkages continuously.

She herself has worked to improve nutrition levels among children for nearly a decade, but she believes that such efforts have “zero impact if they are ad-hoc and infrequent”.

Such initiatives need to be sustained over a long period of time in order to be really effective.

This is especially true in the arena of disaster preparedness, experts say, where government support is needed to keep early warning systems fine-tuned all year round, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where the fallout from natural disasters is always magnified by socio-economic factors like poor housing and food insecurity.

Sri Lanka has made some strides in this regard. Eight months after the 2004 Asian tsunami slammed the country’s coastal areas, the government established the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to oversee preparedness levels around the island.

The 25 DMC district offices coordinate all alerts and evacuations with assistance from the police, the armed forces and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS). In fact a village in the same district where the landslide occurred had a mock drill conducted by the DMC just six days before the disaster.

But DMC officials themselves admit there is an urgent need for a uniform country-wide disaster preparedness mechanism.

“Along the coast we are pretty prepared, because of all the work we have done since 2005, but we need such levels of action now to spread to the rest of the country,” says DMC spokesperson Sarath Lal Kumara.

NBRO’s Bandara has other ideas on how to strengthen disaster resilience. Effective utilisation of available data is topmost on his list. For instance, the NBRO has developed hazard maps for all 10 landslide-prone districts in the island. The map for the Badulla District, accessible online, clearly identifies Meeriyabedda as a high-risk area.

The problem is that no one is using this important information.

Bandara says these maps should form the basis of building codes and evacuation routes. Sadly, this is not the case.

DMC’s Kumara tells IPS that in a country comprising 65,000 sq km, land is at a premium and land management is a delicate issue. “There are so many overlapping concerns and agencies.”

He says it is not easy to follow each hazard map to the letter. The houses hit by the landslide, for instance, were built years before the maps were developed – relocating them would be a huge challenge, and efforts to do so sometimes run into resistance from the villagers themselves.

What experts and villagers can agree on is the need to have a dedicated government official overseeing disaster preparedness levels. Some experts suggest using the Divisional Secretariats, Sri Lanka’s lowest administrative units, to monitor their respective areas and feed into the DMC’s national network.

“All the drills, all the preparations will be useless unless there is an official or an office that is unambiguously tasked with coordinating such efforts in real time,” according to Indu Abeyratne, who heads SLRCS’s early warning systems.

In Meeriyabedda, such ambiguity cost three-dozen lives. Perhaps it is time to realign the system, to ensure that a trained official is present at the village level to carry information to the proper authorities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Latin America Moves Towards Decarbonising the Economy Fri, 14 Nov 2014 07:57:23 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz 1 OPINION: Now Is the Time to Tackle Malnutrition and Its Massive Human Costs Thu, 13 Nov 2014 13:26:04 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva and Margaret Chan Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Sadhana Ghimire, 23, makes sure to give her 18-month-old daughter nutritious food, such as porridge containing grains and pulses, in order to prevent stunting. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By José Graziano da Silva and Margaret Chan
ROME/GENEVA, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The scourge of malnutrition affects the most vulnerable in society, and it hurts most in the earliest stages of life. Today, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry, about 11 percent of the global population.

Undernutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all child deaths, and a quarter of living children are stunted due to inadequate nutrition. Micronutrient deficiencies – due to diets lacking in vitamins and minerals, also known as “hidden hunger” – affects two billion people.Our food systems are simply not sustainable or healthy today, let alone in 2050, when we will have to feed more than nine billion people. We need to produce more food but also nutritious food and to do so in ways that safeguard the capacity of future generations to feed themselves.

Another worrying form of malnutrition – obesity – is on the rise. More than 500 million adults are obese as a result of diets containing excess fat, sugars and salt.

This exposes people to a greater risk of noncommunicable diseases – like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer – now the top causes of death in the world. Poor diet and physical inactivity also account for 10 percent of the global burden of disease.

Many developing countries now face multiple burdens of malnutrition, with people living in the same communities – sometimes even the same households – suffering from undernutrition, hidden hunger and obesity.

These numbers are shocking and must serve as a global call to action.

Besides the terrible human suffering, unhealthy diets also have a detrimental impact on the ability of countries to develop and prosper – the cost of malnutrition, in all its forms, is estimated between four and five percent of global GDP.

Government leaders, scientists, nutritionists, farmers, civil society and private sector representatives from around the world will gather in Rome from Nov. 19 to 21 for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2). It is an opportunity they cannot afford to miss: making peoples’ right to a healthy diet a global reality.

Current food systems are unsustainable and unhealthy

Creating healthy and sustainable food systems is key to overcoming malnutrition in all its forms – from hunger to obesity.

Food production has tripled since 1945, while average food availability per person has risen by only 40 percent. Our food systems have succeeded in increasing production, however, this has come at a high environmental cost and has not been enough to end hunger.

Meanwhile, food systems have continued to evolve with an even greater proportion of food being processed and traded, leading to greater availability of foods with high energy, fats, sugars and salt.

Our food systems are simply not sustainable or healthy today, let alone in 2050, when we will have to feed more than nine billion people. We need to produce more food but also nutritious food and to do so in ways that safeguard the capacity of future generations to feed themselves.

Put simply: we need healthy and sustainable food systems – that produce the right balance of foods, in sufficient quantity and quality, and that is accessible to all – if we want to lead healthy, productive and sustainable lives.

Acting now

In preparation for ICN2, countries have agreed to a Political Declaration and a Framework for Action on nutrition containing concrete recommendations to develop coherent public policies in agriculture, trade, social protection, education and health that promote healthy diets and better nutrition at all stages of life.

The Framework for Action gives governments a plan for developing and implementing national policies and investments throughout the food chain to ensure healthy, diverse and balanced diets for all.

This can include strengthening local food production and processing, especially by family farmers and small-scale producers, and linking it to school meals; reducing fat, sugars and salt in processed food; having schools and other public institutions offer healthy diets; protecting children from marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks; and allowing people to make informed choices regarding what they eat.

While government health, agriculture, and education ministries should take the lead, this task includes all involved in producing, distributing and selling food.

The ICN2 Framework for Action also suggests greater investments to guarantee universal access to effective nutrition interventions, such as protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, and increasing nutrients available to mothers.

Countries can start implementing these actions now. The first step is to establish national nutrition targets to implement already agreed-upon global targets, as set out in the Framework for Action. ICN2 is the time and place to make these commitments.

FAO and WHO are ready to assist countries in this effort. By transforming commitment into action and cooperating more effectively with one another and with other stakeholders, the world has a real chance of ending the multiple burdens of malnutrition in all its forms within a generation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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How a Small Tribe Turned Tragedy into Opportunity Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:59:20 +0000 Malini Shankar An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PICHAVARAM, India, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn’t bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

“If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes." -- Nagamuthu, an Irula tribesman and tsunami survivors
Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flocked to India’s southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out.

They were finally included on the government’s List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

Under the aegis of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Irulas are now part of a major livelihood scheme that has boosted monthly earnings seven-fold, to roughly 21,000 rupees or about 350 dollars in the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest of Tamil Nadu where their traditional homes are located.

Some 180 Irula families are directly benefitting from training programmes and subsidies granted to their tribal cooperatives, also known as self-help groups.

Members of the tribe are sharpening their skills at fishing, sustainable aquaculture and crab fattening, gradually moving further and further away from a life of veritable servitude to big landowners.

Perhaps most importantly, Irulas are incorporating mangrove protection and conservation into their daily lives, a step they see as necessary to the long-term survival of the entire community.

Indeed, it was the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, located close to the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, that spared the community massive loss of life during the tsunami, protecting some 4,500 Irulas, or 900 families, from the full impact of the waves.

Snuggled between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south, the Pichavaram forest spans some 1,100 hectares, its complex root system and inter-tidal ecosystem offering a sturdy barrier against seawater intrusion, waves and flooding.

According to statistics provided by Dr. Sivakumar, a marine biologist with the MSSRF in Chennai, the unlucky few who perished in the tsunami were those who were caught outside of the ecosystem’s protective embrace – some seven people from the Kannagi Nagar and Pillumedu villages, as well as 64 people who were stranded on the MGR Thittu, both located on sandbars devoid of mangroves.

The experience opened many tribal members’ eyes to the inestimable value of mangroves and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of the sea, sparking a grassroots-level conservation effort under the provisions of India’s Forest Rights Act.

“Until we were enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List we did not know our rights, we were neither successful as hunter-gatherers nor as daily wage agricultural labourers,” says 55-year-old Pichakanna, an Irula tribal man who has happily exchanged agricultural employment for fishing and aquaculture activities that allow him to participate in mangrove conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu.

His salary now comes from prawn farming in the biodiverse mangrove forests, he tells IPS.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the MSSRF, believes that “by conserving mangrove forests [we are] protecting the most productive coastal ecosystem that guarantees […] livelihood and ecological security.

“Bioshields are an indispensable part of Disaster Risk Resilience,” he adds.

This union between job creation and disaster management has been a stroke of unprecedented good fortune for the Irula people.

Thirty-three-year-old Nagamuthu, an Irula member whose parents – hailing from the Pichavaram forests – survived the tsunami, tells IPS, “If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes.

“Now we have developed a mangrove plantation on forest land granted to us by the government, and the Forest Rights Act has also given us fishing rights in the Protected Area of the Pichavaram Mangroves.”

Such developments are crucial at a time when mangroves are disappearing fast. According to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss.”

By 2050, South Asia could lose as much as 35 percent of its mangroves that existed in 2000. Emissions resulting from such losses make up about a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report says.

Irulas now harvest minor forest produce from the rich waters around the mangroves, such as clusters of natural pearl oysters, which are very high in protein, for their own consumption.

“We have also learnt the skill of crab trapping, and we have installed crab fattening devices close to our homes deep in the mangrove creeks,” Nagamuthu tells IPS. “This has helped us carve out a sustainable livelihood.”

Tribe members have also been taught to dig canals in the eco-friendly ‘fish bone’ pattern that helps bring tidal creeks directly to their doorstep, where they can catch fresh fish for breakfast.

This canal system, now recommended by the Government of India, also helps in decreasing soil salinity, prevents mangrove degradation, and improves fish yields.

This, in turn, has improved livelihood security. Coupled with the acquisition of new and improved equipment – such as nets, boats, oars, engines, hooks and traps – many fisher families have completely turned their lives around.

Residents of villagers such as Killai, Pillumedu, Kannaginagar, Kalaingar, Vadakku, T.S. Pettai, and Pichavaram have now created a community fund that gathers 30 percent of each families’ monthly income; the savings have been used to construct a village temple, a school and drinking water facilities for 900 families from some seven villages.

Pichakanna, who is now the village elder for the newly established MGR Nagar Township, tells IPS proudly that the community fund has also helped establish an ‘early warning helpline’, which uses voice SMS technology to inform fisherfolk about wave height and wind direction, as well as provide six-hourly weather forecasts and early warnings of approaching cyclones.

A voice SMS broadcast aimed at women also passes on information about health and hygiene, maternity benefits and minimum wages.

While heads of states and development experts fly around the world to discuss the post-2015 ‘sustainable development’ agenda, here in Pichavaram, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life – and they are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Legal Vacuum Fuels Conflicts Over Water in El Salvador Thu, 13 Nov 2014 06:49:06 +0000 Edgardo Ayala Jeniffer Hernández, 12, fills her water jug at the community tap in the village of Los Pinos in the municipality of Tacuba in western El Salvador. This is one of the taps where those who have no piped water in their homes have free access to water. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Jeniffer Hernández, 12, fills her water jug at the community tap in the village of Los Pinos in the municipality of Tacuba in western El Salvador. This is one of the taps where those who have no piped water in their homes have free access to water. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
TACUBA, El Salvador , Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

Rural communities and social organisations in El Salvador agree that the lack of specific laws is one of the main hurdles to resolving disputes over water in the country.

“If the right to water was regulated in the constitution, we wouldn’t be caught up in this conflict,” David Díaz, a representative of the Asociación de Desarrollo Comunal Bendición de Dios (Adescobd), which administered a rural water supply system, told IPS.

He lamented what he called one of the biggest setbacks regarding water supplies in this Central American nation.

On Oct. 30, right-wing lawmakers blocked the single-chamber legislature from ratifying a previously approved reform to article 69 of the constitution, which granted the right to water and food the status of a human right, thus forcing the state to guarantee universal access.

Adescobd emerged in late 1995 in Tacuba, a town in the western department (province) of Ahuachapán, 116 km west of San Salvador, to manage a project for a piped water system that would supply seven villages.

Since 2007 the association has been caught up in a bitter dispute with the mayor of Tacuba, Joel Ernesto Ramírez, over control of the system.“We used to have to walk two hours to the Nejapa river to fill up our jugs; now we can get water right here.” -- María Esther Gómez

“The project is ours, we have been working hard, our husbands have gone hungry working to set up the system….it’s not the mayor’s project,” Ermelinda Hernández, a resident of the village of La Puerta, told IPS while washing cooked corn before making tortillas for lunch.

The members of the association built the water supply system after the mayor’s office denied them support and they obtained funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and technical assistance from Creative Associates International. But local residents of the seven villages, which are home to a combined total of 12,000 people, said the mayor had taken over the project.

They complain that the mayor, arguing that former administrators – who have since been removed by the association – drove it into bankruptcy, is attempting to gain possession of the farm where the water that supplies the system emerges, and thus control the water supply.

They also allege that Ramírez plans to sell water to other communities outside the municipality and not involved in the project, which would leave the seven villages short of water.

IPS was unable to contact the mayor, to hear his version of events.

With the constitutional reform, “we would have had the best legal tool to defend ourselves, the constitution would have given us the support we needed,” said Díaz, who is from the village of Loma Larga.

But the legislators of the right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN) and Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) refused to ratify the constitutional reform.

The amendment was approved in April 2012 by 81 of 84 lawmakers, right at the end of the three-year legislative period.

In this Central American country of 6.2 million, constitutional reforms must be approved during one legislative period and ratified with two-thirds of the vote (56) in the following – in this case, during the period that ends in May 2015.

The aim of the constitutional amendment was to make sure that the state gave top priority to the use of water by the population rather than to economic interests, activist Karen Ramírez, a spokesperson for the Water Forum, which groups more than 100 organisations fighting for the right to water, told IPS.

The reform established that it was the obligation of the state to use and preserve water resources and ensure access for the population. That commitment required public policies and laws to regulate the sector.

Piped water in El Salvador is supplied by the Administración Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, an autonomous state company without the authority to decide who has a right to water, in case of conflicts or shortages.

Neither does it have jurisdiction over community projects like the one in Tacuba, nor a voice in the present conflict.

Currently, the residents of the villages involved in Adescobd have unlimited water supplies, even though in May 2014 the Supreme Court threw out a legal injunction against the closure of the association by the mayor.

Adescobd is preparing to file a complaint against the violation of its rights with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), the association’s lawyer, Edwin Trejo, explained to IPS.

Visiting the affected communities, IPS talked in Los Pinos with men, women and children who were lined up on a plot of land next to a dirt trail, waiting to fill up their jug at a community tap connected to the system, which provides water free of charge.

“We used to have to walk two hours to the Nejapa river to fill up our jugs; now we can get water right here,” said one of the women, María Esther Gómez, indignant like the rest over what they see as maneuvering aimed at taking their water.

The dispute in Tacuba is just one example of the conflicts over water in El Salvador, because of the lack of laws, regulations and oversight.

Another case is the conflict in El Tablón, in the municipality of Sociedad in the eastern department of Morazán. The local inhabitants of the villages of Los Amayas, El Carrizal and El Centro are fighting with the people of a fourth village, Las Cruces, for control over the water.

The system of piped water was built by the four villages in the 1980s.

“They think we’ll leave them without water, but that’s not true; what we want is for it to be distributed in equal parts; we don’t want them to take advantage,” Aura Zapata, a small farmer, told IPS, referring to the situation with the people of Las Cruces.

In El Salvador, 93.5 percent of the urban population has access to piped water, compared to 69.8 percent in rural areas, where 15 percent are supplied by wells and another 15 percent by other means, according to the Multiple Household Survey, carried out in May 2013.

The Water Forum’s Ramírez said the legislators opposed to the constitutional amendment wanted to protect the interests of powerful business groups, who believe their revenues would be threatened if the constitution were to put a priority on access to water for the population.

The failure to ratify the constitutional amendment came on top of another setback for the advocates of the democratisation of access to water.

After years of delays, the legislature is finally debating a general law on water. But in the committee in charge of the bill, right-wing lawmakers modified the key article of the text, art. 10, which created a new regulatory agency, the National Water Commission (Conagua), under the Environment Ministry.

On Oct. 7, legislators from the PCN, ARENA and the Great National Alliance (GANA) introduced a change, according to which Conagua would be controlled by a new autonomous body, with the participation of five business chambers and two state agencies.

“When there are conflicts where the regulatory agency must decide in favour of the people, the vote there would put the rights of the poor at a disadvantage,” Ramírez said.

The governing left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the Environment Ministry say they will revoke that modification during the legislature’re plenary debate of the bill. The FMLN is the strongest force in parliament, but it only has 31 deputies, compared to ARENA’s 28.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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How SADC is Fighting Wildlife Crime Wed, 12 Nov 2014 10:10:55 +0000 Mabvuto Banda South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
LILONGWE, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

“We are underpaid, have no guns and in most instances are outnumbered by the poachers,” says Stain Phiri, a ranger at Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve — a 986 km reserve said to have the most abundant and a variety of wildlife in Malawi —  which also happens to be one of the country’s biggest game parks under siege by poachers.

Phiri’s fears probably sum up the reason why there has been a surge in poaching of elephants tusks and rhino horns in southern Africa in recent years.

“We can’t fight the motivated gangs of poachers who are heavily armed and ready to kill anyone getting in their way,” Phiri tells IPS.

He says he is paid a monthly field allowance equivalent to about 20 dollars dollars, which is not enough to take care of his family of six.

“My colleagues and I risk our lives everyday protecting wildlife and it seems we are not appreciated because even when we arrest poachers, the police release them,” says Phiri.

Malawi’s Wildlife Act, he says, also needs serious amendments to empower and protect ranges and to also impose stiffer penalties if the government is serious about tackling wildlife crimes.

Phiri’s story resonates across southern Africa and gives insight into the challenges the region is facing maintaining transfrontier parks and managing wildlife crime.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network that looks at trade in animals and plants globally, says well-equipped, sufficiently resourced rangers are needed on the ground to protect the animals and prevent poaching in the first instance.

Dr Richard Thomas, the global communications co-ordinator of TRAFFIC, tells IPS that most countries in southern Africa have increasingly become the target for poachers because it is a region that has the most rhino and elephants in the world.

“Southern Africa is home to more rhinos than any other region in the world, with around 95 percent of all white rhino and 40 percent of all black rhino,” he says.

According to TRAFFIC, 25,000 African elephants were killed in 2011, while 22,000 were killed in 2012 and just over 20,000 in 2013. This, TRAFFIC says, is out of a population estimated between 420,000 and 650,000.

Last year, Zambia lost a total of 135 elephants to poaching. In 2012 the country lost 124 elephants and in 2011 96 elephants were killed by poachers, according Zambian Tourism and Arts Minister Sylvia Masebo.

The same is true for Mozambique. The country’s local media have quoted Tourism Minister Carvalho Muaria as saying that the elephant population has declined by about half since the early 1970s. There are currently only about 20,000 left.

The Niassa Reserve, an area of 42,000 square km and home to about two-thirds of Mozambique’s elephants, now has about 12,000 elephants. Poachers killed 500 elephants last year and have wiped out Mozambique’s rhinos, Muaria says.

TRAFFIC says between 2007 and 2013 rhino poaching increased by 7,700 percent on the continent. There are only estimated to now be 5,000 black rhino and 20,000 white rhino.

Last month, South Africa reported that it had lost 558 rhinos to poachers so far this year.

But not all hope is lost. Southern Africa is responding to the threats to its wildlife by collaborating between countries that share borders and protected areas for wildlife.

A case in point is this year’s anti-poaching agreement between Mozambique and South Africa, which aims to stop rhino poaching mostly in the Kruger National Park, which shares a border with Mozambique. The two countries agreed to share intelligence and jointly develop anti-poaching techniques to curb rhino poaching.

Mozambique, said to be a major transit route for rhino horn trafficked to Asia, this year approved a new law that will impose heavy penalties of up to 12 years on anyone found guilty of poaching rhino.

“Previous laws didn’t penalise poaching, but we think this law will discourage Mozambicans who are involved in poaching,” Muaria tells IPS.

South Africa, according to press reports, is also considering legalising the rhino horn trade in an attempt to limit illegal demand by allowing the sale of horns from rhino that have died of natural causes.

Ten years ago the 15-member SADC regional block established the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) directorate. Since then regional protocols, strategies and programmes have been developed and passed, among them the SADC Transboundary Use and Protection of Natural Resources Programme.

Under the SADC Transboundary Use and Protection of Natural Resources Programme is the Regional Transfrontier Conservation Area Programme (TFCA) and Malawi and Zambia have benefited from this arrangement so far.

Malawi’s Minister of Tourism and Wildlife Kondwani Nakhumwa tells IPS that the Nyika Transfrontier Conservation Area project has helped reduce poaching in Nyika National Park, the country’s biggest reserve.

The Malawi-Zambia TFCA includes the Nyika-North Luangwa component in Zambia situated on a high undulating montane grassland plateau rising over 2000m above the bushveld and wetlands of the Vwaza Marsh.

During summer a variety of wild flowers and orchids bloom on the highlands, making it one of Africa’s most scenic views unlike any seen in most other game parks.

“Through the project, Vwaza has managed to confiscate 10 guns, removed 322 wire snares and arrested 32 poachers,” Nakhumwa tells IPS.

Humphrey Nzima, the international coordinator for the Malawi-Zambia TFCA, says that since the project was launched there has been a general increase in animal populations.

“Significant increases were noted for elephant, hippo, buffalo, roan antelope, hartebeest, zebra, warthog and reedbuck,” says Nzima citing surveys conducted in the Vwaza Marsh and Nyika national park.

The escalating poaching crisis and conflicts on the ground occurring in many national parks across Africa will be one of the topics of discussion at this year’s International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Parks Congress 2014, which is currently taking place in Sydney, Australia.

“In Sydney, we will tackle these issues in the search of better and fairer ways to conserve the exceptional natural and cultural richness of these places,” says Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of Gabon and patron of the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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U.N. Chief Eyes Upcoming Summits to Resolve Development Crisis Tue, 11 Nov 2014 18:31:42 +0000 Thalif Deen IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands/IPS

IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The continued widespread economic recession – aggravated by the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa – is threatening to undermine the U.N.’s highly-touted post-2015 development agenda.

Still, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is placing his trust and confidence on two key upcoming summit meetings: a G20 gathering of world leaders in Brisbane, Australia later this week, and the International Conference on Financing for Development (ICFD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next July.

In an interview with IPS, just before his departure to Brisbane, he described the G20 as “the world’s primary global economic forum”, while the ICFD, he predicted, will be “one of the most important conferences in shaping sustainable development goals (SDGs).”

Ban has already cautioned world leaders of the urgent need for “a robust financial mechanism” to implement the proposed SDGs – and such a mechanism, he said, should be put in place long before the adoption of these goals in September 2015.

In a letter to G20 leaders, he says the successful implementation of the growth and sustainable development agendas will depend largely on mobilising “all sources of financing”.

“It is difficult to depend on public funding alone,” he told IPS, stressing the need for financing from multiple sources – including public, private, domestic and international.

The G20, a rare mix of both developed and developing countries, includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus the European Union.

Overall, the G20 represents about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and over 75 per cent of global trade.

The G20 president, this time around Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, usually invites several guest countries to participate in the summit. The presidency rotates on a geographical basis.

The countries which previously hosted the G20 summit include the United States (in 2008 and 2009), the United Kingdom (2009), Canada (2010), the Republic of Korea (2010), France (2011), Mexico (2012) and Russia (2013).

At the meeting in Brisbane Nov. 15-16, Abbott will welcome Spain as a permanent invitee; Mauritania as the 2014 chair of the African Union; Myanmar as the 2014 chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN); Senegal, representing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; New Zealand; and Singapore.

The ICFD, scheduled for July 2015, is billed as a U.N. conference and will be attended by all 193 member states.

Speaking of financing for development, Ban said official development assistance (ODA), from rich nations to poorer ones, “is necessary but not sufficient.”

According to the latest available statistics, only five countries – Norway (1.07 percent), Sweden (1.02), Luxembourg (1.00), Denmark (0.85) and the United Kingdom (0.72) – have reached the longstanding target of 0.7 of gross national income as ODA to the world’s poorer nations.

Meanwhile, the economic recession is taking place amidst the millions still living in hunger (over 800 million), jobless (more than 200 million), water-starved (over 750 million) and in extreme poverty (more than one billion), according to the United Nations.

Asked about a proposal for innovative sources of financing for development – including a tax on foreign exchange transactions – Ban said he has appointed a former French cabinet minister, Philippe Douster-Blazy, as his special adviser to explore these funding sources.

The proposal for innovative financing was approved at the 2002 ICFD in Mexico and it has raised about 2.0 billion dollars so far.

Ban’s most formidable task will be to ensure that rich countries deliver on their pledges, made in 2009, to provide a staggering 100 billion dollars by 2020 for a Green Climate Fund to prevent the most disastrous consequences of climate change.

“I need at least 10 billion dollars to operationalise the fund,” he said. So far, about 2.5 billion dollars have been made available.

Meanwhile, in his letter to the G20 leaders, Ban says new threats, including geopolitical tensions and the Ebola crisis, “have emerged to create further uncertainty” for the U.N.’s development agenda.

“The G20 Brisbane summit is well timed to provide the leadership that will translate into strong global growth and positive change in people’s lives,” he wrote. “Therefore, I urge you and your fellow leaders to seize the moment in Brisbane and set the stage for success in our shared work to build a more sustainable and prosperous world for all.”

The United Nations, he said, “stands ready to partner with you in your endeavour in Brisbane – and beyond.”

But a lingering question remains: how many of the world leaders will respond to the call?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Why Are G20 Governments Subsidising Dangerous Climate Change? Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:33:33 +0000 Shelagh Whitley Governments continue to subsidise exploration for fossil fuels despite pledges to support the transition to clean energy. Credit: Flickr/Leszek Kozlowski

Governments continue to subsidise exploration for fossil fuels despite pledges to support the transition to clean energy. Credit: Flickr/Leszek Kozlowski

By Shelagh Whitley
LONDON, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

Just a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave its starkest warning yet that the vast majority of existing oil, gas and coal reserves need to be kept in the ground, a new report reveals that governments are flagrantly ignoring these warnings and continuing to subsidise exploration for fossil fuels.

The report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International (OCI) shows that G20 governments are propping up fossil fuel exploration to the tune of 88 billion dollars every year through national subsidies, investment by state owned enterprise and public finance.

Shelagh Whitley, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

Shelagh Whitley, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

And this is only a small part of total government support to producing and consuming fossil fuels, which is estimated at 775 billion dollars a year.

The G20 continues to provide these subsidies – mostly hidden from public view – in spite of repeated pledges to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, address climate change, and support the transition to clean energy.

The subsidies provided to exploration by the G20 alone are almost equivalent to total global support for clean energy (101 billion dollars), tilting the playing field towards oil, gas and coal.

The report also shows that G20 governments spend more than double what the top 20 private companies are spending to look for new oil, gas and coal reserves. This suggests that companies depend on public support for their exploration activities.“Fossil fuel exploration subsidies are fuelling dangerous climate change; this support is increasingly uneconomic; and oil, gas and coal will not address the energy needs of the poorest and most vulnerable”

As finding fossil fuels gets more risky, expensive and energy intensive, and the prices of oil, gas and coal continue to fall, companies are only likely to become more dependent on tax payers’ money to continue exploration.  This was also demonstrated by the recent request by the United Kingdom’s oil and gas industry for further tax breaks to address rising operating costs in the North Sea.

Some will claim that although these subsidies are uneconomic, exceptions can be made. After all, the arguments go, we need fossil fuels to provide energy access – and we can keep burning oil, gas and coal if we just use carbon capture and storage.

This simply isn’t true. Doing so will drive dangerous climate change, with the impacts falling first on the most vulnerable people in the poorest countries and regions.

First, when it comes to energy access, it is actually through clean energy that we will be able to provide heat and electricity to the poorest.

According to the International Energy Agency, most new investment needs to be in distributed energy, including in mini-grid and off-grid options that most often rely on renewable energy sources. If G20 governments redirected 49 billion dollars a year – just over half of what they currently provide in support to fossil fuel exploration – we could achieve universal energy access as soon as 2030.

Second, there has only been very limited application of carbon capture technology so far.

The first and only full-scale ‘commercial’ carbon capture and storage project, launched this year in Canada, relies on government subsidies and sells the captured carbon to the oil industry, which uses it to extract even more fossil fuels. It is not a sustainable model.

In short: fossil fuel exploration subsidies are fuelling dangerous climate change; this support is increasingly uneconomic; and oil, gas and coal will not address the energy needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.

The G20 countries have the resources to support a transition to clean energy. They can set an example for the world by shifting national subsidies, investment by state-owned enterprise and public finance away from fossil fuels and toward renewables and efficiency.

G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane this week must recognise this and make good on their existing pledges. Immediately phasing out fossil fuel exploration subsidies would be the right place to start.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Fishing for Peace in Korea Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:21:38 +0000 John Feffer and Michal Witkowski The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

By John Feffer and Michal Witkowski
WASHINGTON, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

Environmental problems, by their nature, don’t respect borders. Air and sea pollution often affect countries that had nothing to do with their production. Many extreme weather events, like typhoons, strike more than one country. Climate change affects everyone.

These environmental problems can aggravate existing conflicts among countries. But they can also bring countries together in joint efforts to find solutions. A case in point is the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in Korea.

The NLL is the oft-disputed border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the peninsula. Although the two countries agreed to a territorial boundary at the 38th parallel following the Korean War armistice, they have never agreed on the maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea, which threads between a number of islands and through rich fishing grounds.

Over the years, North and South Korea have exchanged artillery fire across the NLL, and naval vessels as well as fishing boats have clashed in the area on a number of occasions.

Various environmental challenges have only sharpened the conflict. But with a new imperative to address these environmental problems, the NLL can offer the two Koreas an opportunity to chart a new relationship for the 21st century.

Anatomy of a Dispute

North Korea maintains six naval squadrons on the [Northern Limit Line]. The North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels. The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority.
The NLL region has been a zone of contention between North and South Korea for more than six decades. It has been the site of several clashes between the Koreas.

Among the most notable are the naval confrontations of 1999 and 2002, the 2009 gunboat incident near Daecheong Island, the 2010 artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, and the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship.

This maritime border is heavily militarised. North Korea maintains six naval squadrons there. According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels—around 60 percent of which are stationed around the coastal borders.

Due to the decline of the North Korean economy, the fleet mostly consists of smaller vessels used for covert operations and for escorting fishing boats around the NLL.

The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority. It’s further reinforced by the presence of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in nearby Yokosuka, Japan.

South Korean troops, along with their American counterparts, carry out annual drills in the region, which always raise tensions along the disputed maritime border.

North Korea does not recognise the present border arrangement. Furthermore, the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) regime set by the U.N. – which grants states special resource exploration rights in a sea zone stretching 200 miles from their land borders – cannot be applied in a close-quarter situation such as the NLL.

The fishing zones that lie within the NLL are the source of fierce contention between both South and North Korea.

One of the major arguments that North Korea has made around the disputed NLL is that South Korea has access to the majority of fisheries within the current boundaries, while the North occupies far less territory than it potentially could.

When the NLL was being drawn up, the international standard for territorial water limits was three nautical miles; by the 1970s, however, 12 nautical miles became the norm. The North’s argument is that the current setting prevents it from accessing neighbouring sea areas, which, in Pyongyang’s view, should belong to the North.

Such a border set-up fails to acknowledge that small islands, such as Yeonpyeong Island, are not equivalent to continental masses in terms of generating maritime boundaries.

Environmental issues

Overfishing and other destructive fishing practices that have continued for decades have had perhaps the greatest impact on the NLL’s environmental situation. Such activities have caused habitat destruction and biomass change in the Yellow Sea.

For instance, due to overfishing between the 1960s and the 1980s, the number of invertebrates and fish dropped by over 40 percent. With the decrease in fish populations, more effort is required to maintain the desired catch capacity, and many commercially significant species have been severely depleted. As a result, the species composition and the relative proportions of the fish found in the region have been altered.

One country alone cannot ensure the region’s sustainability. The trans-boundary nature of these issues requires a cooperative approach.

The nature of the Yellow Sea – and in particular the seabed on which the NLL is located – limits water circulation, increasing the amount of harmful sediments and aggravating the quality of the water. This has decreased the sea’s ability to “cleanse itself,” making the area around the NLL even more vulnerable to pollution and the harmful effects of human activities on land.

Habitat depletion can greatly affect local communities as well as cause problems for the fishing industry. Development projects on the South Korean side have been a major factor in this process.

More than 30 percent of marshland fields have been lost in South Korea between 1975 and 2005 due to dam construction, embankment, and dikes. Rice paddy fields have been lost as a result of reclamation and the lowering of water tables in nearby lakes.

An ever-increasing market demand for seafood boosts the profitability of short-term-oriented fishing activities. Insufficient pollution prevention only aggravates the situation.

Possible Solutions

As a result of the tense security situation and the unresolved border – along with the lack of a peace treaty between the Koreas to formally end the Korean War – any sort of consensus on the matter of the NLL in the context of inter-Korean relations is difficult to achieve.

One proposed solution is the establishment of a joint fishing zone between the two countries. This zone would boost the North’s fishing industry and could serve as a start to a trust-building process between the neighbours.

Such a process would be based on increased economic cooperation in the NLL region that could lead to further improvements in relations and make future collaboration more likely.

The “Sunshine Policy,” a period of North-South engagement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was an attempt at establishing such cooperation. In the negotiations regarding the NLL during that period, North Korea demanded changes in the border situation that had to be met before it could agree to participate in the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

The South reportedly agreed to this condition. However, the summit failed to bring any real closure to the matter: concrete decisions were left to be discussed in the future.

The overall framework dating back to the Sunshine Policy’s prime is still in place. For instance, the Kaesong Industrial Park – a joint North-South venture on the northern side of the DMZ – is still operational. Ties between the Koreas could be further enhanced by cooperation around the NLL region.

Some ideas have already been put forward and were initially agreed upon by both sides. In 2000, for example, the two countries came to an agreement along the maritime boundary on the east side of the peninsula where South Korean boats shared the profits from their squid fishing in Northern waters.

Also in 2000, the two sides agreed to create a special peace and cooperation zone around the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.

Another proposal was to combine a joint fishing zone with a common industrial complex in Haeju, a port city on the Northern side. Finally, the Koreas agreed to establish a “peace sea” from the island of Yeonpyeong right to the estuary of the Han River.

No military presence would be allowed in this area. With the South’s withdrawal from the Sunshine Policy framework under the right-wing President Lee Myung-Bak, however, the joint projects were put on hold.

A resuscitation of such joint projects could potentially move cooperation beyond the issue of the NLL to other areas of both business and policy-making. Two major obstacles would need to be overcome in order for such a solution to work.

First, an independent body to monitor the area would need to be appointed to prevent breaches of the agreement and to ensure that both parties follow environmental rules. This mechanism would have to recognise the specificity of the issues surrounding the NLL and formulate policies accordingly.

Second, the two sides would have to agree on a peaceful dispute resolution mechanism.

A universal solution that can resolve the NLL issue does not exist. A carefully devised policy that takes into account the political and economic tensions between the two Koreas may be the answer.

Importantly, the NLL would have to be gradually demilitarised to reduce the probability of any unwanted conflict that could destabilise the area. However, there is minimal possibility that the two countries will agree to reduce their military positions given that the two countries signed the armistice nearly six decades ago but never agreed on a peace treaty.

Thus, for such a solution to become possible, economic cooperation must come first.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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As TPP Trade Talks Miss Third Deadline, Opponents Claim Momentum Tue, 11 Nov 2014 00:53:49 +0000 Carey L. Biron Rally outside the TPP talks in Sydney, Oct. 25, 2014. Credit: SumOfUs/cc by 2.0

Rally outside the TPP talks in Sydney, Oct. 25, 2014. Credit: SumOfUs/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

For the third year in a row, government negotiators for 12 Pacific Rim countries have missed an internal deadline to reach agreement on a controversial U.S.-led trade deal.

And though negotiators for the accord, known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), say the process is nearing completion, critics of the deal are expressing optimism that both public opinion and political timing are increasingly against the deal.“TPP proponents know they’re under the clock. The resistance against the TPP is as strong as it’s ever been, and is only growing stronger.” -- Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign

“The reason the Obama administration keeps missing deadline after deadline, year after year, is that it’s pushing an extremely unpopular agenda that benefits a handful of big corporations at the expense of the economy, environment and public health in each TPP country and beyond,” Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Citizens Trade Campaign, an advocacy group that opposes the TPP, told IPS.

“People and parliaments across the Pacific Rim are starting to realise that the TPP would be bad news for their countries. That includes here in the U.S.”

TPP negotiators confirmed the news on Monday at a regional summit in Beijing. President Barack Obama’s administration, which has been spearheading the TPP talks, had set the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping as a key target for agreement.

President Obama has made the TPP a central part of his attempt to reorient the United States towards Asia – and to economically circumscribe China, which isn’t party to the talks. On Monday, the president himself was in Beijing, where he acknowledged that the TPP process now needed additional political pressure.

“During the past few weeks, our teams have made good progress in resolving several outstanding issues regarding a potential agreement. Today is an opportunity at the political level for us to break some remaining logjams,” the president told trade ministers in Beijing.

“To ensure that TPP is a success, we also have to make sure that all of our people back home understand the benefits for them – that it means more trade, more good jobs, and higher incomes for people throughout the region, including the United States.”

The president said the TPP talks have the possibility of resulting in a “historic achievement”. A statement released by the 12 countries party to the talks suggested that “the end” of the negotiations is “coming into focus”.

Yet disagreements remain, with media reports pointing to agricultural protectionism as proving to be particularly thorny. Others say that substantive frustration remains over a raft of disparate issues, many far from traditional trade concerns – including environmental impact, labour safeguards, medicinal pricing, patent rules and investors’ ability to circumvent national law, among other concerns.

In many ways, it is the broad scope of issues on which the TPP touches that is responsible for strengthening public concern. Now, with President Obama down to his final two years in office, critics are increasingly confident in their ability to stave off agreement.

With the U.S. 2016 president elections likely to heat up as early as the middle of next year, passage of any major trade agreement by U.S. lawmakers would be improbable until 2017 at the earliest.

“TPP proponents know they’re under the clock,” the Citizen Trade Campaign’s Stamoulis says. “The resistance against the TPP is as strong as it’s ever been, and is only growing stronger.”

Corporatist concerns

Last week’s national election here in the U.S. did change the discussion around one issue that would be key for any eventual TPP agreement: whether President Obama is allowed to negotiate unilaterally, or whether he would need Congress’s point-by-point approval of a proposed accord.

Because trade agreements typically touch on so many domestically sensitive issues, U.S. presidents in the past have asked for approval to negotiate without input from lawmakers. Such “fast track” authorities then allow Congress only a single up-or-down vote at the end of the process.

Yet due to concern among U.S. constituents over the potential impact of the TPP on the domestic economy, both houses of the U.S. Congress has been reluctant to approve President Obama’s requests for these authorities. Still, last week’s election some have suggested that this could change.

The issue could now come down to a debate that is taking place within the Republican Party, which increased its majority in the House of Representatives and in January will take over control of the Senate. Yet while the House has consistently opposed passage of fast track authorities for President Obama, the new Republican Senate leadership has suggested that such legislation could now be a key priority early next year.

“Most of [President Obama’s] party is unenthusiastic about international trade. We think it’s good for America,” Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate and the figure who will set the body’s agenda this coming year, said at a press conference following last week’s election.

“And the president and I discussed that … and I think he’s interested in moving forward. I said, ‘Send us trade agreements. We’re anxious to take a look at them.’”

The new potential movement on fast track authorities has sparked a furious debate among conservatives, particularly between those who have traditionally supported big business and those increasingly concerned about globalisation’s impact on U.S. workers. This division has strengthened since the 2008 economic downturn.

“It’s only in the past few years that we’ve seen a small cabal of internationalist, Big Business-allied Republicans emerge, and it is this corporatist wing that has pushed for free trade,” Curtis Ellis, a spokesperson with the American Jobs Alliance and executive director of, a conservative watchdog site, told IPS.

“If we’re going to move all of our factories overseas, the American people are going to get stuck with the short end of stick. And really, even supporters of the TPP admit that it’s not about trade but rather about investment – about securing overarching global governance rules on investment.”

Indeed, of the TPP’s 29 proposed chapters, just five deal directly with trade, according to Public Citizen, a consumer interest group here.

“[T]he non-trade provisions would promote lower wages, higher medicine prices, more unsafe imported food, and new rights for foreign investors to demand payments from national treasuries over domestic laws they believe undermine the new TPP privileges they would gain,” Lori Wallach, the head of the group’s Global Trade Watch programme, said Monday.

“Despite the intense secrecy of the negotiations … many TPP nations have woken up to the fact that the deal now on offer would be damaging to most people, even if the large corporations pushing the deal might improve their profit margins.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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A Fair Climate Treaty or None at All, Jamaica Warns Mon, 10 Nov 2014 19:43:14 +0000 Desmond Brown Huge boulders have been used to protect Jamaica's Palisadoes road which connects Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport. The road was previously blocked by storm surges. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Huge boulders have been used to protect Jamaica's Palisadoes road which connects Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport. The road was previously blocked by storm surges. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

As the clock counts down to the last major climate change meeting of the year, before countries must agree on a definitive new treaty in 2015, a senior United Nations official says members of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) “need to be innovative and think outside the box” if they hope to make progress on key issues.

Dr. Arun Kashyap, U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative for Jamaica, said AOSIS has a significant agenda to meet at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Lima, Peru, and “it would be its creativity that would facilitate success in arriving at a consensus on key issues.”"We think that if we walk away it will send a strong signal. It is the first time that we have ever attempted such type of an action, but we strongly believe that the need for having a new agreement is of such significance that that is what we would be prepared to do.” -- Jamaica’s lead climate negotiator, Clifford Mahlung

Kashyap cited the special circumstances of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and their compelling need for adaptation and arriving at a viable mechanism to address Loss and Damage while having enhanced access to finance, technology and capacity development.

“A common agreed upon position that is acceptable across the AOSIS would empower the climate change division (in all SIDS) and reinforce its mandate to integrate implementation of climate change activities in the national development priorities,” Kashyap told IPS.

At COP17, held in Durban, South Africa, governments reached a new agreement to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases. They decided that the agreement with legal form would be adopted at COP21 scheduled for Paris in 2015, and parties would have until 2020 to enact domestic legislation for their ratification and entry into force of the treaty.

Decisions taken at COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, mandated the 195 parties to start the process for the preparation and submission of “Nationally determined Contributions”. These mitigation commitments are “applicable to all” and will be supported both for preparing a report of the potential activities and their future implementation.

The report should be submitted to the Secretariat during the first quarter of 2015 so as to enable them to be included in the agreement.

AOSIS is an inter-governmental organisation of low-lying coastal and small island countries established in 1990. Its main purpose is to consolidate the voices of Small Island Developing States to address global warming.

In October, Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong, the lead negotiator for AOSIS, outlined priorities ahead of the Dec. 1-12 talks.

She said the 2015 agreement must be a legally binding protocol, applicable to all; ambition should be in line with delivering a long term global goal of limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees and need to consider at this session ways to ensure this; mitigation efforts captured in the 2015 agreement must be clearly quantifiable so that we are able to aggregate the efforts of all parties.

Uludong also called for further elaboration of the elements to be included in the 2015 agreement; the identification of the information needed to allow parties to present their intended nationally determined contributions in a manner that facilitates clarity, transparency, and understanding relative to the global goal; and she said finance is a fundamental building block of the 2015 agreement and should complement other necessary means of implementation including transfer of technology and capacity building.

Sixteen Caribbean countries are members of AOSIS. They have been meeting individually to agree on country positions ahead of a meeting in St. Kitts Nov. 19-20 where a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) strategy for the world climate talks is expected to be finalised.

But Jamaica has already signaled its intention to walk out of the negotiations if rich countries are not prepared to agree on a deal which will reduce the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean.

“We have as a red line with respect to our position that if the commitments with respect to reducing greenhouse gases are not of a significant and meaningful amount, then we will not accept the agreement,” Jamaica’s lead climate negotiator, Clifford Mahlung, told IPS.

“We will not accept a bad agreement,” he said, explaining that a bad agreement is one that does not speak adequately to reducing greenhouse gas emissions or the provision of financing for poorer countries. It is not yet a CARICOM position, he said, but an option that Jamaica would support if the group was for it.

“We don’t have to be part of the consensus, but we can just walk away from the agreement. We think that if we walk away it will send a strong signal. It is the first time that we have ever attempted such type of an action, but we strongly believe that the need for having a new agreement is of such significance that that is what we would be prepared to do,” Mahlung added.

The Lima talks are seen as a bridge to the agreement in 2015.

SIDS are hoping to get developed countries to commit to keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but are prepared to accept a 2.0 degrees Celsius rise at the maximum. This will mean that countries will have to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Jamaica’s climate change minister described the December COP20 meeting as “significant,” noting that “the decisions that are expected to be taken in Lima, will, no doubt, have far-reaching implications for the decisions that are anticipated will be taken next year during COP 21 in Paris, when a new climate agreement is expected to be formulated.”

Pickersgill said climate change will have devastating consequences on a global scale even if there are significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change.”

But Pickersgill said there are several challenges for Small Island Developing States like Jamaica to adapt to climate change.

“These include our small size and mountainous terrain, which limits where we can locate critical infrastructure such as airports as well as population centres, and the fact that our main economic activities are conducted within our coastal zone, including tourism, which is a major employer, as well as one of our main earners of foreign exchange,” he said.

“The agriculture sector, and in particular, the vulnerability of our small farmers who are affected by droughts or other severe weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes, and our dependency on imported fossil fuels to power our energy sources and drive transportation.”

Pickersgill told IPS on the sidelines of Jamaica’s national consultation, held here on Nov. 6, that his country’s delegation will, through their participation, work towards the achievement of a successful outcome for the talks.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Filipinos Take to the Streets One Year After Typhoon Haiyan Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:53:07 +0000 Diana Mendoza One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

People covered their bodies with mud to protest against government ineptitude and abandonment; others lighted paper lanterns and candles and released white doves and balloons to remember the dead, offer thanks and pray for more strength to move on; while many trooped to a vast grave site with white crosses to lay flowers for those who died, and to cry one more time.

These were the scenes this past Saturday, Nov. 8, in Tacloban City in central Philippines, known as ground zero of Typhoon Haiyan.

One year after the storm flattened the city with 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges that caused unimaginable damage to the city centre and its outlying areas and killed more than 6,500 people, hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Nov. 8 marked the first anniversary of Haiyan, known among Filipinos as Yolanda, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history.

Thousands of stories, mostly about loss, hopelessness, loneliness, hunger, disease, and deeper poverty flooded media portals in the Philippines. There were also abundant stories of heroism and demonstrations of extraordinary strength.

Understanding the scope of the disaster

"We have felt a year's worth of the government's vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year's worth of news and studies that confirm this situation." -- Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors
There may be some signs that suggest a semblance of revival in Tacloban City, located about 580 km southeast of Manila, but it has yet to fully come back to life – that process could take six to eight years, possibly more, according to members of the international donor community.

Still, the anniversary was marked by praise for the Philippines’ “fast first-step recovery” from a disaster of this magnitude, compared with the experience of other disaster-hit places such as Aceh in Indonesia after the 2004 Asian tsunami that devastated several countries along the Indian Ocean.

In its assessment of the relief and reconstruction effort, released prior to the anniversary, the Philippines-based multilateral Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that while “reconstruction efforts continue to be a struggle”, a lot has been done.

“The ADB has been in the Philippines for 50 years, and we can say that other countries would not have responded this strongly to such a huge crisis,” ADB Vice President for East Asia and Southeast Asia Stephen Groff told a press conference last week.

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder echoed his words, adding, “The ability of the country to bounce back was faster than we’ve ever seen in other humanitarian disasters.”

Experts say that Filipinos’ ‘bayanihan’ – a sense of neighbourhood and communal unity – helped strengthen the daunting rehabilitation process.

“Yolanda was the largest and most powerful typhoon ever to hit land and it impacted a huge area, including some of the poorest regions in the Philippines. It is important that we look at the scale and scope of this disaster one year after Yolanda,” Groff stressed.

He said the typhoon affected 16 million people, or 3.4 million families, and damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land, 248 transmission towers and over 1,200 public structures such as provincial, municipal and village halls and public markets.

Also damaged were 305 km of farm-to-market roads, 20,000 classrooms and over 400 health facilities such as hospitals and rural health stations.

In total, the storm affected more than 14.5 million people in 171 cities and municipalities in 44 provinces across nine regions. To date, more than four million people still remain homeless.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has faced criticism from affected residents, who used Saturday’s memorial to blast the government for its ineptitude in the recovery process.

Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors, told journalists, “We have felt a year’s worth of the government’s vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year’s worth of news and studies that confirm this situation.”

Protesters burned a nine-foot effigy of the president on the day of the anniversary.

Early morning on Nov. 8 more than 5,000 people holding balloons, lanterns, and candles walked around Tacloban City in an act of mourning and remembrance.

The Roman Catholic Church declared the anniversary date as a national day of prayer as church bells pealed and sirens wailed at the start of a mass at the grave-site where nearly 3,000 people are buried.

Hundreds of fishermen staged protests to demand that the government provide new homes, jobs, and livelihoods, accusing government officials of diverting aid and reconstruction funds.

Filipino netizens recalled that they cried nonstop while helplessly watching on their television and computer screens how Tacloban City was battered by the storm.

They posted and shared photos of Filipinos who were hailed as heroes because they volunteered to meet and drive survivors to their relatives in Manila and other places as they alighted from military rescue planes.

“Before” and “after” pictures of the area also made the rounds on the Web.

‘Billions’ in international assistance

President Aquino in a visit to nearby affected Samar island before the storm anniversary said, “I would hope we can move even faster and I will push everybody to move even faster, but the sad reality is the scope of work we need to do can really not be done overnight. I want to do it correctly so that benefits are permanent.”

The Philippine government estimates the need for a 170-billion-peso (3.8-billion-dollar) master-plan to rebuild the affected communities, including the construction of a four-metre-high dike along the 27-km coastline to prevent further damage in case of another disaster.

Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban City, told journalists two million people are still living in tents and only 1,422 households have been relocated to permanent shelters. As many as 205,500 survivors are still in need of permanent houses.

The recovery process was successful in erecting new electricity posts a few months after the storm, while black swaths of mud have now been replaced by greenery, with crops quickly replanted, and rice fields thriving once more.

Government, private, and international aid workers also restored sanitation and hygiene programmes in the aftermath of the storm.

The ADB announced it was trying to determine whether or not to provide a further 150 million dollars worth of official assistance to Yolanda survivors on top of the 900 million dollars already pledged in grants and concessions at the start of reconstruction efforts.

The United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to provide a 10-million-dollar technical assistance plan to develop 18,400 projects across the country. These will cover other hard-hit areas outside of Tacloban City, such as Guian in Eastern Samar, which will also receive 10 million dollars from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for rehabilitation programmes.

The Canadian government also offered 3.75 million Canadian dollars to restore livelihoods and access to water to the affected provinces of Leyte and Iloilo.

The Philippine government assured that the billions donated, offered and pledged by the international community would be safely accounted for, monitored, guarded and reported on with transparency.

Panfilo Lacson, a senator who was designated in charge of the rehabilitation programme, said that already he has confirmed reports that some bunkhouses in Tacloban and Eastern Samar were built with substandard materials and that someone had colluded with contractors for the use of substandard materials to generate kickbacks.

“That’s when I realised we have to monitor the funds,” he said.

He asked Filipinos to share information that they know about irregularities on the management and administration of the billions of pesos from the national coffers and donor organisations for rebuilding communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Trapped Populations – Hostages of Climate Change Mon, 10 Nov 2014 09:19:32 +0000 Ido Liven When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

By Ido Liven
LONDON, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

Climate change is projected by many scientists to bring with it a range of calamities – from widespread floods, to prolonged heatwaves and slowly but relentlessly rising seas – taking the heaviest toll on those already most vulnerable.

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist.

While many could be uprooted in search of a safer place to live, either temporarily or permanently, some may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape.

“People around the world are more or less mobile, depending on a range of factors,” argues Prof Richard Black from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, “but they can become trapped in circumstances where they want or need [to move] but cannot.”When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist … they may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape

According to Black, “it is most likely to be because they cannot afford it, or because there is no [social] network for them to follow or job for them to do … or because there is some kind of policy barrier to movement such as a requirement for a visa that is unobtainable, in some countries even the requirement for an exit visa that is unobtainable.”

For the most vulnerable, climate change could mean double jeopardy – first, from worsening environmental conditions threatening their livelihood, and second, from the diminished financial, social and even physical assets required for moving away provoked by this situation.

A project on migration and global environmental change led by Black was one of the first to draw attention to the notion of “trapped populations”.

In its report, published in 2011 by the Foresight think tank at the U.K. Government Office for Science, the authors warned that “in the decades ahead, millions of people will be unable to move away from locations in which they are extremely vulnerable to environmental change.”

An example the Foresight report mentions is that of inhabitants of small island states living in flood-prone areas or near exposed coasts. People in these areas might not have the means to address these hazards and also lack the resources to migrate out of the islands.

The report warned that such situations could escalate to risky displacement and humanitarian emergencies.

In fact, past cases offer some evidence of groups of people who have become immobile as a result of either extreme weather events or even slow onset crises.

One such example, says Black, is the drought in the 1980s in Africa’s Sahel region, when there was a decrease in the numbers of adult men who chose to migrate – the same people who would otherwise leave the area.

“Under drought conditions they were less able to do so because that involves drawing on your assets – in the Sahel often assets would be livestock – and the drought kills livestock, which means you can’t convert livestock into cash, and then you can’t pay the smuggler or afford the cost of the journey that would take you out of that area.”

Nevertheless, Black argues that in many cases it would be especially difficult to distinguish people who remain because they can and wish to, from those who are really unable to leave. In addition, environmental change could also drive people to migrate towards areas where they are even more at risk than those they have left.

In the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam, researchers foresee climate change contributing to floods, loss of land and increased soil salinity. Facing these hazards, local residents in an already impoverished region could find themselves unable to cope, and also unable to move away.

“It would generally be income and assets that will determine whether people can stay where they are or need to relocate,” says Dr Christopher Smith from the University of Sussex, who is currently conducting a European Community-funded project assessing the risk of trapped populations in the Mekong delta.

“Within the short term, it would mostly be temporary movement, but in the future … there could be more permanent migration.”

According to Smith, “the Mekong, being such a long river that flows through so many different countries, will make [this case] quite unique in terms of changes to the water budget in the delta and, of course, factors like cultures and populations in the delta will play a part.”

Conclusions from the study are likely to be relevant to other cases around the world, and specifically to other low lying mega-deltas with similar characteristics, Smith adds.

In Guatemala, researchers found that relatively isolated mountain communities could also be facing the risk of becoming stranded by climate change.

According to a study published earlier this year, irregular rainfall could be posing a serious threat for the food security and sources of income of communities in the municipality of Cabricán who rely on subsistence rain-fed agriculture.

Yet, the risks associated with climate change are not confined to developing countries. Hurricane Katrina, which hit the south-east of the United States in 2005, offered a vivid example when the New Orleans’ Superdome housed more than 20,000 people over several days.

“That was to do with the fact that an evacuation plan had been designed with the idea that everybody would leave by car, but essentially there were sections of the population that didn’t have a car and were not going to leave by car, and also some people who didn’t believe the messages around evacuation,” says Black.

“And those people who were trapped in the eye of the storm were then more likely to be displaced later – so they were more likely to end up in one of the trailer parks, the temporary accommodation put on by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Scientists are wary of linking Hurricane Katrina, or any single extreme weather event, to climate change. Yet, studies show that a warmer world might not necessarily mean more hurricanes, but such storms could be fiercer than those that these areas are used to.

Beyond science, says Black, international organisations are aware of the issue. “I’ve had quite extensive discussions with UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency], the International Organization for Migration, the European Commission and a number of other bodies on these matters. There is a degree of interest in this idea that people can be trapped.”

A paper on Populations ‘trapped’ at times of crisis written by Black with Michael Collyer of the University of Sussex and published in February, notes that while it might still be early to suggest specific policy measures to address this predicament, there are several steps decision makers can take, and not only on the national level.

“As long as we have limited information on trapped populations,” say the authors, “the policy goal should be to avoid situations in which people are unable to move when they want to, not to promote policy that encourages them to move when they may not want to, and up-to-date information allowing them to make an informed choice.”

Intergovernmental fora – and among them the loss and damage stream in international climate negotiations – are yet to address specifically the challenge of trapped populations, but Europe might already be showing the way.

A European Commission working paper on climate change, environmental degradation and migration that accompanies the European Union’s strategy on adaptation to climate change adopted in April 2013 mentions the risk of trapped populations, albeit implicitly only outside the region, and recommends steps to address the issue.

Reviewing existing research on the links between climate change, environmental degradation and migration, the authors note that relocation, while questionably effective, “may nevertheless become a necessity in certain scenarios” such as the case of trapped communities.

“The EU should therefore consider supporting countries severely exposed to environmental stressors to assess the path of degradation and design specific preventive internal, or where necessary, international relocation measures when adaptation strategies can no longer be implemented,” states the working paper.

Ultimately, the situation where individuals, families, and indeed entire communities, find themselves unable to move out of harm’s way is not unique to the effects of climate change – it can be other natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions or human-induced crises like armed conflict.

The international community’s response to people moving in the face of such crises is most often based on giving them a status, such as “internally displaced persons”, “asylum seekers” or “refugees”.

But this would not be the appropriate response when people remain, argues Black.

For them, “the issue is not a lack of legal status – it’s a lack of options … Public policy needs to be geared around providing people with options, in my view, both ahead of disasters and in the immediate aftermath of disasters.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Why Our Food Systems Need to Be More Nutrition-Smart Sat, 08 Nov 2014 14:19:26 +0000 Howarth Bouis Courtesy of Howarth Bouis

Courtesy of Howarth Bouis

By Howarth Bouis
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

“We are especially distressed by the high prevalence and increasing numbers of malnourished children under five years of age in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, more than 2000 million people, mostly women and children, are deficient in one or more micronutrients…”

These words are from the Final Report of the International Conference on Nutrition that took place in December 1992 in Rome.The distress is felt most by the poor, whose response is to cut down on the more expensive micronutrient-rich foods while making sure the household gets by on stomach-filling staples.

Twenty-two years later, government representatives from around the world will again gather in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and will have to contend with the reality that despite reducing the percentage of people suffering from micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies, about the same absolute number of people – two billion – are still not getting the micronutrients that are essential for good health.

This is still too high a number; being deprived of essential micronutrients in the first thousand days from conception to a child’s second birthday can result in stunting, lowered IQ, and repeated bouts of illness that reduce lifelong productivity and keep generations in poverty and poor health.

So, today, we still face many of the same challenges as we did more than two decades ago. These have been further exacerbated by population growth, food price volatility and climate change, among other issues. Here are a few trends or factors that stand out today, and must be accounted for as we look to end hunger and malnutrition.

While population has grown, per capita incomes have increased in many countries. Staple food prices have fallen over the long run due to increased productivity from the Green Revolution, but non-staple food prices have risen. Thus, calories have become cheaper, but minerals and vitamins have become more expensive.

The distress is felt most by the poor, whose response is to cut down on the more expensive micronutrient-rich foods while making sure the household gets by on stomach-filling staples. To make matters worse, in recent years we’ve seen a disturbing trend where even the prices of key staple foods such as rice, wheat and maize that provide most of the global calories, have shot up.

Climate-induced changes and natural disasters will lead to more volatility in food production and, thus, price variability. The poorest households are least able to absorb shocks. As such, building resilience has emerged as a critical priority that requires greater alignment and collaboration with diverse partners to protect those who are most vulnerable from shocks.

One way to increase nutritional resilience is to make our food systems more nutrition-smart. Our food systems have to be calibrated to provide the greatest amount of nutrients per square foot of scarce land that can be produced sustainably, especially in the face of climate change.

This means growing more nutritious foods that include staple foods with enhanced micronutrient content that are proving efficacious in reducing micronutrient deficiencies. We have to build agricultural, and therefore dietary, diversity back into the system so that there is a ‘rebalancing’ of calories with micronutrients.

Being nutrition-smart means we also pay attention to growth in obesity, which today exists side by side with undernutrition.

The lessons learned in the past two decades show that there is no silver bullet. Integrated nutrition and public health interventions, and poverty alleviation social reforms are necessary to achieve good nutrition for all.

We have to more efficiently break down the silos between agriculture, nutrition and health food and health systems in order to improve people’s lives. The good news is that we have made significant strides. Twenty-two years ago, agricultural and nutrition scientists did not talk to each other very much. Now they do, and even more of that collaborative conversation and action are needed.

It pleases me greatly that global awareness has been building up over the past five years about how crucial nutrition is. The Copenhagen Consensus, a gathering every four years of top economists in the world, has twice put the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies at the top of their lists as the best use of public money, and have conservatively estimated a 59:1 dollar benefit-cost ratio.

I am heartened by global movements like Scaling Up Nutrition that are galvanising communities around the world to expand nutrition interventions that work, and by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge to eliminate hunger in our lifetime. As a global society, we cannot afford to let this momentum wane as other crises or trends command attention.

Achieving better nutrition is a multi-faceted endeavour. I have emphasised here the importance of making our food systems more nutrition-smart. And as the tagline for ICN2 states: better nutrition means better lives. There are of course complementary themes deserving of similar attention.

But this is what the delegates in Rome will have to tackle next week when, as the materials for the upcoming ICN2 suggest, coherence and collaboration must be built into any new frameworks and plans to improve nutrition. I look forward to being there, and to learning from the experience, the expertise and the insights of delegates from around the world.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Bringing More International Pressure to Bear on Wildlife Crime Sat, 08 Nov 2014 10:10:05 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers Wildlife crime is not only threatening iconic species such as elephants and rhinos. But marine turtles are also a group of species under threat from criminals. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Wildlife crime is not only threatening iconic species such as elephants and rhinos. But marine turtles are also a group of species under threat from criminals. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Bradnee Chambers
QUITO, Ecuador, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

A surge in wildlife crime is fuelling criminal syndicates, perpetuating terrorism, and resulting in the loss of major revenues from tourism and industries dependent on iconic species while also endangering the livelihoods of the rural poor.

But this surge in wildlife crime is not only threatening iconic species, which include elephants, rhinos and tigers, but also lesser-known animals that are also on the brink of extinction.

Wildlife crime is estimated to be worth between seven and 23 billion dollars per year and is growing at a pace never seen in recent memory.

A great deal of attention has rightly been focused on the illegal trade of ivory from elephants and rhino horns, which has spiked out of control and is devastating these animals’ populations.

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

But what the public does not know is that crime is not just limited to these species — it is also affecting many others, driving some to the brink of extinction and is depleting a wide range of economically important natural resources.

Illegal trapping results in millions of birds being indiscriminately taken every migration to supply the voracious appetite in restaurants that offer local song-bird delicacies.

The illegal charcoal trade is having a major impact on the fragile ecosystems in East Africa and threatening the habitats of birds and terrestrial mammals that depend on these ecosystems for their survival.

The scale of habitat loss is alarming and it is emerging that Al Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group responsible for the West Gate Mall attack in Nairobi in 2013, is financing its activities with proceeds of illegal charcoal sales.

Illegal fishing is the second-largest type of environmental crime, accounting for between 11 and 30 billion dollars a year. It is increasingly becoming a widespread global phenomenon that requires sustained law enforcement, stricter regulation and improved public awareness of the impacts.

The criminal activities also include illegal shark finning, which feeds crime syndicates selling the fins to markets in East Asia. Shark populations have been decimated because of the demand for the animals’ fins and oil. Estimates have shown that fins of between 26 and  73 million sharks are being traded each year, a number which is three to four times higher than overall reported shark catches worldwide.

Marine turtles are another group of species under threat from criminals. Poaching of green and hawksbill turtles, which are endangered, is still widespread in the Coral Triangle of South East Asia and in the Western Pacific Ocean. Poachers use both the shell of the turtle for raw materials for luxury goods and souvenirs, and their meat and eggs — which are considered a rare delicacy.

In Central Asia the Snow Leopard, which is highly-endangered, is still poached for its fur pelt while its primary prey, the Argali mountain goat, is also poached for its horn. As a result there is double impact on the populations of Snow Leopard to the point where there are fewer than 2,500 left in the wild.

The live capture of cheetahs remains a major threat to their already endangered populations. Sought after as pets for the rich and wealthy, many cheetahs are captured and smuggled to private collectors throughout the world. Only one in six cheetahs survives this illegal trafficking.

These are but a few examples of the other species under threat and that demonstrate the magnitude of worldwide wildlife crime.

Quito, Ecuador is hosting a major conference for more than 120 states under the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which will address these and other dimensions of wildlife crime that are not as readily understood globally.

Before the conference is a resolution proposed by Monaco and Ghana that is meant to broaden the fight against wildlife crime.

The resolution is also meant to bring into the spotlight other species of wildlife under threat as well as the increasing number of types of crime. These include some that take place inside countries such as markets for bushmeat and charcoal, and open bazaars that fuel the unsustainable demand for endangered species.

CMS is a convention which requires countries to either put in place conservation strategies to sustainably manage the populations or in the case of endangered species ensure there is no taking.

In this way, the Convention can be a very powerful vehicle for beefing up enforcement, increasing pressure for stronger legislation and working directly in countries to combat wildlife crime.

If adopted, the resolution will unleash the potential of this important convention to start to place international pressure on countries to address all dimensions of wildlife crime both within these countries and internationally where there animals move.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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