Inter Press Service » Water & Sanitation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 07 Jul 2015 23:58:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Q&A: “Climate Change is About Much More Than Temperature”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-climate-change-is-about-much-more-than-temperature/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-climate-change-is-about-much-more-than-temperature http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-climate-change-is-about-much-more-than-temperature/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 23:58:16 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141475 Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), addressing the opening session of the “Our Common Future Under Climate Change” scientific conference Paris, Jul. 7-10. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), addressing the opening session of the “Our Common Future Under Climate Change” scientific conference Paris, Jul. 7-10. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PARIS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The cost of inaction is high when it comes to climate change and, so far, countries’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not enough, says Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

In an exclusive interview with IPS during the “Our Common Future Under Climate Change” scientific conference being held in Paris (Jul. 7-10) at UNESCO headquarters, Jarraud said that “we need more ambitious commitments before getting to Paris” for the U.N. Climate Conference in December, adding that climate change should be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently being worked out.

“Climate change is about much more than temperature,” he added.

Q:  Will this scientific meeting help to build the path towards a solid Conference of the Parties (COP21) agreement in Paris December?

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

A:  Every six years the scientific community reviews the state of knowledge about climate and this is what we call the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] assessment report. The latest report was finalised a year ago, so in order to prepare for the next COP in Paris it was important to update it so that decision makers and negotiators have access to the very latest information. One of the roles of this conference is to get scientists together and also get a closer interaction between scientists and decision makers.

Q:  Do you think a Paris deal will be possible as a way of braking global warming?

A:  We have to look at it as a process. Many people remember Copenhagen in 2009 and say it was a failure but it was a place where the 2°C objective was set up. Every COP is going one step further in defining the objectives but also addressing solutions.

What is going to be decided in Paris is hopefully an ambitious plan to reduce significantly the emissions of GHGs and what will be reduced over the next 20, 30 and 40 years.

Countries were asked to pledge what they are willing to do and over which time scales. So far the pledges are not enough for 2°C but we hope this will accelerate. We can see countries are coming on board with significant commitment. We hope that in Paris we will be as close as possible to this objective. I am confident there will be progress.“You cannot have any sustainable development if you don’t take into account climate damage” – Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General

Q:  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are not enough to meet the world’s target.

A:  At this stage the INDCs are not yet enough. He [Ban Ki-moon] says to member states that we need more ambitious commitment before Paris. We still have time, we still need to accelerate and go further. China has recently announced its commitment. If we don’t get enough in Paris to stand at 2°C, it means we will have to reduce [emissions] further and faster afterwards.

Q:  You have said there is an “adaptation gap”: In which way?

A:  There are two facets of the climate negotiations and one is what we call mitigation. It is important to reduce GHG emissions as much as possible and as fast as possible so that we minimise the amplitude of the climate change.

As a number of GHGs have already been in the atmosphere for a long time, it means we already committed to some amount of global warming. Therefore we need to adapt to the consequences such as sea level rise, impact on crops, on health and on extreme weather events.

Developed and developing countries don’t have the same financial, human and technical capacity to adapt. How can we bridge this gap by making sure there are appropriate technology transfer and financing mechanisms? This is one of the difficult parts of the negotiations. We need to address that as a priority.

Q:  Is the Green Climate Fund (GCF) enough to fill the finance gap?

A:  The fund has had a pledge of over 10 billion dollars. The objective by 2020 is to reach a funding stream of about 100 billion dollars per year. We are still in the early phase of that and hopefully in Paris there will be an acceleration towards identifying possible sources of financing.

The key is to see this finance not as an expense but as an investment. The cost of doing nothing will be more than acting. On a longer time scale, the cost of inaction is actually bigger, and we and maybe our children and grandchildren will have to pay more later.

Q:  What are the main concerns of scientists regarding the impacts of climate change worldwide?

A:  It is about much more than temperature. It impacts the hydrological cycle – for example, more precipitation in places where there is a lot already, less in places that are very dry. It will amplify this water cycle, so the regions that are already under water stress will have more droughts and heat waves and, vice-versa, there will be more floods in regions that already have too much water. There will be an impact on extreme weather events, like heat waves which are becoming more frequent and intense, and tropical cyclones and typhoons.

Q: Is there any particular region in the world about which climatologists are most concerned?

A:  Extreme events can set the clock of development back in several years. Sea level rise in small islands is a very big concern in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the Caribbean, as well as coastal areas. In countries with big deltas like the Nile or in Bangladesh, sea level rise will increase the vulnerability of these countries enormously.

Elsewhere, the risk of desertification will increase in several sub-Saharan regions, some parts of Latin America, Central Asia and around the Mediterranean basin. Many countries will be affected in different ways. Temperature is only part of the equation, because the increase of the 2°C will not be uniform. The warming will be higher over continents and oceans, it will be greater at higher altitudes.

One of the challenges is to translate this large-scale global scenario for regional and national levels. It is still a scientific challenge.

Q:  Should climate change be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

A: You cannot have any sustainable development if you don’t take into account climate damage. What is being proposed right now for the SDGs is that climate is a factor that should be considered for almost all the individual proposed goals.

Q:  Is there a disconnection between science and policy-making when it comes to climate change?

A:  Yes, but less than there used to be. Decision-makers are taking the information provided by scientists more seriously. This is based on the fact that the scientific consensus is huge. There are still a few sceptics but essentially the scientific community is almost unanimous.

Most scientific questions have now a clear answer. Is climate changing? Yes, without any doubt. Is it due to human activities? Yes, with a probability of more than 95 percent. However there are still a few other questions that require more scientific research. The knowledge base is incredibly solid but we want to understand more and go even further.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Caribbean Fights to Protect High-Value, Declining Specieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-fights-to-protect-high-value-declining-species/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:15:36 +0000 Zadie Neufville http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141424 The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

The Nassau grouper is one of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. Credit: Rick Smit/cc by 2.0

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

Threats from climate change, declining reefs, overfishing and possible loss of several commercial species are driving the rollout of new policy measures to keep Caribbean fisheries sustainable.

Regional groups and the U.S.-based NGO Wild Earth Guardians have petitioned for the listing of some of the Caribbean’s most economically valuable marine species as vulnerable, endangered or threatened with extinction.

In addition, regional scientists believe that climate change could alter the ranges of some of the larger species and perhaps wipe out existing ones. “TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years." -- Biologist Kathleen Woods

Fisheries ministers of the Caribbean say they are concerned that “extra-national activities and decisions” could impact the social and economic well being of their countries and their access to international markets. They have agreed to work together to protect both the sustainability and trade of several high value marine species.

At a meeting in November 2014, the Ministerial Council of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) expressed alarm at the U.S. government’s decision to list the Nassau Grouper, a commercially traded species, under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Even after successfully thwarting the listing of the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), they fret that other species would go the way of the Nassau Grouper.

The conch and Nassau grouper are two of 19 Caribbean species the Wild Earth Guardians say are in need of protection. The list includes one coral, one ray, five sharks, two sawfish, four groupers and the Queen Conch.

Regional fisheries officials know that such listings will shut down international trade of the affected species. Alternatively, it could lead to rigorous permits and quota systems that prevent trade by vulnerable populations in countries that are without working management structures.

The Guardians say they are driven by the critical state of many Caribbean species and the seemingly insatiable U.S. demand for them. The 14 marine species named are already listed as protected or threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), endangered species associate Taylor Jones told IPS.

“Specifically in terms of the conch, we note that the U.S. appetite for conch meat is having an impact on stocks in the Caribbean,” she said.

Jones noted that when the Guardians take action the aim is to limit the impact of U.S. consumption patterns – which has already caused the collapse of its own conch fishery – on the rest of the world. The United States is the largest importer of conch meat, consuming 78 per cent of production, estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds annually.

While the Guardians failed in their bid to have the conch included in the ESA, concern for the struggling populations of Conch continue. Even though the U.S. closed Florida’s Conch fisheries in 1986, the population has still not recovered and the fisheries in its Caribbean territories are also in poor shape.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), one of the region’s largest exporter of the mollusk, biologist Kathleen Woods reports that conch stocks are on the brink of collapse.

“TCI’s conch stocks are now in a critical phase,” she said. “Preliminary results of the conch visual survey indicate that TCI does not have sufficient densities of adult conch to sustain breeding and spawning. This means that unless the fishery is closed to allow the stocks to recover, it will probably collapse within the next four years.”

The CRFM Secretariat says it is already looking at management plans for the species most eaten or exploited by its member states. The secretariat says there is evidence that Nassau Grouper populations and spawning aggregations are in decline and is supporting the listing.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) working group discusses proposals to implement minimum standards for the capture of exploited species in November 2014, Panama City. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The Secretariat has drafted a strategy to implement minimum standards for the management, conservation and protection for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) across all 17 member states. The Secretariat cites concern for falling catches, declining habitats and the absence of adequate management systems in some countries.

In Jamaica, where the lobster and conch fisheries are regulated by the CITES endangered species treaty, authorities are extending protection to other local species that are already stressed from overfishing and climate change, Director of Fisheries Andre Kong told IPS.

“We are looking at bio-degradable traps and will where possible improve the existing management system to include the spotted spiny lobster (Panulirus guttatus) known locally as the chicken lobster,” he said, pointing out that the local species is not governed by the CITES regulations.

Caribbean favorites like the Parrotfish and sea eggs (sea urchins) are in serious decline. Regional groups are seeking to ban those and other species to protect remaining populations and the reef.  Some countries have already restricted the capture of the Parrotfish and the IUCN has recommended its listing as a specially protected species under the Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol).

CRFM has already implemented a management plan for the Eastern Caribbean Flying fish, which supports a small but lucrative trade in the countries that fish for the species. A coral reef action plan is also in place, a review of the legislation of several member states has been completed, alongside the rollout of public awareness programmes for regional fishers. One drawback: the rules are non-binding and left up to individual governments to implement.

Woods, who until mid-2014 headed the TCI government’s Environment and Marine Department, noted that despite the existence of regulations that exceed those introduced by the CRFM, conch and lobster habitats in that country “continue to be degraded and lost because of poor development practices like dredging, the use of caustic materials like bleach for fishing and other activities.”

Veteran TCI fisherman Oscar Talbot echoes Woods belief that a combination of factors, including a lack of political will, poor enforcement and corruption in the regulatory agencies, are the reasons the Conch stocks are close to collapsing.

“Poacher boats, illegal divers and some politicians with their own (processing) plants have played a role in the improper exploitation of the fish, lobster and conch. We also have a lot of fisherman and poachers taking juvenile conch in and out of season,” he said.

TCI is one of the few countries that continue to allow the capture and consumption of sea turtles and sharks, but Woods believes exploitation of these species by locals is sustainable. Talbot wants fishers to stick to the rules and exploit the resources during the open seasons only.

A fisherman for over 40 years, Talbot said the unregulated catches are impacting all the islands’ local fisheries. He is concerned that undersized conchs of up to 18 to the pound have been taken, a sore point for the grandfather who sits on the fisheries advisory council of the TCI.

But while regional leaders express “outrage” at the actions of the NGOs, regional fishers support Talbot’s view that only external pressure will force governments to act.

For most countries, the lack of personnel, funding and illegal fishing have hampered progress. This is not lost on the Guardians.

“In general it appears that the region is struggling with limited resources for conservation, including lack of funding and lack of personnel for enforcement of existing regulations,” Jones said.

And while Talbot and Woods lobby TCI Governor Peter Beckingham to champion immediate changes to the fisheries legislation approved and agreed by local fishers more than a year ago, Jones echoes their aspirations:

“It is our hope that ESA listing would make more U.S. funding and personnel available for use by local conservation programmes,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Drastic CO2 Cuts Needed to Save Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/drastic-co2-cuts-needed-to-save-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drastic-co2-cuts-needed-to-save-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/drastic-co2-cuts-needed-to-save-oceans/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 16:55:16 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141414 Fishermen use basic wooden canoes to set nets off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Economies that are dependent on fisheries will be hit hard by warming oceans. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

Fishermen use basic wooden canoes to set nets off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Economies that are dependent on fisheries will be hit hard by warming oceans. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

If global carbon dioxide emissions are not dramatically curbed, the world’s oceans – and the many services they provide humanity – will suffer “massive and mostly irreversible impacts,” researchers warned in Science magazine Friday.

The report said that impacts on key marine and coastal organisms and ecosystems are already detectable, and several will face high risk of impacts well before 2100, even under a low-emissions scenario of warming below two degrees C.

“These impacts will occur across all latitudes, making this a global concern beyond the north/south divide,” the report said.

Twenty-two leading marine scientists collaborated in the synthesis report . They stress that warming and acidification of surface ocean waters will increase proportionately as CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere. Warm-water corals have already been affected, as have mid-latitude seagrass, high-latitude pteropods and krill, mid-latitude bivalves, and fin fishes.

Ocean acidification is especially dire for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and people that rely on specific types of fisheries or organisms for their survival.

Ten years ago, only a handful of researchers were investigating the biological impacts of ocean acidification. Whilst their results gave cause for concern, it was clear that more measurements and experiments were needed.

Around a thousand published studies later, including this latest in Science magazine, it has now been established that most if not all marine species will suffer in a high CO2 world, with serious consequences for human society.

The world’s oceans have absorbed nearly a third of the CO2 produced by industrialisation since 1750 and over 90 percent of the additional heat.

As a result, the report says the chemistry of the seas is changing faster than at any time since a cataclysmic natural event known as the Great Dying 250 million years ago.

And as atmospheric CO2 increases, protection, adaptation, and repair options for the ocean become fewer and less effective.

“The ocean has been minimally considered at previous climate negotiations. Our study provides compelling arguments for a radical change at the U.N. conference (in Paris) on climate change,” said Jean-Pierre Gattuso, lead author of the study.

Scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of U.N. negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below two degrees C.

It is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, U.N. agencies, NGOs and civil society.

However, even under a scenario of less than two degrees of warming, many marine ecosystems would still suffer significantly, the report says, calling for immediate and substantial reduction of CO2 emissions.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Toilets with Piped Music for Rich, Open Defecation on Rail Tracks for Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:34:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141368 Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

As most developing nations fall short of meeting their goals on sanitation, the world’s poorest countries have been lagging far behind, according to a new U.N. report released here.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, ‘Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment’, authored by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), says one in three people, or 2.4 billion worldwide, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open.“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces." -- Tim Brewer of WaterAid

“What the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away,” he said.

Pointing out the existing inequities, the report says progress on sanitation has been hampered by inadequate investments in behaviour change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation.

Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people.

Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent.

Still, the world has made “spectacular progress” in water, Jeffrey O’Malley, Director, Data, at UNICEF’s Research and Policy Division, told reporters Tuesday.

In 2015, 91 percent of the global population used an improved drinking water source, up from 76 percent in 1990, while 6.6 billion people have access to improved drinking water.

The total without access globally is now 663 million, almost a 100 million fewer than last year’s estimate, and the first time the number has fallen below 700 million.

As the MDGs expire this year, the goal on water has been met overall, but with wide gaps remaining, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The goal on sanitation, however, has failed dramatically. At present rates of progress it would take 300 years for everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa to get access to a sanitary toilet, said the report.

Tim Brewer, Policy Analyst on Monitoring and Accountability at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the MDG goal on water was met largely because of those who were easiest to reach.

“The poorest are often still being left behind. What we need to do in the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), now under negotiation, is to make sure that progress for the poorest is made the headline figure.”

“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces,” he noted.

Brewer said monitoring is key: “We need to measure basic access for the poor, as well as measuring other indicators such as whether water is safe and affordable, and whether wastewater is safely treated.”

“This is the only way to make sure we reach everyone, everywhere by 2030 and hold governments accountable to their promises,” he argued.

In countries like Japan and South Korea, according to published reports, sanitation is far beyond a basic necessity: it has the trappings of luxury with piped in music, automatic flushing, and in some cases, scenic window views — even while millions in developing nations defecate openly in nearby rural jungles or on rail tracks (with their bowel movements apparently being coordinated with train schedules, according to a New York Times report.)

The practice of open defecation is also linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage.

“To benefit human health it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

Asked if it would be realistic for sanitation goals to be rolled into the proposed SDGs with a target date of 2030, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS that an even more ambitious sanitation target is suggested for the new SDG agenda – to eliminate open defecation and achieve universal access to sanitation.

“I think the goal of achieving universal access to sanitation by 2030 is possible, but only if we start focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable right now (rather than waiting for the wealthiest to gain access first, as has historically been the case).”

He said: “We can also learn from the successes of the past 25 years, and especially the last 15. A number of countries have made rapid gains during the MDG era.’

For example, he pointed out, Ethiopia has reduced open defecation rates by 64 percentage points and Thailand has closed the gap in access between the richest and the poorest.

This shows what is possible when countries recognise the importance of tackling inequalities in access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), thus unlocking wider benefits in health, nutrition, education and economic productivity, he noted.

Asked how the sanitation problem can be resolved, Wijesekera told IPS: “Sanitation is not rocket science; most developed countries take it for granted.”

“But our experience on the ground in developing countries shows that it is not just a question of governments investing money and technology. It is also about changing ordinary people’s attitudes and behaviours, and this takes time,” he said.

Sanitation can best be addressed by countries establishing and investing in people and systems at a local level to change people’s behaviours, and to get the private sector engaged in providing affordable and good quality products and services for the poor.

This, he said, needs to be led by countries themselves, and donors, international organisations and the private sector all have a role in providing financing and expertise.

He also said there is a growing awareness of the importance of sanitation as a foundation for human and economic development.

World leaders – from the U.N. Secretary-General, to the President of the World Bank, to the Prime Minister of India – are all talking about it.

“We need to translate this high level political support into action in order for all people to have access to what is theirs as a human right: clean drinking water and adequate sanitation,” said Wijesekera.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Chief Seeks Equity in Paris Climate Change Pacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141357 The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

When the 193-member General Assembly hosted a high level meeting on climate change Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any proposed agreement at an upcoming international conference in Paris in December must uphold the principle of equity.

The meeting, officially known as the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21), should approve a universally-binding agreement that will support the adaptation needs of developing nations and, more importantly, “demonstrate solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable countries through a focused package of assistance,” Ban told delegates.“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results." -- Roger-Mark De Souza

The secretary-general is seeking a staggering 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing nations and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their resilience.

Some of the most threatened are low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that are in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth due to rising sea-levels caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” Ban told a Global Forum last week.

“Weather-related disasters are more frequent and more intense. Everyone is affected – but not all equally,” he said, emphasising the inequities of the impact of climate change.

Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting, said recurring disasters are affecting different regions as a result of changing climate patterns, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu, that “are a matter of deep concern for us all”.

He said many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are facing an existential threat due to rising sea levels, while other countries are grappling with devastating droughts that have left precious lands uninhabitable and unproductive.

“We are also increasingly witnessing other severe weather patterns as a result of climate change, including droughts, floods and landslides.

“In my own country Uganda,” he pointed out, “the impact of climate change is affecting the livelihoods of the rural population who are dependent on agriculture.”

Striking a positive note, Ban said since 2009, the number of national climate laws and policies has nearly doubled, with three quarters of the world’s annual emissions now covered by national targets.

“The world’s three biggest economies – China, the European Union (EU) and the United States – have placed their bets on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth,” he added.

Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told IPS: “I am pleased to see the discussion of resilience at the high level discussion on climate change at the U.N. today.”

Resilience has the potential to be a transformative strategy to address climate fragility risks by allowing vulnerable countries and societies to anticipate, adapt to and emerge strong from climate shocks and stresses.

Three key interventions at the international level, and in the context of the climate change discussions leading up to Paris and afterwards, will unlock this transformative potential, he said.

First, predictive analytics that provide a unified, shared and accessible risk assessment methodology and rigorous resilience measurement indicators that inform practical actions and operational effectiveness at the regional, national and local levels.

Second, risk reduction, early recovery approaches and long-term adaptive planning must be integrated across climate change, development and humanitarian dashboards, response mechanisms and strategies.

Third, strengthening partnerships across these levels is vital – across key sectors including new technologies and innovative financing such as sovereign risk pools and weather based index insurance, and focusing on best practices and opportunities to take innovations to scale.

“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results, and this must be deliberately fostered and supported through foresight analysis, by engaging across the private sector, and through linking mitigation and adaptation policies and programmes,” De Souza told IPS.

Asked about the serious environmental consequences of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Ban told reporters Monday political instability is caused by the lack of good governance and social injustice.

But if you look at the other aspects, he argued, abject poverty and also environmental degradation really affect political and social instability because they affect job opportunities and the economic situation.

Therefore, “it is important that the benefits of what we will achieve through a climate change agreement will have to help mostly the 48 Least Developed Countries (described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”) – and countries in conflict,” he added.

Robert Redford, a Hollywood icon and a relentless environmental advocate, made an emotional plea before delegates, speaking as “a father, grandfather, and also a concerned citizen – one of billions around the world who are urging you to take action now on climate change.”

He said: “I am an actor by trade, but an activist by nature, someone who has always believed that we must find the balance between what we develop for our survival, and what we preserve for our survival.”

“Your mission is as simple as it is daunting,” he told the General Assembly: “Save the world before it’s too late.”

Arguing that climate change is real – and the result of human activity – Redford said: “We see the effects all around us–from drought and famine in Africa, and heat waves in South Asia, to wildfires across North America, devastating hurricanes and crippling floods here in New York.”

A heat wave in India and Pakistan has already claimed more than 2,300 lives, making it one of the deadliest in history.

“So, everywhere we look, moderate weather is going extinct,” Redford said.

All the years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the warmest on record. And as temperatures rise, so do global instability, poverty, and conflict, he warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Donors Pledge Over 4.4 Billion Dollars to Nepal – But With a Caveathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:24:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141332 Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

Blessed with more than 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu on Thursday, the government of Nepal is expected to launch a massive reconstruction project to rebuild the earthquake-devastated South Asian nation.

But the pledges came with a caveat.“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on." -- Caroline Baudot of Oxfam

“While donors were generous, many of them strongly emphasised the need for Nepal to strengthen efficiency, transparency and accountability in handling international assistance,” Kul Chandra Gautam, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS..

“They also emphasised the need for political stability, early local elections and speedy completion of the long pending Constitution drafting process,” said Gautam, a native of Nepal and a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who is based in Kathmandu.

A jubilant finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, told reporters the donors’ meeting, titled the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, was “a grand success”.

“The total pledge made today was 4.4 billion, which was more than expected… 2.2 billion in loans and 2.2 billion in grants,” he said.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj pledged 1.0 billion dollars while China promised 3.0 billion yuan (483 million dollars) in assistance.

Additional pledges included 600 million from the Asian Development Bank, 260 million from Japan, 130 million from the U.S., 100 million from the European Union and 58 million from Britain, supplementing an earlier offer of up to 500 million dollars from the World Bank.

Nepal had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services.

This was a rather conservative or realistic needs assessment, considering that the estimated loss and damage from the earthquake was over 7.0 billion dollars, and it usually costs more to “build back better” than just the replacement cost of the destroyed and damaged infrastructure, Gautam said.

It was understood, he pointed out, about one-third of the estimated needs would be met from national resources and two-thirds would come from donors.

Donors really opened their hearts for the suffering people of Nepal, he said.

“We were delighted that even small poor countries like neighbouring Bhutan and faraway Haiti were forthcoming with generous pledges of 1.0 million dollars each,” said Gautam.

The United Nations estimated that about eight million people – almost one-third of the population of Nepal – were affected by the earthquake in April, described as “the largest disaster the country has faced in almost a century.”

More than 8,600 people were reported to have died, and according to U.N. figures, more than 20,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged and about a million children and 126,000 pregnant women are estimated to have been affected.

Caroline Baudot, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Adviser, told IPS the proposed investment provides Nepal with a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future.

“Now that pledges have been made, Oxfam is calling for communities to be consulted when the reconstruction plan is developed and implemented, continued attention to livelihoods and access to services, and that future disaster risks are reduced through reconstruction.”

She said donors and the Government of Nepal must now ensure there is a long-term plan which listens to communities – putting people at the center of the reconstruction process, which builds improved basic services like hospitals and ensures new buildings are safe and earthquake resilient.

“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on. Donors must make good on their promises and ensure the finance they have committed reaches those who need it,” said Baudot.

In a message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Nepal has stood strong during this crisis.

“I commend the exceptional efforts of the country’s government and people – in particular the youth who have found new and innovative ways to help their country.”

He also said that the United Nations “stands ready to support the government and people of Nepal in this endeavor. I am confident that Nepal, with its resilient people will be able to recover from this devastating disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Heat Wave Picking Off Pakistan’s Urban Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:23:52 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141304 Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

Over 950 people have perished in just five days. The morgues, already filled to capacity, are piling up with bodies, and in over-crowded hospitals the threat of further deaths hangs in the air.

Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, home to over 23 million people, is gasping in the grip of a dreadful heat wave, the worst the country has experienced since the 1950s, according to the Meteorology Department.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time." -- Mohammad Bilal, head of the Edhi Foundation’s morgue
Temperatures rose to 44.8 degrees Celsius on Saturday, Jun. 20, dropped slightly the following day and then shot back up to 45 degrees on Tuesday, Jun. 23 putting millions in this mega-city at risk of heat stroke.

Though the entire southern Sindh Province is affected – recording 1,100 deaths in total – its capital city, Karachi, has been worst hit – particularly due to the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon, which climatologists say make 45-degree temperatures feel like 50-degree heat.

In this scenario, heat becomes trapped, turning the city into a kind of slow-cooking oven.

Every single resident is feeling the heat, but the majority of those who have succumbed to it come from Karachi’s army of poor, twice cursed by a lack of access to electricity and condemned to live in crowded, informal settlements that offer little respite from the scorching sun.

Already crushed by dismal health indicators, the poor have scant means of avoiding sun exposure, which intensifies their vulnerability.

Anwar Kazmi, spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s biggest charity, tells IPS that 50 percent of the dead were picked up from the streets, and likely included beggars, drug users and daily wage labourers with no choice but to defy government advisories to stay indoors until the blaze has passed.

Two days into the crisis, with every free space occupied and corpses arriving by the hundreds, the city’s largest morgue, run by the same charity, began burying bodies that had not been claimed.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time,” Mohammad Bilal, who heads the Edhi Foundation’s mortuary, tells IPS.

The government has come under fire for neglecting to sound the alarm in advance. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah issued belated warnings by ordering the closure of schools and government offices.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are groaning under the strain of attempting to treat some 40,000 people across the province suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Saeed Quraishy, medical superintendent at Karachi’s largest government-run Civil Hospital, says they have stopped all elective admissions in order to focus solely on emergencies cases.

Experts say this highlights, yet again, the country’s utter lack of preparedness for climate-related tragedies.

And as always – as with droughts, floods or any other extreme weather events – the poor are the first to die off in droves.

Energy and poverty

The crisis is shedding light on several converging issues with which Pakistan has been grappling: energy shortages, the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor and the fallout from rapid urbanisation. In Karachi, the country’s most populous metropolis, these problems are magnified manifold.

Though a census has not been carried out since 1998, NGOs say there are hundreds of millions who live and work on the streets, including beggars, hawkers and manual labourers.

More than 62 percent of the population here lives in informal settlements, with a density of nearly 6,000 people per square kilometre.

Many of them have no access to basic services like water and electricity, both crucial during times of extreme weather. The ‘kunda’ system, in which power is illegally tapped from the electrical mains, is a popular way around the ‘energy apartheid’.

Just this month, the city’s power utility company pulled down 1,500 such illicit ‘connections’.

But even the 46 percent of households across the country that are connected to the national electric grid are not guaranteed an uninterrupted supply. With Pakistan facing a daily energy shortage of close to 4,000 mega watts, power outages of up to 20 hours a day are not unusual.

At such moments, wealthier families can fall back on generators. But for the estimated 91 million people in the country who live on less than two dollars a day, there is no ‘Plan B’ – there is only a battle for survival, which too many in the last week have fought and lost.

For the bottom half of Pakistani society, official notifications on how to beat the heat are simply in one ear and out the other.

Taking lukewarm showers, using rehydration salts or staying indoors are not options for families eking out a living on 1.25 dollars or those who live in informal settlements where hundreds of households must share a single tap.

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Lashing out at the government’s indifference and belated response to the crisis, Dr. Tasneem Ahsan, former executive director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), tells IPS that preventive action could have saved countless lives.

“The government should have taken up large spaces like marriage halls and schools and turned them into shelters, supplying electricity and water for people to come and cool down there.”

She also says officials could have parked water bowsers in poorer localities for people to douse themselves, advised the population on appropriate clothing and distributed leaflets on simple ways to keep cool.

The media, too, are at fault, she contends, for reporting the death count like sports scores instead of spreading the word on cost-effective, life-saving tips “like putting a wet towel on the head”.

Government inaction

Intermittent protests against power outages, aimed largely at the city’s main power company, K-Electric, served as a prelude to the present tragedy.

Though the country has an installed electricity capacity of 22,797 MW, production stands at a dismal 16,000 MW. In recent years, electricity demand has risen to 19,000 MW, meaning scores of people are either sharing a single power line or going without energy.

Meanwhile, civil society has been stepping in to fill the void left by the government, with far better results than some official attempts to provide emergency relief.

With most hospitals paralyzed by the number of patients, volunteers like Dr. Tasneem Butt, working the JPMC, have taken matters into their own hands. Using social media as a platform, she has circulated a list of necessary items including 100-200 bed sheets, 500 towels, bottled water, 15-20 slabs of ice and – perhaps most importantly – more volunteers.

“I got them immediately,” she tells IPS. “Now I’ve asked people to hold on to their pledges while I arrange for chillers and air-conditioners.

“The emergency ward is suffocating,” she adds. “It’s not just the patients who need to be kept cool, even the overworked doctors need this basic environment to be able to work optimally.”

Last week, the government of the Sindh Province cancelled leave for medical personnel and brought in additional staff to cope with the deluge of patients, which is expected to increase as devout observers of the Holy Ramadan fast succumb to fatigue and hunger.

The monsoon rains are still some days away, and until they arrive there is no telling how many more people will be moved from the streets into graves.

Interestingly, while other parts of the province have recorded higher temperatures, the deaths have occurred largely in Karachi due to urban congestion and overcrowding, experts say, with the majority of deaths reported in poor localities like Lyari, Malir and Korangi.

The end may be in sight for now, but as climate change becomes more extreme, incidents like these are only going to increase in magnitude and frequency, according to climatologists like Dr. Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:59:26 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141299

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

While member states, weakened in the neoliberal era, have pulled back from the U.N. and cut its budgets, a charity mentality has arisen at the world body. Corporations and the mega-rich have flocked to take advantage of the opportunity. They have looked for a quietly commanding role in the organisation’s political process and hoped to shape the institution to their own priorities.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

The U.N. Global Compact, formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1999-2000 to promote corporate “responsibility,” was the first sign that the U.N. as an institution was beginning to work with the corporations and listen closely to them.

Critics point out that the corporations were getting branding benefits and considerable influence without any serious change in their behaviour, but the U.N. was happy to lend its prestige in exchange for proximity to the czars of the global economy.

The World Economic Forum, organisers of the Davos conferences, soon afterwards installed conferencing screens, disguised as picture frames, in the offices of top U.N. officials, so that corporate chieftains could have a spontaneous chat with their counterparts at the world body.Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

By that time, it was clear that Ted Turner’s dramatic donation of a billion dollars to the U.N. in 1997 was not a quirky, one-off gesture but an early sign that the U.N. was a target of Big Money. Today, the U.N. is riddled with “public-private partnerships” and cozy relations with the corporate world. Pepsico and BP are hailed as “partners.” Policy options have shifted accordingly.

As corporate voices have amplified at the United Nations, citizen voices have grown considerably weaker. The great global conferences, organised with such enthusiasm in the 1990s on topics like the environment, women’s rights, and social development, attracted thousands of NGO representatives, journalists, and leaders of grassroots movements.

Broad consultation produced progressive and even inspiring policy statements from the governments. Washington in particular was unhappy about the spectacle of citizen involvement in the great matters of state and it opposed deviations from neo-liberal orthodoxies.

In the new century, the U.S. warned that it would no longer pay for what it said were useless extravaganzas. The U.N. leadership had to shut down, downsize or otherwise minimise the conference process, substituting “dialog” with carefully-chosen interlocutors.

The most powerful governments have protected their domination of the policy process by moving key discussions away from the U.N. entirely to “alternative venues” for invitation-only participation. The G-7 meetings were an early sign of this trend.

Later came the G-20, as well as private initiatives with corporate participation such as the World Economic Forum. Today, mainstream thinkers often argue that the U.N. is not really a place of legislative decisions but rather one venue among others for discussion and coordination among international “stakeholders.”

The U.N. itself, in its soul-searching, asks about its “comparative advantage,” in contrast to these other events – as if public policy institutions must respond to “free market” principles. This race to the bottom by the U.N. is exceedingly dangerous.

Unlike the other venues, the U.N. is a permanent institution, with law-making capacity, means of implementation and a “universal” membership. It can and should act somewhat like a government, and it must be far more than a debating society or a place where secret deals are made. For all the hype about “democracy” in the world, the mighty have paid little attention to this most urgent democratic deficit.

Though the U.N. landscape is generally that of weakness and lack of action, there is one organ that is quite robust and active – the Security Council. It meets almost continuously and acts on many of the world’s most contentious security issues.

Unfortunately, however, the Council is a deeply-flawed and even despotic institution, dominated by the five Permanent Members and in practice run almost exclusively by the US and the UK (the “P-2” in U.N. parlance). The ten Elected Members, chosen for two-year terms, have little influence (and usually little zest to challenge the status quo).

Many observers see the Council as a power monopoly that produces scant peace and little enduring security. When lesser Council members have tried to check the war-making plans of Washington and London, as they surprisingly did in the 2003 Iraq War debates, their decisions have been ignored and humiliated.

In terms of international law, the U.N.’s record has many setbacks, but there have been some bright spots. The nations have negotiated significant new treaties under U.N. auspices, including major human rights documents, the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Disabled.

The Montreal Protocol has successfully reduced the release of CFC gasses and addressed the dangerous hole in the earth’s ozone layer. But the treaty bodies tasked with enforcement are often weak and unable to promote compliance.

Powerful states tend to flout international law regularly and with impunity, including treaty principles once considered inviolable like the ban on torture. International law, the purview of the U.N., is frequently abused as a tool of states’ propaganda, to be invoked against opponents and enemies.

Legal scholars question the usefulness of these “norms” with so little enforcement. This is a disturbing problem, producing cynicism and eating at the heart of the U.N. system.

The U.N. may not have solved the centuries-old conundrum of international law, but it has produced some good thinking about “development” and human well-being.

The famous Human Development Report is a case in point and there are a number of creative U.N. research programmes such as the U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, the U.N. University, and the World Institute for Development Economic Research. They have produced creative and influential reports and shaped policies in good directions.

Unfortunately, many excellent U.N. intellectual initiatives have been shut down for transgressing powerful interests. In 1993, the Secretary-General closed the innovative Center on Transnational Corporations, which investigated corporate behaviour and economic malfeasance at the international level.

Threats from the U.S. Congress forced the Office of Development Studies at UNDP to suddenly and ignominiously abandonment its project on global taxes. Financial and political pressures also have blunted the originality and vitality of the Human Development Report. Among the research institutions, budgets have regularly been cut and research outsourced. Creative thinkers have drifted away.

Clearly, the U.N.’s seventieth anniversary does not justify self-congratulation or even a credible argument that the “glass is half full.” Though many U.N. agencies, funds and programmes like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation carry out important and indispensable work, the trajectory of the U.N. as a whole is not encouraging and the shrinking financial base is cause for great concern.

As climate change gathers force in the immediate future, setting off mass migration, political instability, violence and even food supply failure, there will be increasing calls for action among the world’s people.

The public may even demand a stronger U.N. that can carry out emergency measures. It’s hard, though, to imagine the U.N. taking up great new responsibilities without a massive and possibly lengthy overhaul.

Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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Grenada Rebuilds Barrier Reefshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/grenada-rebuilds-barrier-reefs/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 16:46:16 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141280 Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock

Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock

By Desmond Brown
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

The Eastern Caribbean nation of Grenada is following the example of its bigger neighbours Belize and Jamaica in taking action to restore coral reefs, which serve as frontline barriers against storm waves.

Coral reefs also play an extremely important role in the Caribbean tourism economy, as well as in food production and food security, but they have been adversely affected by rising sea temperatures and pollution.“We will actually create coral nurseries where we will harvest live coral from some of the healthy colonies around the island." -- Kerricia Hobson

An assessment of the vulnerability of Grenada, conducted between September and October 2014, identified several areas that are particularly vulnerable that did not already have interventions. Two such areas were Grand Anse on mainland Grenada and the Windward community on the sister island Carriacou.

“What we will be doing through this project is actually establishing coral nurseries and this is the first time it will be done in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS),” Kerricia Hobson, Project Manager in the Environment Division in Grenada’s Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, told IPS.

“We will actually create coral nurseries where we will harvest live coral from some of the healthy colonies around the island. We will propagate them in the nursery and when they are sufficiently mature, we will plant them on existing reef structures.”

The reef restoration is being done jointly by the Government of Grenada and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Coastal Eco-system Based Adaptation in Small Island Developing States (Coastal EBA Project).

Hobson spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a communication symposium to demystify the complexities of communicating on climate change and its related issues.

The June 18-19 symposium was held here under the OECS Rally the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC project), which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Hobson noted that Grenada and its Caribbean neighbours get a lot of economic benefits from their coastal ecosystems, particularly through tourism and fisheries; and they also provide protection to the coastlines.

But she said a number of factors have led to the destruction of coral reefs.

“A lot of them are climate-related but some of them are the result of human activities. In the Caribbean we have a history of not recognising the importance of some of these structures,” she said.

“Like mangroves, with coral reefs some of the destruction is actually due to things like pollution which comes from land run-off. For example our agricultural sector, there is a tradition of farming close to water sources because it’s easier to get the water for your plants and your animals but it also means that when it rains all of the excess fertilizers and the faeces from your animals wash into the river and because we live on an island, five minutes after it rains these things end up on the reef.

“So what you end up having is a reef that is dominated by algae which overgrow the reefs,” Hobson explained.

Kerricia Hobson says Grenada is launching a coral reef restoration project, the first in the Eastern Caribbean. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Kerricia Hobson says Grenada is launching a coral reef restoration project, the first in the Eastern Caribbean. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The findings of a three-year study by 90 international experts, released in 2014, said restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, can help reefs recover and even make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

In Belize, live coral cover on shallow patch reefs has decreased from 80 percent in 1971 to 20 percent in 1996, with a further decline from the 20 percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 1999.

In 1980, Hurricane Allen – the worst storm to hit Jamaica in the past 100 years – smashed the reefs, decimating the ecosystem.

Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its fifth assessment report on climate change impacts and adaptation, said that damage to coral reefs has implications for several key regional services.

It said coral reefs account for 10 to 12 percent of the fish caught in tropical countries, and 20 to 25 percent of the fish caught by developing nations.

Coral reefs contribute to protecting the shoreline from the destructive action of storm surges and cyclones, sheltering the only habitable land for several island nations, habitats suitable for the establishment and maintenance of mangroves and wetlands, as well as areas for recreational activities. The report noted that this role is threatened by future sea level rise, the decrease in coral cover, reduced rates of calcification, and higher rates of dissolution and bioerosion due to ocean warming and acidification.

In the tourism sector, the IPCC said more than 100 countries benefit from the recreational value provided by their coral reefs.

With the advent of climate change, Caribbean countries have been told they have to start acting now, since their future viability is based on their present responsibility.

Dr. Dale Rankine, a researcher at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) in Barbados, said there are certain things countries have to start doing now, if they have not already started.

“One is mitigation, which is really to limit the amount of greenhouse gases. We have to lobby all the major emitters because collectively all of the small island states really emit very little. We have to pursue a green economy,” Rankine told IPS.

“Adaptation is also a major thing. For adaptation, we have to weigh the cost of action versus inaction right across the different sectors.

“Climate change is not an add-on. Some of the very things that are being advocated for climate change adaptation are the same things that we want to do for sustainable development. So it is not an add-on, it is really something that we can pursue whilst doing the same things but in a more sustainable manner,” he added.

Rankine also suggested that countries start embedding climate change considerations in all of their development planning and look at diversification in the agricultural sector “because some of the crops are just not going to survive in the future”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Young People Lend a Hand to Trinidad’s Ailing Watershedshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/young-people-lend-a-hand-to-trinidads-ailing-watersheds/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:00:52 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141258 Feast or famine: Just three years ago, flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. But lately drought has become a problem in the dry season. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Feast or famine: Just three years ago, flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. But lately drought has become a problem in the dry season. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Starting in 1999, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) of Trinidad and Tobago began a 10-year effort to map the country’s water quality. They started to notice a worrying trend.

The watersheds in the western region of Trinidad had progressed from being of moderate quality in some places to being outright bad. By 2010, a survey of the country showed more than 20 per cent of the watersheds were in serious trouble.“By adopting these ecological measures to protect our river water supplies, we can reduce the need for more energy intensive and more costly measures of obtaining water such as desalination.” -- Dr. Natalie Boodram

“We have raised the alarm bell,” said senior hydrologist David Samm. ”WASA is concerned.”

WASA received a lot of bad press during the recently concluded dry season. Residents whose communities were roiled with protests almost weekly over lack of access to potable water vehemently criticised the agency while waving placards and publicly burning tyres.

WASA is the designated body responsible for all of Trinidad and Tobago’s water sources and supply.

But factors beyond its control, like climate change and climate variability, are significant contributors to the crisis.

“During the dry season we would have longer droughts so we will not have as much water for groundwater recharge,” explained Samm, adding, “there is more intense rainfall for a given time period and because of continued development we have more flooding problems during the rainy season.”

That has resulted in more surface runoff “and that water is being flushed through the watercourses and out to sea. Therefore, we have less recharge of our groundwater systems,” he explained.

He told IPS that 60 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water comes from surface water sources.

There has also been major housing construction along the east-west corridor of Trinidad, he pointed out. “With climate change and the increase in impervious cover (due to urbanisation) the recharge of our groundwater system will be reduced,” Samm said. As well, “with urban growth, you see garbage in the rivers – refrigerators.”

The authority decided it needed to act to protect the health of the watersheds on which its water supply depends. It introduced the Adopt-A-River programme in the summer of 2013. Since its rollout, several of the country’s rivers have been adopted, including six of the most important, and there are 175 citizens working with the Adopt-A-River programme.

Though river adoption programmes are known in several states in the U.S., the programme in Trinidad and Tobago is among the first for the Caribbean.

WASA’s decision to focus on preserving ecosystems was a forward-looking approach to the issue of sustainably ensuring access to potable water for all, as evident from observations made in the Executive Summary of the United Nations World Water Development Report 2015. Commenting on the water situation worldwide the report states the following:

“Most economic models do not value the essential services provided by freshwater ecosystems, often leading to unsustainable use of water resources and ecosystem degradation. Pollution from untreated residential and industrial wastewater and agricultural run-off also weakens the capacity of ecosystems to provide water-related services.

“Ecosystems across the world, particularly wetlands, are in decline. Ecosystem services remain under-valued, under-recognized and under-utilized within most current economic and resource management approaches. A more holistic focus on ecosystems for water and development that maintains a beneficial mix between built and natural infrastructure can ensure that benefits are maximized.”

In keeping with the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals’ focus on reducing poverty and environmental degradation by helping communities to help themselves, the UNDP provided funds for one of Trinidad and Tobago’s Adopt-A-River participants

Through its Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP), the UNDP provides funds and technical support to civil society organisations working on “projects that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people’s well-being and livelihoods at the community level.”

The Social Justice Foundation, which works in underdeveloped areas of Central and South Trinidad, received funding of just under 50,000 dollars from the SGP, which it matched with 65,000 dollars of its own money to sponsor an Adopt-A-River programme involving at-risk and disadvantaged youths in the communities of Siparia and Carlsen Field.

The programme ran for nine months from September 2014 to June 2015, during which time young people have been trained as eco-leaders and taught skills in water testing to monitor the health of the rivers in their communities, using La Motte test kits, as well as video production to record the work done.

They learned how to test for temperature, pH, alkalinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, phosphate and nitrate and to record the changes in these parameters over the nine months of the project.

Mark Rampersad, administrative manager at the Social Justice Foundation, told IPS that WASA’s Adopt-a-River unit “further refined the project’s scope and depth as well as facilitating the various seminars and workshops, which featured environmental awareness.”

The Caparo River in Central Trinidad and Coora River in South Trinidad were the two rivers adopted by the Social Justice Foundation for their Adopt-A-River initiative.

Though the programme has enjoyed some favourable response from communities and schools, corporate support for the programme has not been as great as the Adopt-A-River unit would have liked. However, Samm said, the unit has been successful in its Green Fund application and will be furthering its community outreach with the funds awarded.

Preserving the health of the rivers was also based on financial considerations, said Raj Gosine, WASA’s head of Water Resources. “It is very expensive to treat poor water quality, so WASA’s motive was also financial.”

“The key thing is to stress that we can all make a positive contribution,” Gosine added.

Along with water quality monitoring and public education, WASA’s Adopt-A-River programme includes reforestation and forest rehabilitation, as well as clean-up exercises.

Global Water Partnership-Caribbean’s Programme Manager Dr. Natalie Boodram told IPS, “Programmes like Adopt-A-River which encourage reforestation of watershed and riparian zones (i.e., areas along the bank of a river or watercourse) help protect water supplies by encouraging water infiltration as opposed to surface runoff.

“By adopting these ecological measures to protect our river water supplies, we can reduce the need for more energy intensive and more costly measures of obtaining water such as desalination.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Pope Francis’ Timely Call to Action on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 14:22:11 +0000 Tomas Insua http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141241 Pope Francis, wearing a yellow raincoat, celebrates mass amidst heavy rains and strong winds near the Tacloban Airport Saturday, January 17, 2015. After the mass, the Pope visited Palo, Leyte to meet with families of typhoon Yolanda victims. The Pope visit to Leyte was shortened due to an ongoing typhoon in the area. Credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau/public domain

Pope Francis, wearing a yellow raincoat, celebrates mass amidst heavy rains and strong winds near the Tacloban Airport Saturday, January 17, 2015. After the mass, the Pope visited Palo, Leyte to meet with families of typhoon Yolanda victims. The Pope's visit to Leyte was shortened due to an ongoing typhoon in the area. Credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau/public domain

By Tomás Insua
BOSTON, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

On June 18, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si, the first ever encyclical about ecology, which promises to be a highly influential document for years to come. The encyclical, which is the most authoritative teaching document a Pope can issue, delivered a strong message addressing the moral dimension of the severe ecological crisis we have caused with our “throwaway culture” and general disregard for our common home, the Earth.

One of the most important points of this document is that it connects the dots between social justice and environmental justice. As a parishioner from Buenos Aires I have seen firsthand how Jorge Bergoglio cared deeply about both issues, and it is beautiful to see how he is bringing them together in this historical encyclical.Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year.

The most prominent example of this connection is how our role in causing climate change is hurting those who had nothing to do with this crisis, namely the poor and future generations.

Although the encyclical will have an impact on Catholic teaching for generations to come, its timing at this particular juncture is no accident. As the Pope himself stated, “the important thing is that there be a bit of time between the issuing of the encyclical and the meeting in Paris, so that it can make a contribution.”

The Paris meeting he referred to is the crucial COP21 summit that the United Nations will convene in December, where the world’s governments are expected to sign a new treaty to tackle human-made climate change and avoid its worst impacts.

This is significant because the international climate negotiations have been characterized by a consistent lack of ambition during the past two decades, allowing the climate change crisis to exacerbate. Greenhouse gases emissions have grown 60 percent since world leaders first met in the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, and continue to accelerate setting the foundation for a severe disruption of the climate system.

Scientists are shouting at us, urging humankind to change course immediately, but we are not listening. That is why strong moral voices such as the one of Pope Francis have the potential to change people’s hearts and overcome the current gridlock.

Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year. Faced with the clear and present threat of climate change, governments have long used the supposed passivity of their citizens as an excuse for inaction.

The climate movement is growing fast and is building up pressure at an increasing scale, but its growth rate needs to be boosted to meet the size of the challenge. Pope Francis’ encyclical has the potential to draw a huge amount of people to the climate movement by inspiring the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, as well as non-Catholics who are open to his message, to mobilise in this important year.

Catholics are already responding to the Holy Father’s call by scaling their mobilisation, mainly through the recently founded Global Catholic Climate Movement. This is a coalition of over 100 Catholic organizations from all continents, aiming to raise awareness about the moral imperative of climate change and to amplify the encyclical’s message in the global climate debate by mobilising the Church’s grassroots.

The flagship campaign of the movement is its recently launched Catholic Climate Petition, which the Pope himself endorsed a month ago when we met him in the Vatican, with the goal of collecting at least one million signatures for world leaders gathered in the COP21 summit in Paris. The ask, to be delivered in coalition with other faith and secular organisations, is for governments to take bold action and keep the global temperature increase below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels.

At the same time, people of all faiths are coming together with a strong moral call for action through initiatives such as Fast for the Climate – whereby participants fast on a monthly basis to show solidarity with the victims of climate change – and the People’s Pilgrimage – a series of pilgrimages in the name of climate change led by Yeb Saño, former Philippine climate ambassador, and designed to culminate in a descent on Paris around COP21.

Leaders of other faiths will furthermore join their Catholic counterparts in celebration of the encyclical on June 28, when the interfaith march “One Earth, One Human Family” will go to St. Peter’s Square as a sign of gratitude to Pope Francis.

Whatever happens, this year will go down in the history books. Be sure of that. The Pope has made a massive contribution to making sure it’s remembered for all the right reasons. Now it’s our turn to step up and finish the job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Oceans Need the Spotlight Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:10:30 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141237

Dr. Palitha Kohona was co-chair of the U.N. Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The international community must focus its energies immediately on addressing the grave challenges confronting the oceans. With implications for global order and peace, the oceans are also becoming another arena for national rivalry.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The clouds of potential conflict gather on the horizon. The U.N. resolution adopted on June 19 confirms the urgency felt by the international community to take action.

His Holiness the Pope observed last week, “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species… It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.”

The oceans demand our attention for many reasons. In a world constantly hungering for ever more raw material and food, the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the globe, are estimated to contain approximately 24 trillion dollars of exploitable assets. Eighty-six million tonnes of fish were harvested from the oceans in 2013, providing 16 percent of humanity’s protein requirement. Fisheries generated over 200 million jobs.

However, unsustainable practices have decimated many fish species, increasing competition for the rest. The once prolific North Atlantic cod, the Pacific tuna and the South American anchovy fisheries have all but collapsed with disastrous socio-economic consequences.Increasingly the world's energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources.

Highly capitalised and subsidised distant water fleets engage in predatory fishing in foreign waters causing tensions which could escalate. In a striking development, the West African Sub Regional Fisheries Commission recently successfully asserted, before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the responsibility of flag States to take necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Increasingly the world’s energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources. The sea bed could also provide many of the minerals required by strategic industries.

As these assets come within humanity’s technological reach, inadequately managed exploitation will cause damage to the ocean ecology and coastal areas, demonstrated dramatically by the BP Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. (Costing the company over 42.2 billion dollars).

Cross-border environmental damage could give rise to international conflicts. A proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ on responsibility for global warming and sea level rise was floated at the U.N. by Palau in 2013.

The oceans will also be at the centre of our efforts to address the looming threat of climate change. With ocean warming, fish species critically important to poor communities in the tropics are likely to migrate to more agreeable climes, aggravating poverty levels.

Coastal areas could be flooded and fresh water resources contaminated by tidal surges. Increasing ocean acidification and coral bleach could cause other devastating consequences, including to fragile coasts and fish breeding grounds.

The ocean is the biggest sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the rapid increases in anthropogenic GHGs will aggravate ocean warming and the melting of the ice caps. Some small island groups might even disappear beneath the waves.

Scientists now believe that over 70 percent of anthropogenic GHGs generated since the turn of the 20th century were absorbed by the Indian Ocean which is likely to result in unpredictable consequences for the littoral states of the region, already struggling to emerge from poverty.

The increasing ferocity of natural phenomena, such as hurricanes and typhoons, will cause greater devastation as we witnessed in the cases of Katrina in the U.S. and the brutal Haiyan in the Philippines.

The socio-economic impacts of global warming and sea level rise on the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry (476 billion dollars in the U.S. alone) would be far reaching. All this could result in unmanageable environmental refugee flows. The enormous challenge of ocean warming and sea level rise alone would require nations to become more proactive on ocean affairs now.

The international community has, over the years, agreed on various mechanisms to address ocean-related issues. But these efforts remain largely uncoordinated and with the developments in science, lacunae are being identified progressively.

The most comprehensive of these endeavours is the laboriously negotiated Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) of 1982. The LOSC, described as the constitution of the oceans by Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, who presided over the final stages of the negotiations, details rules for the interactions of states with the oceans and with each other with regard to the oceans.

Although some important states such as the U.S., Israel, Venezuela and Turkey are not parties to the LOSC (it has 167 parties), much of its content is accepted as part of customary international law. It also provides a most comprehensive set of options for settling inter-state disputes relating to the seas and oceans, including the ITLOS, headquartered in Hamburg.

The LOSC established the Sea Bed Authority based in Kingston, Jamaica which now manages exploration and mining applications relating to the Area, the sea bed beyond national jurisdiction, and the U.N. Commission on the Continental Shelf before which many state parties have already successfully asserted claims to vast areas of their continental shelves.

With humanity’s knowledge of the oceans and seas expanding rapidly and the gaps in the LOSC becoming apparent, the international community in 1994 concluded the Implementing Agreement Relating to Part XI of the LOSC and in 1995, the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.

Additionally, the United Nations Environment Programme has put in place a number of regional arrangements, some in collaboration with other U.N. agencies such as the FAO and the IMO, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, including fisheries.

The IMO itself has put in place detailed agreements and arrangements affecting the oceans and the seas in relation to shipping. The FAO has been instrumental in promoting regional mechanisms for the sustainable use of marine and coastal fisheries resources.

In 2012, the U.N. Secretary-General launched the Oceans Compact. States negotiating the Post-2015 Development Goals at the U.N. have acknowledged the vast and complex challenges confronting the oceans and have proceeded to highlight them in the context of a Sustainable Development Goal.

The majority of the international community now feel that the global arrangements for the sustainable use, conservation and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction need further strengthening. The negotiators of the LOSC were not fully conscious of the extent of the genetic resources of the deep. Ninety percent of the world’s living biomass is to be found in the oceans.

Today the genetic material, bio prospected, harvested or mined from the oceans is providing the basis for profound new discoveries pertaining to pharmaceuticals. Only a few countries possess the technical capability to conduct the relevant research, and even fewer the ability to convert the research into financially beneficial products. The international community’s concerns are reflected in the U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted on June 19.

Many developing countries are concerned that unless appropriate regulatory mechanisms are put in place now by the international community, the poor will be be shut out from the vast wealth, estimated at three billion dollars per year, expected to be generated from this new frontier. Over 4,000 new patents, the number growing at 12 percent a year based on such genetic material, were registered in 2013.

A U.N. working group, initially established back in 2006 to study the question of concluding a legally binding instrument on the conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond the national jurisdiction of states, and co-chaired by Sri Lanka and The Netherlands from 2009, submitted its report in January 2015, after years of difficult negotiations.

For nine years, consensus remained elusive. Certain major powers, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea held out, contending that the existing arrangements were sufficient. These are among the few which possess the technological capability to exploit the genetic resources of the deep and convert the research in to useful products.

The U.N. General Assembly is now expected to establish a preparatory committee in 2016 to make recommendations on an implementing instrument under UNCLOS. An intergovernmental conference is likely to be convened by the GA at its 72nd Session for this purpose.

The resulting mechanism is expected to complement the existing arrangements on biological genetic material under the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nagoya Protocol) applicable to areas under national jurisdiction.

This ambitious U.N. process is likely to create a transparent regulatory mechanism facilitating technological and economic progress while ensuring equity.

A development with long term impact, especially since Rio+20, was the community of interests identified and strengthened between the G 77 and China and the EU with regard to the oceans.

Life originated in the primeval ocean. Humanity’s future may very well depend on how we care for it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Takes First Step Towards Treaty to Curb Lawlessness in High Seashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-takes-first-step-towards-treaty-to-curb-lawlessness-in-high-seas/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:14:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141222 A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution Friday aimed at drafting a legally binding international treaty for the conservation of marine biodiversity and to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The resolution was the result of more than nine years of negotiations by an Ad Hoc Informal Working Group, which first met in 2006.“This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.” -- Elizabeth Wilson

If and when the treaty is adopted, it will be the first global treaty to include conservation measures such as marine protected areas and reserves, environmental impact assessments, access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

The High Seas Alliance (HSA), a coalition of some 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty and has been campaigning for this resolution since 2011.

Asked if the treaty will be finalised by the targeted date of 2018, Elizabeth Wilson, director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the HSA, told IPS: “Not exactly, although we do expect significant progress.”

The first round of formal negotiations is expected to take place in 2016 and continue through 2017.

The General Assembly will decide by September of 2018 on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to finalise the text of the agreement and set a start date for the conference.

Wilson said it is likely that the intergovernmental conference would then meet multiple times over approximately two years to accomplish this goal.

Asked how the treaty will change the current “lawlessness” in the high seas, Wilson said: “This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

Today, she pointed out, the high seas are governed by a patchwork of inadequate international, regional, and sectorial agreements and organisations.

A new treaty would help to organise and coordinate conservation and management. That includes the ability to create fully protected marine reserves that are closed off to harmful activities. Right now there is no way to arrange for such legally binding protections, she added.

Sofia Tsenikli of Greenpeace said: “The high seas accounts for nearly half our planet – the half that has been left without law or protection for far too long. A global network of marine reserves is urgently needed to bring life back into the ocean – this new treaty should make that happen.”

In a statement released Friday, the HSA said the resolution follows the Rio+20 conference in 2012 where Heads of State committed to address high seas protection.

The conference came close to agreeing to a new treaty then, but was prevented from doing so by a few governments which have remained in opposition to a Treaty ever since.

Asked about the significant difference between the 1982 landmark Law of the Sea Treaty and the proposed high seas treaty, Wilson told IPS the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is recognised as the “constitution” for global ocean governance, has a broad scope and does not contain the detailed provisions necessary to address specific activities, nor does it establish a management mechanism and rules for biodiversity protection in the high seas.

Since the adoption of UNCLOS in 1982, there have been two subsequent implementing agreements to address gaps and other areas that were not sufficiently covered under UNCLOS, one related to seabed mining and the other related to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, she added.

This new agreement will be the third implementing agreement developed under UNCLOS, Wilson said.

According to HSA, Friday’s resolution stresses “the need for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

It allows for a two-year preparatory process (PrepCom) to consider the elements that could comprise the treaty.

This will begin in 2016 and culminate by the end of 2017, with a decision whether to convene a formal treaty negotiating conference in 2018.

The “high seas” is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the HSA.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/farmers-find-their-voice-through-radio-in-the-badlands-of-india/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 05:57:18 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141212 Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TIKAMGARH, India, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Eighty-year-old Chenabai Kushwaha sits on a charpoy under a neem tree in the village of Chitawar, located in the Tikamgarh district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, staring intently at a dictaphone.

“Please sing a song for us,” urges the woman holding the voice recorder. Kushwaha obliges with a melancholy tune about an eight-year-old girl begging her father not to give her away in marriage.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region." -- Naheda Yusuf, head of Radio Bundelkhand
The melody melts into the summer air, and the motley crowd that has gathered around the tree falls silent.

“Thanks for so much for singing to ‘Radio Bundelkhand’,” says Ekta Kari, a reporter-producer at the community radio station based in this predominantly farming district, before switching off the device.

With a listenership of some 250,000 people spread across over a dozen villages in Bundelkhand, an agricultural region split between the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the station is lifting up some of India’s most beaten down communities by getting their voices out on the airwaves and bearing good tidings in a place long accustomed to nothing but bad news.

Endless hardships

Some 18.3 million people occupy this vast region. The majority of them are farmers, and the list of hardships they face on a daily basis is endless.

According to the Planning Commission of India, a loss of soil fertility caused by erratic weather, coupled with severe depletion of the groundwater table, has made life extremely hard for those who work the land.

Crop losses due to unseasonal rains and recurring heat waves have also become common over the last decade. Last year, a majority of farmers lost over half of their winter crop due to unexpected heavy rains.

Two out of every three farmers interviewed by IPS concurred that extreme weather has made farming, already a backbreaking occupation, something of a nightmare in these parts.

Recurring droughts between 2003 and 2010 forced many people to abandon traditional mixed cropping of millets and pulses and switch to mono-cultures like wheat, which require heavy inputs.

NGOs have also pointed to unequal land distribution policies in the region as a major cause of farmers’ strife, with millions of families unable to practice anything beyond very small-scale, subsistence agriculture given the paltry size of their plots.

Earlier this year, plagued by poor weather, miserable harvests and alleged apathy to their plight by both state and federal government bodies, scores of starving and debt-ridden farmers threw in the towel.

In the first two weeks of March, roughly a dozen farmers in Bundelkhand had committed suicide.

This follows a pattern in the region that speaks to the desperation these rural communities face – according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 3,000 farmers in Bundelkhand committed suicide between 1995 and 2012.

While this represents only a fraction of all suicides across the country’s agricultural belt, which is now approaching 300,000, Bundelkhand’s death toll is no trifling number.

Given this harsh reality, an outsider might find it hard to fathom how an intervention as simple as a community radio station could make a difference. But for the listeners who toil here daily, the radio has become something of a lifeline.

“Our station, our issues”

Naheda Yusuf, a senior programme manager at the Delhi-based media non-profit Development Alternatives, which helped launch Radio Bundelkhand back in 2008, tells IPS that 99 percent of the listeners are farmers.

Although the villages that make up the bulk of the audience lie in different states, they all fall into the larger Bundelkhand region and so share a distinct culture, traditions and dialect.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region,” Yusuf explains. “It connects with them in their Bundeli dialect, and provides information on issues that concern them.”

Over 75 percent of the shows are dedicated to agricultural issues including farming techniques, pest control practices, market prices, weather forecasts, and climate change updates.

While some of the information is sourced daily from government agencies like the departments of agriculture and meteorology, most of it comes from six reporter-producers who interact directly with the community to gather news and views most relevant to their listeners.

Every day, each of them produces at least one live show, during which the audience is asked to call in with their questions and comments.

“It’s your show,” one commentator announces on the air, “so if you don’t share your opinions, we can’t get it right.”

One of the most popular shows on Radio Bundelkhand is ‘Shuv Kal’ meaning good tomorrow. Its central theme is climate change and its effect on the farming community.

One of the show’s two producers, Gauri Sharma, says they discuss water access, deforestation and solar energy. They also pay homage to the river Betwa, a tributary of the Yamuna that waters these lands, and encourages farmers not to waste the precious resource.

“We discuss planting trees around the farms, so excess water from irrigation pumps can be utilised,” Sharma tells IPS. “We also spread awareness about renewable energy.”

The response from the audience has been encouraging, she adds, especially among the youth who call and write in to share how the station has shaped their practices.

In one such letter, an 18-year-old farmer from the village of Tafarian shared that he had “planted 22 fruit trees around his farm, stopped using polythene and begun vermicomposting” as a result of listening to the show.

Portable, affordable, accessible

Another listener, Jayanti Bai of Vaswan village, says the radio station literally saved her entire crop. “The leaves of my okra plants were turning yellow,” she tells IPS. “Then I heard of a medicine on the radio, which I sprayed on the leaves – it saved me.”

She now wants to buy a radio for the entire community and tie it to a tree so the women in her neighbourhood can listen to it together. It will take some saving – the most popular device used here costs about 1,000 rupees (about 15 dollars) and that is more than she can afford in one go.

But in a region that experiences eight to 10 hours of power cuts a day, and where only 48 percent of the female population and just over 70 percent of the male population is literate, a radio is a far more viable option than a television, or newspapers.

Farmers also tell IPS a radio’s portability makes it a more attractive choice since it can be taken to “work” – meaning carried into the fields and played loud enough for workers to hear as they go about their tasks.

Because the station caters to a largely female audience, it tackles issues that are particularly relevant to women listeners. One of these is the question of suicide, which many women see as a male phenomenon.

“Have you ever heard of a woman farmer committing suicide?” asks 46-year-old Ramkumari Napet, of Baswan village. “It is because she thinks, ‘What will happen to my children when I am gone?’”

Women contend that men require more help in understanding their relationships both to themselves and their families. And indeed, the radio station is helping them determine these blurry lines.

“Last week an anonymous caller said his brother was thinking of committing suicide,” Sharma tells IPS. “He [the caller] said he was going to try to talk his brother out of it.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pope Could Upstage World Leaders at U.N. Summit in Septemberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:26:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141208 His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

Judging by his recent public pronouncements – including on reproductive health, biodiversity, the creation of a Palestinian state, the political legitimacy of Cuba and now climate change – Pope Francis may upstage more than 150 world leaders when he addresses the United Nations, come September.

“The Pope will most likely be the headline-grabber,” predicts one longtime U.N. watcher, “particularly if he continues to be as outspoken as he has been so far.”“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.” -- Pope Francis

As his mostly socio-political statements become increasingly hard-hitting, the Argentine-born Il Papa, the first Pope from the developing world, is drawing both ardent supporters and hostile critics.

Last January, during a trip to Asia, he dropped a bombshell when he said Catholics should practice responsible parenthood and stop “breeding like rabbits.”

In the United States, the Pope has been criticised by right-wing conservatives for playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the resumption of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, and incurred the wrath of the pro-Israeli lobby for recognising Palestine as a nation state.

In fact, most of his pronouncements are closely in line with the United Nations – and specifically its socio-economic agenda.

In his 184-page Encyclical released Thursday, the Pope says “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”

“Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet. In this Encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

The Pope also complains how weak international political responses have been.

“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” he said.

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected, the Pope declared.

Speaking on the global environment last year, he said: “The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

“Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently warned against the devastating effects of climate change, praised Pope Francis for his papal encyclical which highlights that “climate change is one of the principal challenges facing humanity, and that it is a moral issue requiring respectful dialogue with all parts of society.”

He agreed with the encyclical’s findings that there is “a very solid scientific consensus” showing significant warming of the climate system and that most global warming in recent decades is “mainly a result of human activity”.

Ban urged governments to place the global common good above national interests and to adopt an ambitious, universal climate agreement in Paris this year.

Tim Gore, Oxfam International Climate Adviser, told IPS the Pope has set out how climate change is at its most basic a moral issue – it is a deep injustice that the pollution of the world’s richest people and countries drives harmful climate disruption in the poorest communities and countries.

“Anyone that is concerned about injustice should rightly be concerned about climate change, and in making his call, the Pope joins many other leaders of faith, civil society and trade unions. Climate change is all of our business,” he said.

Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Programme at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said: “Pope Francis is crystal clear — the current development model, based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas, has to go. In its place, we need renewable sources of energy and new modes of production and consumption that rein in global warming.”

Taxing carbon, divesting from fossil fuels, and ending public corporate welfare for polluters can help end the stranglehold dirty energy companies have on our governments, economies and societies, she added.

In a statement released Thursday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently chair of the Africa Progress Panel and Kofi Annan Foundation, said as Pope Francis reaffirms, climate change is an all-encompassing threat.

“It is a threat to our security, our health, and our sources of fresh water and food. Such conditions could displace tens of millions of people, dwarfing current migration and fuelling further conflicts,” Annan said.

“I applaud the Pope for his strong moral and ethical leadership. We need more of such inspired leadership. Will we see it at the climate summit in Paris?,” he added.

In the United States, the criticisms have come mostly from right-wing conservatives, who want the Pope to confine himself to religion, not politics.

Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina and a strong supporter of Israel, said Pope Francis should avoid the Palestine debate altogether – the Vatican should focus on spiritual matters and stay out of politics.

Asked Tuesday, just ahead of the Pope’s statement on climate change, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency, said: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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New Approaches to Managing Disaster Focus on Resiliencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/new-approaches-to-managing-disaster-focus-on-resilience/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:29:18 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141202 Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

Natural disasters have become a fact of life for millions around the world, and the future forecast is only getting worse.

From super typhoons to floods, droughts and landslides, these events tend to widen existing inequalities between and within nations, often leaving the poorest with quite literally nothing."The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it." -- Chloe Demrovsky

In 2013 alone, three times as many people lost their homes to natural disasters than to war, according to a new policy brief by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

The brief, which recommends incorporating accessible risk insurance into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), frames all this as a human rights issue.

“States and other actors have a duty to protect the human rights of life, livelihood and shelter of their citizens, which can be threatened by natural hazards if exposure is high and resilience low or inadequate,” the brief’s author,  Dr. Ana Gonzalez Pelaez, a fellow at the institute, told IPS.

“Insurance is an essential element in building resilience, and for insurance to operate appropriate supportive regulation needs to be in place.”

She said that at least some of these resources could be allocated as part of the adaptation measures countries will negotiate at the climate talks in Paris in December.

Earlier this month, the G7 promised to insure up to 400 million vulnerable people against risks from climate change. This could be accomplished through a combination of public, private, mutual or cooperative insurance systems.

Tom Herbstein is the programme manager of ClimateWise, whose membership includes 32 leading insurance companies. He says many are actively exploring ways to extend coverage to emerging markets and vulnerable communities.

This includes using long-term weather forecasting to support small-scale agricultural coverage, to the African Risk Capacity, established to help African Union members respond to natural disasters.

“Yet entering such markets poses many challenges,” Herbstein told IPS. “These include distribution models unsuited to high-volume, low premium insurance products; a lack of historical actuarial data; populations struggling to comprehend a financial product one might never derive benefit from; and widespread political and regulatory uncertainties.”

Ultimately, he said, if coverage of poor communities is to be mainstreamed, “an alignment between insurers, political leaders, regulators and other stakeholders will be necessary to help lessen the risks – i.e. costs – associated with entering such new and challenging markets.”

Palaez says that microinsurance is also moving further into the mainstream strategy of major commercial insurers like Alliance and Swiss Re. In January 2015, a consortium of eight global insurance institutions announced the creation of Blue Marble Microinsurance, an entity formed to open markets and deliver risk protection in underserved developing countries.

There have already been success stories. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in October 2013, CARD MBA of the Philippines paid claims to almost 300,000 customers affected by the catastrophe within five days of the event.

But some disaster experts also emphasise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And even the best intentions can have lacklustre results.

Haiti is a prime example. More than five years ago, a massive earthquake struck the Caribbean nation, already the poorest in the region, killing more than 230,000 people.

A year later, the Red Cross initiated a multimillion-dollar project called LAMIKA to rebuild damaged or destroyed homes, and amassed nearly half a billion dollars in donations. But according to a recent investigation by ProPublica, only six homes were actually built.

Chloe Demrovsky, executive director of the non-profit Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI), says aiding local communities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster will never be a simple task.

“The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it,” she told IPS. “Many disasters could be prevented by focusing on preparing our communities in advance. Each disaster event presents unique challenges, so there is no option to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

“For this reason, the idea of promoting resilience is gaining ground over the traditional approach of disaster risk reduction. Resilience means the ability to bounce back from a shock. The resilience of a community in terms of disaster recovery is dependent on the resources, level of preparedness, and organizational capacity of that community.  Strong communities recover faster.”

She said that the concept of “business continuity” is a key component of building resilient systems.

“Vulnerable communities are always the hardest hit during a large-scale disaster and it is important that the government deploys enough resources quickly enough to help them recover. If the private sector is adequately prepared, that will reduce the government burden and allow them to focus resources on the most adversely affected communities.

“The private sector needs to be included in every stage of the process in order for it to be an asset rather than a potential detractor from the major goals of improving our approach to disaster aid.”

She added that it’s most useful to give cash donations rather than sending material goods, and it is preferable to give to a local organisation rather than a large international organisation with name recognition.

“The local NGO is used to working in that community, understands its unique system, and will be able to more rapidly identify its needs.  Because they are local, they will also remain in the area for the long-term even after the original outpouring of aid begins to dry up,” she pointed out.

“Finally, we need to learn from past experiences and start to prepare for the next disaster before it happens. Many tragedies can be prevented by having a good plan in place. Events happen, but disasters are man-made.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cities Will Be Decisive in Fight for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cities-will-be-decisive-in-fight-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cities-will-be-decisive-in-fight-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cities-will-be-decisive-in-fight-for-sustainable-development/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 13:44:32 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141169 The sharp contrast between the poorer communities’ shanties and the skyline of the Makati City financial district underscores the huge income gap between the haves and have-nots. The Philippines’ income disparity is one of the biggest in South-east Asia. Credit: IPS

The sharp contrast between the poorer communities’ shanties and the skyline of the Makati City financial district underscores the huge income gap between the haves and have-nots. The Philippines’ income disparity is one of the biggest in South-east Asia. Credit: IPS

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

With cities increasingly in the spotlight on the international stage, urban planning and development has become a critical issue in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While slums continue to grow in most developing countries, reinforcing other forms of inequality, urban planning requires a shift from viewing urbanisation mainly as a problem to seeing it as a powerful tool for development, according to the 2015 UN-Habitat Global Activities Report.“The U.N. is fundamentally challenged with its construct of one country, one vote, when most of the implementation of sustainable development will fall to the world's 200 or so largest cities." -- Daniel Hoornweg

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says cities have the potential to shape the future of humankind and to win the battle for sustainable development.

“Cities are at the forefront of the global battle against climate change,” he said last week at the Mayor’s Forum of the World Cities Summit in New York.

“The way in which cities are planned, run and managed is crucial. The leadership role of mayors and city governments is therefore of fundamental importance,” he added.

In the last two decades, cities and urban centres have become the dominant habitats for humankind and the engine-rooms of human development as a whole. For the first time in history in 2008, the urban population outnumbered the rural population, marking the beginning of a new “urban millennium”.

Today, more than half of humanity lives in cities. By 2050, around 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, according to the report.

Poverty, which remains the greatest global challenge facing the world today, is increasingly concentrated in urban areas.

As Eliasson highlighted, close to one billion of the world’s urban dwellers still live in dire, even life-threatening, slum conditions – and this figure is projected to rise to 1.6 billion by 2030. Some 2.5 billion people in the world lack access to improved sanitation, not least in urban areas.

Daniel Hoornweg, a former World Bank specialist on cities and climate change, says that the lion’s share of implementation will fall to cities regardless of what countries agree in terms of the SDGs.

“National governments, when negotiating, need to fully reflect local government capacities as the ‘doing arm of government’. This is less about urban planning than it is about empowerment and assistance to local governments,” he told IPS.

As stated in the 2014 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, urbanisation is integrally connected to the three pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.

However, international governments and organisations have not respected this triumvirate, going against the 11th SDG, which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

“Urban planning is still too focused on economic efficiency and growth, leaving aside the goal of upgrading sustainable lifestyles,” Leida Rijnhout, director of Global Policies and Sustainability of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), told IPS.

“Facilitating a well-functioning and affordable public transport system can be more important than building highways for an increasing number of private cars. Also, preserving local shops (SMEs) and not ‘killing them’ by building big shopping malls is another example of urban sustainability that provides social cohesion,” she added.

The equation is clear: if well managed, cities offer a unique opportunity for economic development and growth, but at the same time, they can expand the access to basic services, including health care and education, for millions of people.

In other words: providing universal access to electricity, water, sanitation, housing and public transportation for a densely settled urban population promotes economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies.

However, this goal can only be achieved if U.N. member states and U.N. agencies come together to promote sustainable urbanisation and if there’s a connection between the power dynamics of local governments and national governments.

“The U.N. is fundamentally challenged with its construct of one country, one vote, when most of the implementation of sustainable development will fall to the world’s 200 or so largest cities,” Hoornweg told IPS.

According to Hoornweg, the U.N. needs to be reformed in order to get a fair representation of large cities on the international stage – “Countries like Fiji and Vanuatu cannot have more influence than Shanghai and Sao Paulo.”

He says an alternative approach could be establishing a “pragmatism council” of the world’s largest cities –say those that are expected to have five million or more residents by 2050 (around 120 cities).

“Having this council negotiate things like SDGs would not yield binding accords but they would yield a very powerful ‘shadow accord’ that no country could easily ignore,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: What the Philippines Can Learn from Morocco, Peru and Ethiopiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-what-the-philippines-can-learn-from-morocco-peru-and-ethiopia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-what-the-philippines-can-learn-from-morocco-peru-and-ethiopia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-what-the-philippines-can-learn-from-morocco-peru-and-ethiopia/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 23:47:12 +0000 Chris Wright and Jed Alegado http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141161 NGOs call for an energy revolution at the Bonn talks. Credit: IISD

NGOs call for an energy revolution at the Bonn talks. Credit: IISD

By Chris Wright and Jed Alegado
MANILA, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

(Last week, Australian Climate Activist offered an apology to the Philippines for his country’s lack of action. Today, he partners up with climate tracker from the Philippines Jed Alegado to talk about what the Philippines can do to show its leadership in tackling climate change.)

There has been a lot of pressure on the Philippines in the last week. Climate Change Commission Secretary Lucille Sering faced a senate hearing about the Philippines’ commitment to its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs.

Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), INDCs were introduced in Warsaw in 2013 to hasten and ensure concrete climate action plans from countries.We have already seen this year how cities like New Delhi and Beijing have become almost unlivable due to the dangerously polluted air. What will happen to the Philippines if it follows a similar path?

During the visit of French President Francois Hollande to the Philippines last February, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announced that his country’s INDC will be submitted by August this year after he delivers his final State of the Nation Address. However, during the Senate hearing last week, Sering said that the Philippines aims to submit the INDC before the October 2015 deadline.

In an interview last month, civil society representative to the Philippine delegation, Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Vina, clarified the process conducted by the Philippine government for its INDC. According to La Vina,  INDC orientation and workshops were conducted among government agencies in January 2015. A technical working group was formed last March followed by stakeholder discussions last month which included civil society groups, key government agencies and the private sector.

For a country which has played a leadership role and has become a rallying point for the global call for climate action due to its former lead negotiator Yeb Sano and the Super Typhoon Haiyan which wreaked havoc in the central Philippines in 2013, there has been a lot of pressure for the Philippines to come up with a definitive and clear commitment for its INDC.

Last month, Sering announced that the Philippines’ INDC might focus on a renewable energy and low-carbon sustainable development plan: “low emission and long-term development pathway to involve private sector and other stakeholders”. Sering also said that the Philippines intends to increase the use of renewable energy.

However, last week, the Palawan Community for Sustainable Development gave the go-ahead to a company to construct a coal-powered plant in Palawan in the western part of the Philippines, often described as the country’s last frontier. Environmental NGOs based in the province have been trying to stop the construction of this 15-megawatt coal plant to be built by one of the major construction companies in the Philippines.

In the past two years, the government has also approved the construction of 21-coal powered projects despite the President Aquino’s declaration that the Philippines intends to “nearly triple the country’s renewable-energy-based capacity from around 5,400 megawatts in 2010 to 15,300 MW in 2030.”

In spite of these events happening in the Philippines, the second week of the Bonn intersession has also been characterised by developing countries who have stood proud and shown the world just what they can do to stop global warming.

Reform, Accountability and Ambition

It may therefore be timely for the Philippines to take some lessons from three recent INDC announcements that have each drawn great praise at the U.N.

Step 1: Reform

The first lesson comes from Morocco, which this week came out as the first country to address “fossil fuel subsidy reform” in their Climate Action Plan. As the first Arab country to make an international Climate Action Plan, they naturally shocked a lot of people.

However, when you dive into their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 per cent by 2030 compared to what they call “business as usual”, I guess it’s understandable that some of us are having apprehensions.

But what is good about their efforts is to “substantially reduce fossil fuel subsidies”. This is one of the truly ‘unspoken’ aspects of transitioning away from fossil fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we need to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible to keep us below two degrees of warming. In order to give Filipinos a chance at a safe future, we need a global phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050, and the first step to get there is to cut fossil fuel subsidies.

Globally, the IMF estimates that the fossil fuel industry receives 10 million dollars every minute. If the world is ever going to move into a fossil-free future, reforming these subsidies will be critical. This is one way the Philippines can show some real leadership with their Climate Action Plan.

Step 2: Accountability

Late last week, Peru publicly announced their Climate Action Plan. While they haven’t yet officially submitted it to the U.N., what they have produced is very impressive.

In developing their Climate Action Plan, Peru has carefully calculated exactly how much emissions they can cut based on a concrete number of projects which they clearly outline in the plan. As such, their plan to cut emissions by 31 per cent based on business as usual is backed up by 58 clearly outlined different mitigation projects.

This makes it very easy for Peru to ask for support from developed countries to help them improve on their commitments. In fact, they have even outlined how they can increase their emissions cuts to up to 42 per cent with an extra 18 projects.

While they haven’t made a specific ask for international assistance to meet this difference, this level of transparency could make it a very simple step in the future. What’s more, they have now opened this plan up to public consultations until July 17.

They will be holding workshops across Peru and asking a wide range of citizens what their views on the Climate Action Plans are.

If the Philippines want to ask for international support to help increase their ability to combat global warming, this level of international and domestic transparency will be a critical step to take.

Step 3: Ambition

It is definitely true that the Filipinos have not caused climate change. In fact, the Filipinos are among the smallest contributors to climate change per person. What’s more, the energy needs across the country are critical. But is coal really the answer?

With 26 coal plants planned over the next ten years, what will become of the air that everyone has to breathe? We have already seen this year how cities like New Delhi and Beijing have become almost unlivable due to the dangerously polluted air. What will happen to the Philippines if it follows a similar path?

One country seeking to link their development needs to combatting climate change is Ethiopia. Yesterday they released a Climate Action Plan which aims at a 64 per cent reduction on their business as usual predictions.

With 94 million people, and over a quarter of those in extreme poverty, Ethiopia is a great model for the Philippines to follow. They have focussed their emissions cuts around agricultural reform, reforestation, renewable energy and public transport. These are all reforms which are possible for the Philippines to also make.

Ethiopia is not simply giving in to a broken development model that relies on fossil fuels, but neither is it living a “green” fantasy. It is among the fastest growing countries in the world and the fastest growing non-oil-dependent African country.

With international support, it plans to double its economy while still achieving carbon-negative growth. This, Ethiopia believes, is best for not only for the health of its economy in the long term, but their people.

If the Philippines is going to show the type of global leadership it has strived for over recent years at the U.N. climate negotiations, there are three easy steps for them to take forward; Reform, Accountability and Ambition.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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.

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Climate Justice: Trial by Public Opinion for World’s Pollutershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/climate-justice-trial-by-public-opinion-for-worlds-polluters/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 21:31:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141158 Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is tasked with the protection of the global environment, has asserted that climate change affects people everywhere – with no exceptions.

Still, one of the greatest inequities of our time is that the poorest and the most marginalised individuals, communities and countries — which have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions — often bear the greatest burden, says the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable." -- Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia

With an increasing link between climate change and human rights, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which is conscious of the growing threat of rising sea levels to Pacific island nations, is seeking “climate justice,” including both redress and accountability.

“For the first time anywhere in the world,” says Greenpeace, it will submit a petition to the Philippines Commission on Human Rights asking the Commission to investigate the responsibility of the world’s biggest polluters for directly violating human rights or threatening to, due to their contribution to climate change and ocean acidification.

Anna Abad, climate justice campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS: “The filing of the human rights petition before the Philippine Commission on Human Rights is a first step to investigate the responsibility of the Carbon Majors (a.k.a. big carbon polluters) for their human rights violations or threatened human rights violations resulting from climate change and ocean acidification impacts.”

Asked whether there is a possibility of the issue being taken up either by the Security Council or the International Court of Justice, she said Greenpeace Southeast Asia is also exploring other avenues – both legal and transnational – to amplify the urgency of climate justice and to ensure that those responsible for the climate crisis are held accountable for their actions.

“This is a collective effort between our partners and allies. With the climate justice campaign, we have certainly begun the trial by public opinion,” Abad said.

Zelda Soriano, legal and political advisor from Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said climate change is a borderless issue, gravely affecting millions of people worldwide.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council has recognised that climate change has serious repercussions on the enjoyment of human rights as it poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world.”

In this light, she said, “We view climate change as a social injustice that must be addressed by international governments and agencies, most especially those responsible for contributing to the climate crisis.”

Last week, the President of Vanuatu Baldwin Londsdale joined climate-impacted communities from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, as well as representatives from the Philippines, at “an emergency meeting” in Vanuatu vowing to seek ‘Climate Justice’ and hold big fossil fuel entities accountable for fuelling global climate change.

The Climate Change and Human Rights workshop was held on board the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, with the participation of about 40 delegates and civil society groups from Pacific Island nations.

“It is now more important than ever before that we stand united as affected communities in the face of climate change, rising sea-levels and changing weather patterns. Let us continue to stand and work together in our fight against the threats of climate change,” Londsdale told delegates.

The workshop concluded with participants signing on to the ‘People’s Declaration for Climate Justice,’ which was handed over to the President of Vanuatu.

According to Greenpeace, human-induced climate change is forecast to unleash increased hardship on the Philippines and Pacific Island nations due to stronger storms and cyclones.

A new study, Northwestern Pacific typhoon intensity controlled by changes in ocean temperatures, suggests that with climate change, storms like Haiyan, which in 2013 devastated Southeast Asia and specifically the Philippines, could get even stronger and more common.

It projects the intensity of typhoons in the western Pacific Ocean to increase by as much as 14 percent – nearly equivalent to an increase of one category – by century’s end even under a moderate future scenario of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace says it believes that those most vulnerable will continue to suffer, representing a violation of their basic human rights.

According to Greenpeace, recent research has shown that 90 entities are responsible for an estimated 914 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) of cumulative world emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1854 and 2010, or about 63 percent of estimated global industrial emissions of these greenhouse gases.

Abad said: “These big carbon polluters have enriched themselves for almost a century with the continued burning of coal, oil and gas. They are the driving force behind climate change.”

She said time is running out for these vulnerable communities and the world’s big carbon polluters have a moral and legal responsibility for their products and to meaningfully address climate change before it is too late.

Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia was quoted as saying: “Climate change is not a problem for one nation to solve alone, all our Pacific Island countries are affected as one in our shared ocean.”

She said governments must stand up for their rights and demand redress from these big carbon polluters for past and future climate transgressions.

“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable and to seek financial compensation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Adaptation Funding a Key Issue for Caribbean at Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/adaptation-funding-a-key-issue-for-caribbean-at-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 14:00:40 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141141 Rising sea levels pose a challenge for tourism-dependent Caribbean economies where the beach is a major attraction. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

With less than six months to go before the next full United Nations Conference of the Parties also known as COP 21 – widely regarded as a make-or-break moment for an agreement on global action on climate change – Caribbean nations are still hammering out the best approach to the talks.

The Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Director of Sustainable Development, Garfield Barnwell, said “the region’s expectations are extremely sober” with regards to COP 21, scheduled for Paris during November and December of this year. This is due to the poor response from the major emitting countries in addressing the issue of climate change."For the region, climate change magnifies the growing concerns regarding food security, water scarcity, energy security and the resource requirements for protection from natural disaster." -- CARICOM Chair Perry Christie

“An ideal 2015 agreement for the Caribbean would be one that first and foremost addresses the global rate of emissions and if that could be as close as possible to 1.5 degrees stabilisation of the global emissions level,” Barnwell told IPS.

“If there are commitments on the part of the major emitters meeting their commitments; and also if the international community would acknowledge the importance of adaptation and that they would provide adequate resources for all developing countries to address their adaptation needs, certainly that would be a good starting point with regards to further discussions in addressing the serious challenge of dangerous climate change.”

Barnwell said the region has been taking stock of what has been happening at the global level with regards to greenhouse gas emissions and “great concerns” remain concerning the responses from the major emitting countries.

He pointed to “the lack of action in meeting the commitments made in the past” on the climate change issue.

“The expectation is that there would be a number of announcements with regards to how the major emitters plan to meet their goals with respect to the expected discussions, but the (countries of the) region do, to a large extent,  have a measured level of expectation regarding the Paris talks in December.”

Caribbean countries are also trying their utmost to seek the mobilisation of resources to more aggressively implement their adaptation programmes at the national level.

“Adaptation is of great significance to us in the Caribbean because our region as a group contributes less than one percent of the total global greenhouse gasses. When we calculated the amount, it comes up to about 0.33 percent of global greenhouse gasses so mitigation is not an issue for the Caribbean given our contribution,” Barnwell said.

“However, it must be stated that the impact of both temperature rises and precipitation levels poses serious challenges for our survival as a region and a national security (concern) to many of our member states given that most of us are either islands or most of our populations and social and economic infrastructure reside on the coastal belt which brings into focus the issue of sea level rise which is of great concern to all our member states.”

Climate change poses significant challenges to the natural resource base of the Caribbean, with most countries having resource-based economies including tourism where there is great reliance on the sea in terms of the beaches which are a major source of attraction.

Some countries are also primary producers of agricultural crops, and the agricultural sector, like tourism, is significantly affected by climate change.

“We have a problem with regards to rising sea levels in terms of the oceans coming more inland and that poses a challenge not only for the beaches but also for the hotels and the airports that to a large extent are roughly about three centimetres away from the sea in many of our islands,” Barnwell said.

“For many of our islands, we are challenged and have been challenged by the impact of natural disasters and again as a result of rising sea levels and warming oceans, the potential for a greater impact of natural disasters poses some significant challenges in terms of the frequency and the impact.

“For those agriculture-oriented economies in the region, we also face challenges associated with the change in temperatures and also the precipitation rates with regards to patterns with respect to planting, with respect to reaping of our products. All these are significant problems with regards to how we have been living and the kinds of activities we’ve been engaged in. So climate change poses significant challenges for our region in terms of our livelihood and our survival,” Barnwell added.

At the just ended two-week Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, Caribbean negotiators maintained the pressure to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level.

They noted that limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 2 degrees Celsius would come with several advantages, including avoiding or significantly reducing risks to food production and unique and threatened systems such as coral reefs.

The Caribbean negotiators also requested that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ensure that the lowest marker scenario used in its 6th Assessment Report is consistent with limiting warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Chairman of CARICOM and Prime Minister of The Bahamas Perry Christie said as a result of the impacts of climate change, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), which spearheads the technical work for CARICOM on this issue, estimates the cost of global inaction in the sub-region to be approximately 10.7 billion dollars per year by 2025 and that this figure could double by 2050.

He said the Caribbean is urging parties that have made pledges towards the initial capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to enter into their contribution agreements with the GCF as soon as possible and scale up their contributions in line with the pledge for 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

“For the region, climate change magnifies the growing concerns regarding food security, water scarcity, energy security and the resource requirements for protection from natural disaster,” Christie told IPS.

“Another significant threat is linked to the projected impact of climate change on public health, through an increase in the presence of vectors of tropical diseases, such as malaria and dengue, and the prevalence of respiratory illnesses.

“These diseases will affect the well-being and productivity of the workforce of the sub-region and compromise the economic growth, competitiveness and development potential of the Caribbean Community,” he said.

Meantime, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt, who chairs the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), said they are constantly reminded that the power to bring about the desired change in the global climate system rests with those countries that are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

“We in the OECS are among the smallest of the small and despite or negligible contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, we are on the frontline as the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” Skerritt told IPS.

“For us, climate change and its related phenomenon are issues affecting our very survival and can be viewed as a matter of life and death.

“As an organisation comprising and representing the smallest of the small, ours is a solemn duty and responsibility to articulate and champion the cause of all our member states – those that are sovereign as well as those that are not; and those that are party to the UNFCC as well as those that are not.”

Skerritt said they have adopted this posture in the knowledge that climate change has absolutely no regard for political status and that it impacts, with equal severity, the islands and low-lying and coastal regions regardless of political or sovereign status.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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