Inter Press Service » Globalisation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 29 Mar 2015 08:27:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetorichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139917 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

As a new cold war between the United States and Russia picks up steam, the nuclear threat is in danger of escalating – perhaps far beyond political rhetoric.

Randy Riddel, a former senior political affairs officer with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) told IPS he pities the general public.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.” -- The Economist
“They’re being fed two competing narratives about nukes,” he said, in a realistic assessment of the current state of play.

“Oracle 1 says everybody’s rushing to acquire them or to perfect them.”

Oracle 2 forecasts a big advance for nuclear disarmament, as the bandwagon for humanitarian disarmament continues to gain momentum, said Riddel, a former senior counsellor and report director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

“The irony is that if Oracle 2 is wrong, Oracle 1 will likely win this debate – and we’ll all lose,” he grimly predicted about the nuclear scenario.

In a recent cover story, the London Economist is unequivocally pessimistic: “A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing threat of nuclear conflict.”

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, it said, the world is entering a new nuclear age.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.”

Shannon Kile, senior researcher and head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS he agrees with the recent piece in The Economist that the world may be entering a “new nuclear age”.

“However, I would not narrowly define this in terms of new spending on nuclear weapons by states possessing them. Rather, I think it must be defined more broadly in terms of the emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world that has replaced the bipolar order of the cold war,” he added.

Kile also pointed out that nuclear weapons have become core elements in the defence and national security policies of countries in East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, where they complicate calculations of regional stability and deterrence in unpredictable ways.

This in turn raises risks that regional rivalries could lead to nuclear proliferation and even confrontation that did not exist when the nuclear club was smaller.

Meanwhile, the signs are ominous: the negotiations to prevent Iran going nuclear are still deadlocked.

Saudi Arabia has signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, presumably for “peaceful purposes”, with South Korea; and North Korea has begun to flex its nuclear muscle.

Last week Hyun Hak Bong, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, was quoted by Sky News as saying his country would use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by the U.S.

“It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes,” Hyun said.

“If the United States strike us, we should strike back. We are ready for conventional war with conventional war; we are ready for nuclear war with nuclear war. We do not want war but we are not afraid of war,” Hyun said.

The Economist also pointed out that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Kile told IPS a subsidiary aspect of the “new nuclear age” is more technical in nature and has to do with the steady erosion of the operational boundary between nuclear and conventional forces.

Specifically, he said, the development of new types of advanced long-range, precision guided missile systems, combined with the increasing capabilities of satellite-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems, means that conventional weapons are now being given roles and missions that were previously assigned to nuclear weapons.

“This trend has been especially strong in the United States but we also see it in [the] South Asian context, where India is adopting conventional strike systems to target Pakistani nuclear forces as part of its emerging limited war doctrine.”

Kile also said many observers have pointed out that this technology trend is driving doctrinal changes that could lead to increased instability in times of crisis and raise the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

“What these developments suggest to me is that while the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has significantly decreased since the end of the cold war (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989), the spectrum of risks and perils arising from nuclear weapons has actually expanded.”

Given that nuclear weapons remain uniquely dangerous because they are uniquely destructive, “I don’t think anyone will dispute that we must redouble our collective efforts aimed at reaching a world in which nuclear arsenals are marginalised and can be eventually prohibited,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Global Citizenship Essential for Gender Equality: Ambassador Chowdhuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:34:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139860 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

At a recent panel discussion on women’s leadership during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury was the lone male voice.

"Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world," Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

“Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world,” Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

In front of an audience of every creed, colour and culture, the decorated diplomat and former president of the United Nations Security Council tied the advancement of women’s causes to one of his pet causes: the idea of ‘global citizenship,’ of humans growing and learning and acting and working with consideration of their place in the global community.

“Being globally connected, emerging as global citizens, will help women achieve equality and help them show leadership,” Chowdhury told the packed room on Mar. 17.

“Each one of us needs to be globally connected. The days of staying in our national boundaries are gone. It is necessary to see women’s rights and equality as human issues, not women’s issues,” he said. “Men and women together, we have the power to empower.”

Through decades in diplomacy, the Bangladesh-born Chowdhury has served in some of the U.N’s highest posts, including under-secretary-general and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, president of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and vice-president of the Economic and Social Council, as well as serving two terms as Security Council president.

This idea of global citizenship is one he has proudly championed, pushing for greater education for young people to know and appreciate their place in the world, and how they can understand global challenges.

Chowdhury said the concept had existed for some time, but gained international prominence when it was enshrined – alongside increasing school enrolment and improving quality of education – as one of three priorities on the Secretary-General’s ‘Global Education First Initiative’ (GEFI) in 2012.

“Global citizenship is your ability and capacity to think as part one broad humanity. It is believing in ‘oneness’ of humanity, that we are all connected and interconnected, all interdependent,” Chowdhury told IPS.

“Humanity cannot make progress without all of us feeling that way. Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world. Nothing and no one can feel independent of connection with the world.”

Placing global citizenship alongside such foundational educational aspirations as increasing numbers of children attending school, and raising the quality of those schools, illustrates the extent to which the U.N. supports the concept.

In contrast to the concrete, empirical first and second goal, a brochure produced in conjunction with the launch of the GEFI outlined global citizenship as a more esoteric, ethereal concept; concerned not so much with achieving a certain statistic or milestone, but with bringing about a more fundamental shift in how education itself is delivered.

“Interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life,” the brochure stated.

“It must cultivate an active care for the world… education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day… it must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century.”The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world.

Chowdhury cited economic development, climate change and peace as the three major challenges that require advanced global citizenship to find a solution.

“Nobody can just get a normal degree from a university and think that knowledge will carry them through. They have to know what’s happening in the rest of the world. We have a better world if we feel for others in need who are impoverished and going through challenges,” he said.

“The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world. Being born a human has some responsibility, and that entails being aware of the challenges and how best you can contribute to resolving them.”

In his presentation to the CSW panel, Chowdhury invoked women in Africa – who he said “faced the heaviest odds in the world on many fronts” – as a source of inspiration for women worldwide fighting for gender equality.

“I am personally encouraged to see the leadership of African women. They face heavy odds, but come up with enormous amounts of energy, creativity and leadership to make their presence felt,” he said.

In speaking with IPS, he invoked global citizenship as a basic cornerstone for effective leadership moving toward a sustainable international future – but said that some foundational aspects of current education would need to be remoulded to achieve the ideal learning system to craft successful global citizens.

“Sometimes people in industrialised countries think they know everything, that their education is the best, but in many cases those students have the least knowledge of the challenges in other parts of the world. The majority of the world’s population are going through concerns not even known to people in other parts of the world,” Chowdhury said.

“People are told they learn to get a degree, to get a job, to get money. That is the central focus in many countries. Really, the most important thing is to learn about the world, its diversity, that there are many languages and cultures and ethnicities.”

Both Chowdhury and the GEFI cited numerous barriers to implementing better systems to teach global citizenship, including outdated teaching methods and equipment, insufficient teacher capacity to teach such concepts, and the costs of updating or reforming such systems.

“Reviews from around the world find that today’s curricula and textbooks often reinforce stereotypes, exacerbate social divisions, and foster fear and resentment of other groups or nationalities. Rarely are curricula developed through a participatory process that embraces excluded and marginalized groups,” the GEFI brochure stated.

Chowdhury, however, stressed that the costs of inaction far outweighed the costs and difficulty of reforming educational systems.

“We have ignored global citizenship and interconnectedness, valued independence of our countries, and conflict is happening. Economic development, trade regimes, all these things are are seriously affected if we don’t [change],” he said.

“This is why we are stepping up our concern and interest in promoting global citizenship as a value to be added to humanity’s opportunities.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Islanders Say Climate Finance “Essential” for Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:56:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139854 Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia , Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

As Pacific Islanders contemplate the scale of devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam this month across four Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu, leaders in the region are calling with renewed urgency for global action on climate finance, which they say is vital for building climate resilience and arresting development losses.

In a recent public statement, the Marshall Islands’ president, Christopher Loeak, said, “The world’s best scientists, and what we see daily with our own eyes, all tell us that without urgent and transformative action by the big polluters to reduce emissions and help us to build resilience, we are headed for a world of constant climate catastrophe.”

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities." -- Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Progress on the delivery of climate funding pledges by the international community could also decide outcomes at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, they say.

“It is reassuring to see many countries, including some very generous developing countries, step forward with promises to capitalise the Green Climate Fund. But we need a much better sense of how governments plan to ramp up their climate finance over the coming years to ensure the Copenhagen promise of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 is fulfilled,” Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told IPS.

“Without this assurance, success in Paris will be very difficult to achieve.”

The Pacific Islands are home to about 10 million people in 22 island states and territories with 35 percent living below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change could cost the region up to 12.7 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates.

The Pacific Islands contribute a negligible 0.03 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet are the first to suffer the worst impacts of global warming. Regional leaders have been vocal about the climate injustice their Small Island Developing States (SIDS) confront with industrialised nations, the largest carbon emitters, yet to implement policies that would limit global temperature rise to the threshold of two degrees Celsius.

In the Marshall Islands, where more than 52,000 people live on 34 small islands and atolls in the North Pacific, sea-level rise and natural disasters are jeopardising communities mainly concentrated on low-lying coastal areas.

“Climate disasters in the last year chewed up more than five percent of national GDP and that figure continues to rise. We are working to improve and mainstream adaptation into our national planning, but emergencies continue to set us back,” the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister said.

The nation experienced a severe drought in 2013 and last year massive tidal surges, which caused extensive flooding of coastal villages and left hundreds of people homeless.

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities,” de Brum continued.

Priorities in the Marshall Islands include coastal restoration and reinforcement, climate resilient infrastructure and protection of freshwater lenses.

Bilateral aid is also important with SIDS receiving the highest climate adaptation-related aid per capita from OECD countries in 2010-11. The Oceanic region received two percent of OECD provided adaptation aid, which totalled 8.8 billion dollars.

Sixty percent of OECD aid in general to the Pacific Islands comes from Australia with other major donors including New Zealand, France, the United States and Japan. But in December, the Australian government announced far-reaching cuts to the foreign aid budget of 3.7 billion dollars over the next four years, which is likely to impact climate aid in the region.

Funding aimed at developing local climate change expertise and institutional capacity is vital to safeguarding the survival and autonomy of their countries, islanders say.

“We do not need more consultants’ reports and feasibility studies. What we need is to build our local capacity to tackle the climate challenge and keep that capacity here,” de Brum emphasised.

In the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson expressed concern that “local capacity is limited”, a problem that is “addressed through the provision of technical assistance through consultants who just come and then leave without properly training our own people.”

Kiribati, comprising 33 low-lying atolls with a population of just over 108,000, could witness a maximum sea level rise of 0.6 metres and an increase in surface air temperature of 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2090, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

The country is experiencing higher tides every year, but can ill afford shoreline erosion with a population density in some areas of 15,000 people per square kilometre. The island of Tarawa, the location of the capital, is an average 450 metres wide with no option of moving settlements inland.

As long-term habitation is threatened, climate funding will, in the future, have to address population displacement, according to the Kiribati Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Climate induced relocation and forced migration is inevitable for Kiribati and planning is already underway. Aid needs to put some focus on this issue, but is mostly left behind only due to the fact that it is a future need and there are more visible needs here and now.”

Ahead of talks in Paris, the Marshall Islands believes successfully tackling climate change requires working together for everyone’s survival. “If climate finance under the Paris Agreement falls off a cliff, so will our response to the climate challenge,” de Brum declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Measurement Matters – Civic Space and the Post-2015 Frameworkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-measurement-matters-civic-space-and-the-post-2015-framework/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-measurement-matters-civic-space-and-the-post-2015-framework http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-measurement-matters-civic-space-and-the-post-2015-framework/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 07:18:34 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139818

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that with recent trends pointing to shrinkage of civil society space, goals and targets to protect this space in the post-2015 agenda will count for nothing if not backed by relevant indicators.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

For those of us interested in a vibrant civil society, it seems to be best of times and the worst of times.

In recent months, there has been great progress in recognising the importance of civil society in shaping the so-called ‘post-2015’ agenda and an explicit recognition of the important role that civil society will play in delivering sustainable development. However, in many countries around the world, the actual conditions in which civil society operates are getting worse not better.

As we come closer to a new global agreement on sustainable development goals (SDGs), we need to push for an agreement – backed by robust indicators – that will make a tangible difference in protecting civic freedoms.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Indeed, a perceptible rise in bureaucratic harassment and raids on NGO offices, violent dispersal of citizen demonstrations, attacks on and illicit surveillance of activists, combined with the application of draconian laws to silence dissent and restrict funding, has many civil society observers worried about shrinking space for the sector.

Over the course of last year, CIVICUS, the global alliance for citizen participation, monitored severe threats to civic freedoms in roughly half of the globe’s 193 countries. Amnesty International’s Annual Report for 2014/2015 calls it “a devastating year” for those seeking to stand up for human rights. Front Line Defenders, which works to protect human rights defenders at risk, reports the killing or death in detention of over 130 human rights defenders in the first ten months of 2014 alone.

All of this is happening while the United Nations is making unprecedented efforts to ensure greater civil society participation in the post-2015 global development framework.

While the next generation of sustainable development goals, their associated targets and indicators will be decided by world leaders at their Sep. 25-27 summit in New York this year, civil society’s role in grounding the framework in people’s aspirations and holding duty bearers to account is crucial.“Assurances for a civil society enabling environment and respect for the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the post-2015 framework are integral to greater public involvement and accountability in development”

In light of recent trends which point to shrinkage of civil society space, in both democracies and non-democracies, there is naturally a high level of anxiety whether guarantees on civic freedoms and civil society participation will be included in the final framework. Indeed, a major criticism of the current Millennium Development Goal (MDG) framework is that it has failed to recognise and thereby institutionalise the role of active citizens and civil society organisations in development.

Assurances for a civil society enabling environment and respect for the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the post-2015 framework are integral to greater public involvement and accountability in development.

So far, some progress has been made but the gains remain shaky because many governments which will be involved in adopting the final framework in September are themselves complicit in serious violations of civic freedoms. These include some influential states such as China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and Turkey whose developmental models are predicated on top-down governance with scant role for independent civil society.

Positively, the U.N. Secretary General’s Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Agenda, released in December last year, calls for the creation of an “enabling environment under the rule of law for the free, active and meaningful engagement of civil society and advocates reflecting the voices of women, minorities, LGBT groups, indigenous peoples, youth, adolescents and older persons.”

Notably, participatory democracy – without which civic freedoms cannot meaningfully exist – has been described as both an enabler and outcome of development.

From the perspective of civic freedoms and civil society participation, the U.N. Secretary General’s report has done well to elaborate on the proposal submitted to the U.N. General Assembly by the Open Working on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) in July 2014.

Comprising 30 representatives nominated by U.N. member states from all the regions of the world, the OWG recommended 17 goals and 169 corresponding targets which are the basis of intergovernmental negotiations on the SDGs this year.

Two goals are particularly relevant from the standpoint of civil society’s ability to freely operate and monitor progress on the framework.  These are proposed Goal 16 (“promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”) and proposed Goal 17 (“strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for development”). 

The proposed goals are further sub-divided into targets. For instance, targets under Goal 16 include “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision making at all levels” and “public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.” A key target under Goal 17 is to “encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships.”

Progress on the proposed targets will be measured by indicators currently being developed by various U.N. bodies, including the U.N. Statistics Division. Ultimately, it will be the indicators that will anchor the post-2105 agenda because gains will be gauged through their prism. It is therefore crucial that the United Nations is able to identify suitable tools to measure civic space and civil society participation.

Although, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) has produced a report titled ‘Accountability through Civic Participation in the Post-2015 Development Agenda’, much more needs to be done to put in place relevant indicators that are linked to the targets identified by the OWG.

For instance, in relation to proposed Target 16.10 with its focus on “fundamental freedoms”, it would be valuable to evaluate whether both legislation and practice protect civic space, in particular the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.  Similarly, under proposed Target 17.17 with its focus on encouraging and promoting civil society partnerships, it will be vital to measure the existence of enabling conditions such as mandated requirements for civil society involvement in official policy making processes at the national level.

Currently, there are a number of initiatives that measure civic space and civil society participation. Some of these, such as the World Press Freedom Index, the Freedom in the World survey and the Enabling Environment Index, are led by civil society organisations, while others such as the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation are being developed by multi-stakeholder initiatives.

With post-2015 negotiations entering the final phase, it is vital that political negotiators and technical experts are convinced that adoption of the above and associated methodologies will lead to better service delivery, citizen monitoring and accountability.

With the attention on the post-2015 agenda now focused on measurement, civil society advocates have their work cut out to also engage and influence the statisticians. Ambitious goals and targets will count for nothing if not backed by relevant indicators. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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High-Tech to the Rescue of Southern Africa’s Smallholder Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139810 The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist
DURBAN, South Africa, Mar 22 2015 (IPS)

Agriculture is the major employer and a backbone of the economies of Southern Africa.

However, the rural areas that support an agriculture-based livelihood system for the majority of the nearly 270 million people living in the region are typically fragile and there is wide variability in the development challenges facing the countries of the region.

The agricultural sector is dominated by crop production, although the share of livestock production and other agriculture practices have been increasing.Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely small holder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world

Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely smallholder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world.

These and other challenges facing the sector were the focus of a three-day meeting (Mar. 10-12) in Durban of management and experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which ended with a call to prioritise broad-based partnerships and build synergies to provide countries with effective and efficient support in the agriculture sector.

In an annual event designed to provide a platform for discussion and exchange of information on best practices and the general performance of FAO programmes in the region, David Phiri, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, reiterated the importance of different sectors working together.

“Achieving food and nutrition security in Southern Africa is a challenge far too great for any government or FAO to overcome alone,” he said. “As well as the governments of developing and developed countries, the civil society, private sector and international development agencies must be involved. Above all, the people themselves need to be empowered to manage their own development.”

Building on what works

As one example of the best practices under the scrutiny of the meeting, participants took part in a field visit to the Dube AgriZone facility – a high-tech agricultural development initiative pioneered by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government.

The facility aims to stimulate the growth of KwaZulu-Natal’s perishables sector and aims to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistent quality, year-round production and improved management of disease and pests.

The facility – strategically located 30 km north of the important coastal city of Durban – currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa.

Its primary focus is on the production of short shelf-life vegetables and cut flowers which require immediate post-harvest airlifting and supply to both domestic and export markets.

In addition to its greenhouses, the facility offers dedicated post-harvest packing houses, a central packing and distribution centre, a nursery and the Dube AgriLab, a sophisticated plant tissue culture laboratory.

Dube AgriZone is an eco-friendly facility, adopting a range of ‘green’ initiatives to offset its environmental impact, including rainwater harvesting, use of solar energy, on-site waste management, and the growth of indigenous plants for rehabilitation efforts.

Dube AgriZone provides growers with the potential to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistency of produce quality, close management of disease and pest infestation and year-round crop production with a view to improved sustainability and enhanced agricultural competitiveness.

“I could never have been able put up such a facility and produce at the current scale were it not for this innovative AgriZone,” said Derrick Baird, owner of Qutom Farms, which currently produces 150,000 cucumbers in the glass greenhouse leased from Dube AgriZone.

“This high-tech facility with all the necessary facilities – including transportation and freight – has allowed us to concentrate on producing cucumbers at much lower costs than in other locations where we had previously tried.”

The partnership between the provincial government and the private sector behind the facility was hailed as an example of a success story that could offer valuable lessons to others across Southern Africa.

“There is plenty we can learn from this facility and perhaps one of the more important ones is on forming partnerships and alliances,” said Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative in South Africa.

“We need to build on what is working by adopting and adapting technologies to the local situation, and then scaling them upwards and outwards to achieve even better results,” he added.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: What if Youth Now Fight for Social Change, But From the Right?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 17:58:42 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139808

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, takes young voters’ support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections as the starting point for looking at how young people in Europe are moving to the right.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

The “surprise” re-election of incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections has been met with a flood of media comment on the implications for the region and the rest of the world.

However, one of the reasons for Netanyahu’s victory has dramatically slipped the attention of most – the support he received from young Israelis.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, 200,000 last-minute voters decided to switch their vote to Netanyahu’s Likud party due to the “fear factor” and most of these were voters under the age of 35.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Perhaps the “fear factor” was actually an expression of the “Masada factor”. Masada is a strong element in Israeli history and collective imagination. The inhabitants of the mountain fortress of Masada, besieged by Roman legions at the time of Emperor Tito’s conquest of the Israeli state, preferred collective suicide to surrender.

Israelis today feel besieged by hostile neighbouring countries (first of all Iran), the continuous onslaught by the Caliphate and the Islamic State, overwhelming negative international opinion and growing abandonment by the United States.

Netanyahu played a number of cards to bring about his last-minute election success, including his speech to the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress on Mar. 3, which was seen by many Israelis as an act of defiance and dignity, not a weakening of fundamental relations with the United States.

His support for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, his denial of the creation of a Palestinian state and his show of contempt for an international community unable to understand Israel’s fears led Netanyahu’s Likud party to victory.

In Israel, being left-wing mean accepting a Palestinian state, being right-wing means denying it. In the end, the Mar. 17 vote was the result of fear.“Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s ‘glorious’ past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country … is an easy way out”

Israeli’s young people are not alone in moving to the right as a reaction to fear. It is interesting to note that all right-wing parties which have become relevant in Europe are based on fear.

Growing social inequality, the unprecedented phenomenon of youth unemployment, cuts in public services such as education and health, corruption which has become a cancer with daily scandals, and the general feeling of a lack of clear response from the political institutions to the problems opened up by a globalisation based on markets and not on citizens are all phenomena which are affecting young people.

“When you were like us at university, you knew you would find a job – we know we will not find one,” was how one student put it at a conference of the Society for International Development that I attended.

“The United Nations has lost the ability to be a place of governance, the financial system is without checks and corporations have a power which goes over national governments,” the student continued. “So, you see, the world of today is very different one from the one in which you grew up.”

As Josep Ramoneda wrote in El Pais of Mar. 18: “We expected that governments would submit markets to democracy and it turns out that what they do is adapt democracy to markets, that is, empty it little by little.

This is why many of those of who vote for right-wing parties in Europe are young people – be it for the National Front in France, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, the Lega Nord (North League) in Italy, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Germany and Golden Dawn in Greece, among others.

Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s “glorious” past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country, and bringing back to the nation space and functions which have been delegated to an obtuse and arrogant bureaucracy in Brussels which has not been elected and is not therefore accountable to citizens, is an easy way out.

This is a major – but ignored – epochal change. It was long held that an historic function of youth was to act as a factor for change … now it is fast becoming a factor for the status quo. The traditional political system no longer has youth movements and its poor performance in front of the global challenges that countries face today makes young people distrustful and distant.

It is an easy illusion to flock to parties which want to fight against changes which look ominous, even negative. It also partially explains why some young Europeans are running to the Islamic State which promise a change to restore the dignity of Muslims dignity and whose agenda is to destroy dictators and sheiks who are in cohort with the international system and are all corrupt and intent on enriching themselves, instead of taking care of their youth.

What can young people think of President Erdogan of Turkey building a presidential palace with 1,000 rooms or the European Central Bank inaugurating headquarters which cost 1,200 million euro, just to give two examples? And what of the fact that the 10 richest men in the world increased their wealth in 2013 alone by an amount equivalent to the combined budgets of Brazil and Canada?

This generational change should be a transversal concern for all parties but what is happening instead is that the welfare state is continuing to suffer cuts. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), young people in the 18-23 age group will retire with an average pension of 650 euro. What kind of society will that be?

Without the safety net now being provided by parents and grandparents, how can young people in such a society avoid feeling left out?

We always thought young people would fight for social change, but what if they are now doing so from the right?

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Development and Taxes, a Vital Piece of the Post-2015 Puzzlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139795 A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Public funds are vitally important to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), making corporate tax avoidance trends a pressing issue for post-2015 Financing for Development discussions.

A draft agenda circulated this week for the Financing for Development (FfD) post-2015 Development Conference to be held in Addis Ababa in July places domestic public finances as a key action agenda item.“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else.” -- Nicholas Shaxson

The agenda acknowledges the need for greater tax cooperation considering “there are limits to how much governments can individually increase revenues in our interconnected world”.

Over 130 countries, represented by the Group of 77 (G-77), called for greater international tax cooperation to be included on the agenda, in recognition of the increasingly central role of tax systems in development.

These calls come in light of the Luxembourg Leaks and Swiss Leaks, which have revealed in recent months how some of the world’s biggest multinational corporations avoid paying billions of dollars of taxes through deals with ‘tax havens’ in wealthy countries.

Two reports out this week, from Oxfam and the Tax Justice Network, both look at the impacts of corporate tax avoidance on global inequality.

Catherine Olier, Oxfam’s European Union policy advisor, told IPS, “Corporate tax avoidance is actually a very important issue for developing countries because according to the International Monetary Fund, the poor countries are more reliant on corporate tax than rich countries.”

Olier said that considerable funds are needed to make the SDGs possible.

“If we look at what’s currently on the table in terms of Official Development Assistance (‘international aid’) or even leveraging money from the private sector, this is never going to be enough to finance the SDGs,” she said.

“Tax is definitely going to be the most sustainable and the most important source of financing,” Olier said.

Oxfam’s report called on European institutions, especially the European Commission, to “analyse the negative impacts one member state’s tax system can have on other European and developing countries, and provide public recommendations for change.”

Nicholas Shaxson from the Tax Justice Network told IPS that tax havens are predominantly wealthier countries, but that they negatively impact both rich and poor countries.

“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else,” he said. “That’s where the battle line is, that’s where the dividing line is.”

He added that corporate taxes were particularly important to developing countries, in part because it was more difficult to leverage tax revenue from a poorer constituency.

“In pure justice terms, in terms of a large wealthy multinational extracting natural resources or making profits in a developing country and not paying tax, I think that nearly everyone in the world would agree in their gut that there’s something wrong with that situation,” Shaxson said.

Shaxson is the author of the Tax Justice Network’s (TJN) report: Ten Reasons to Defend the Corporation Tax, published earlier this week.

The report argues that trillions of dollars of public spending is at risk, and that if current trends continue, corporate headline taxes will reach zero in the next two to three decades.

Meanwhile, Oxfam reported in January that the “combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people next year [2016] unless the current trend of rising inequality is checked.”

Oxfam is calling for a Ministerial Roundtable to be held at the FfD Conference to help facilitate the establishment of a U.N. inter-governmental body on tax cooperation.

Olier told IPS that while developing countries have expressed support for greater tax cooperation, there has so far been less support from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, including European countries and the United States.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Exceptional Destiny of Foreign Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-exceptional-destiny-of-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-exceptional-destiny-of-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-exceptional-destiny-of-foreign-policy/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 23:36:42 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139782

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, analyses the incongruences in U.S. and European foreign policy as pressure builds up for military confrontation over Ukraine.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

For a long time, citizens of the United States have firmly believed that their country has an exceptional destiny, and continue to do so today even though their political system has become totally dysfunctional.

The three pillars of U.S. democracy – legislative, executive and judicial – are no longer on speaking terms,  so dialogue or the possibility of bipartisan policy has virtually disappeared.

In this context, to please his opponents, and with a view to the U.S. presidential elections in 2016, President Barack Obama is increasingly being pushed to act as strong guy.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This is the only reasonable explanation on why he has suddenly declared Venezuela a security threat to the United States, just months after starting the process of normalisation of relations with Cuba, a long-time U.S. enemy in Latin America and ally of Venezuela.

The country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, is extremely happy because his denunciations of a U.S. plot with Venezuela’s opposition to have him removed have now been officially justified – by no less than the United States itself. Even the New York Times, in an editorial on Mar. 12, wondered about the wisdom of such move.

The problem is that, behind Obama’s back, U.S. Republican senators are doing unprecedented things, like writing an admonitory letter to the Supreme Guardian of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicating that any nuclear agreement made with Obama would last only as long as he remained in office.

That letter must have made Khamenei and Iran’s hardliners very happy, because they have always said that the United States cannot be trusted, and that the ongoing nuclear negotiations make no sense."This escalation [over Ukraine] has already taken a direction that clear heads should exam with a long-term perspective. Are the members of NATO – an institution that needs conflict to justify its new life now that the Soviet Union no longer exists – ready to enter a war, just to keep making the point? "

We are now facing an extension of the concept of the exceptional destiny of the United States, in which its foreign policy can also be exceptional, not subject to logic and rules.

Across the Atlantic, what is certainly exceptional is that while Europe has practically always followed U.S. foreign policy, even when it is against its interests as is the case of the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the United Kingdom – which has a special relationship with the United States – is now indulging in some divergent action.

Through its Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, the United Kingdom has announced that it intends to join the Chinese initiative for the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in which Beijing is investing 50 billion dollars. This has raised the ire of the United States because the AIIB is seen as an alternative to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, in which the United States (and Japan) have powerful interests.

Shortly after Cameron’s move, France, Germany and Italy followed, while Australia will also join and South Korea will have to do so. This will leave the United States isolated, opening up a new “exceptional” dimension – economic might (China) is more attractive than military might (United States).

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has responded to U.S. irritation by declaring that the United Kingdom is joining the AIIB because “we think that it’s in the UK’s national interest”.

Of course, Cameron is playing up to his financial constituency, which is very aware of its interest, even when it does not coincide with U.S. interest. After all, China’s share of global manufacturing output, which was three percent in 1990, had risen to nearly 25 percent by 2014.

Even worse is that Cameron has also decided to cut spending on defence and while the U.K. government currently meets the two percent of GDP target that the United States expects all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to pay into the alliance, it has only committed itself to continuing that until the end of the current Parliament in May.

For the U.S. administration, this could be taken as a sign of weakness by Russian President Vladimir Putin who, it argues, should be put under growing pressure and shown that the confrontation over Ukraine will escalate until he backs down.

This escalation has already taken a direction that clear heads should exam with a long-term perspective. Are the members of NATO – an institution that needs conflict to justify its new life now that the Soviet Union no longer exists – ready to enter a war, just to keep making the point?

The signals are those that precede a war.

U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has declared that Russia is “as great a threat to Europe as ‘Islamic States’.” Troops are amassing in the Baltic States to serve as a deterrent for a possible Russian invasion. The U.S. Republican Congress is overtly asking for the supply of massive and heavy weapons to the Ukrainian army.  Hundreds of U.S. troops have been assigned to Ukraine to bolster the Kiev regime against Russian-backed rebels in the east. The United Kingdom is sending 75 military advisers.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, the Polish government is supporting the creation and training of militias, and plans to provide military training to any of the many Poles who are increasingly concerned that “the great Russian behemoth will not be sated with Ukraine and will reach out once again into the West.” The same is happening in the Baltic States, which all have a sizable Russian presence and think Putin could invade them at any moment.

Media everywhere have engaged in a frenzy of personal vilification of Putin and in the popular pastime of using Putin and Ukraine to justify military expansionism – to advocate tit for tat what Putin is doing.

It is difficult to look to Putin with sympathy, but this confrontation has again pushed the Russian people behind its leader, and at an unprecedented level that now stands at around 80 percent.

The Guardian has reported veteran Russian leftist Boris Kagarlitsky as commenting that most Russians want Putin to take a tougher stand against the West “not because of patriotic propaganda, but their experience of the past 25 years”, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the role that humiliation can play in history.

It is commonly accepted that Hitler emerged from the frustrations of the German people after the heavy penalties that they had to pay the victors after the First World War. The same sense of humiliation made the war of Slobodan Milosevic against NATO popular with the Serbian population.

It is the humiliation of the Arabs divided among the winners of the First World War which is at the roots of the Caliphate, or the Islamic State, which claims that Arabs are finally going to be given back their dignity and identity.

And it is also humiliation over the imposition of austerity which is now creating a strong anti-German sentiment in Greece, to which Germans respond with a sense of righteous indignation (52 percent of Germans now want Greece to leave the Euro).

Has anyone considered who is going to take over Russia if Putin goes away? Certainly not those who are now in the opposition. Has anyone considered what it would mean to take on responsibility for a very weak state like Ukraine?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has now approved a 17.5 billion dollar relief fund for Ukraine but warned that the country’s rescue “is subject to exceptional risks, especially those arising from the conflict in the East.”

In fact Ukraine needs to plug a hole of at least 40 billion dollars in the immediate term, and economists all agree that the country does not have a viable economy. It will require many years of consistent help to reach some economic equilibrium – if there is no war.

Europe is close to recession and apparently unable even to solve the problems of Greece, but goes headlong into supporting Kiev against Russian-backed rebels. NATO can support Ukrainian soldiers up to their last man, but it is impossible that they will beat Russia. Will the West then intervene or back off and lose face, after many deaths and much waste and destruction?

A widespread view now is that sanctions should starve Russia, which will have lost its revenues from oil. What if Putin does not back down, sustained by the Russian people? Are Europeans ready to go to war to please the Republican Congress in the United States? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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U.N. Envoy Pushes for Safer Schools Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-envoy-pushes-for-safer-schools-worldwide/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 19:30:19 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139771 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

Speaking from the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, defined 2015 as the year to end violations of the rights of the children worldwide.

“It is time for us to end the shameful breaches of international law that violate the rights of millions of children by calling a halt to the militarization of schools, stopping the now-growing abduction of school pupils as weapons of war and insisting – even in conflict zones – that properly resourced ‘safe schools’ enable children to enjoy their education in peace”, Brown said.

The British ex-Prime Minister highlighted the case of South Sudan, saying “The tragedy in South Sudan with schools being militarized and over 12,000 children abducted to serve as child soldiers must be stopped.”

Having recently visited Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, Brown said that the international community should focus on several steps to change the status quo.

Firstly, Brown called for the international community to reach an agreement on a new multi-million dollar Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies, to be set before the Oslo Summit on Global Education in July.

Brown also announced his call for a conference in Washington on April 16, on educating the half-million Syrian child refugees in Lebanon. Following an agreement reached with the Lebanese minister of education, the aim is to raise $163m for Lebanese schools to operate on a double-shift system to sustain Syrian children’s schooling.

Thirdly, Brown highlighted the importance of schemes like the Safe Schools Initiative, which has just been launched in Pakistan after initial success in Nigeria. The Pakistani government, in partnership with UNICEF and the Global Business Coalition for Education, will launch safety-assessment technology in around 1000 pilot schools in the country. Soon, the initiative will be extended to countries like South Sudan, Lebanon and the DRC.

In Nigeria, the Safe Schools Initiative has raised $30m, with a large contribution from the United States, said Brown. “Nearly 30,000 children displaced by Boko Haram are in double-shift schools and additional children in at-risk areas are benefiting from school relocation and increased security measures,” he added.

Brown invited all countries to sign the international Safe School Declaration (recognized now by 30 countries), which provides the same protection as Red Cross Hospitals.

In closing, Brown urged the international community to increase funding for education as a percentage of humanitarian aid, which is currently at 1 percent. “Insisting on a new fund for education in emergencies is necessary to prevent millions of children from falling through the cracks,” he said.

“We need to re-address aid funds for education and Sustainable Development Goals through partnership with the private sector, and the use of social impacts bonds.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Pro-Democracy Activists at U.S. Event Jailed in DR Congohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pro-democracy-activists-at-u-s-event-jailed-in-dr-congo/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 18:25:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139714 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

Journalists, activists, hip hop artists and a United States diplomat were rounded up by police at a pro-democracy event on Sunday in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sponsored in part by the U.S. government. Security forces charged them with threatening stability, according to a government spokesperson.

The diplomat, Kevin Sturr, “Was among a group of people believed to be in the process of bringing an attack against state security”, said Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende. Sturr, who works with the USAID’s democracy and good governance program in Congo, was returned to the U.S. Embassy late Sunday night, Mende said on Monday.

The activists included members of Burkina Faso’s Balai Citoyen and Senegal’s Y’en a Marre movements. Both have led large-scale protests in recent years against presidents attempting to extend their time in office.

The round up was an unpleasant surprise for U.S. officials. “This event is one of many activities the U.S. government supports that involve youth and civil society as part of our broader commitment to encourage a range of voices to be heard,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki complained that U.S. authorities had not been officially informed about why Sturr was detained. “Our ambassador in Kinshasa has raised this at the highest levels with the DRC government,” Psaki said.

Congolese government officials and ruling coalition parties were invited to the event and some attended, the Embassy said, describing the youth groups involved as well-regarded and non-partisan.

According to the Minister, the Congo’s intelligence services believed the news conference — billed as an exchange between African civil society organizations — was in fact a project organized by “instructors in insurrection”.

“There are the three Senegalese and the Burkinabe and their Congolese accomplices who continue to be questioned,” Mende added. “Each will have his fate… Either they will be released or put at the disposition of the public prosecutor.”

Foreign activists arrested included Fadel Barro, a member of the Senegalese collective of journalists and hip-hop artists “Y’en a Marre”, which helped organize protests against former President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in 2012.

The group had gathered to support “Filimbi” – a Congolese movement that aims for greater youth participation in politics, when they were rounded up.

Proposed changes in Congo’s electoral law have sparked mass protests against what many view as an attempt by President Joseph Kabila to prolong his time in power. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 40 people were killed in Kinshasa and the eastern city of Goma at protests so far this year.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Climate Change Continues, Impervious to Official Declarationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-climate-change-continues-impervious-to-official-declarations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-change-continues-impervious-to-official-declarations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-climate-change-continues-impervious-to-official-declarations/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 08:55:49 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139672

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that while the governmental system says all the right things about acting to combat climate change, at the same time it is doing exactly the opposite.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

It is now clear that we are not going to reach the goal of controlling climate change.

It is worth recalling that the goal of not exceeding a 2 degree centigrade rise in global warming before 2020 was adopted at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 as a formula for consensus. Many in the scientific community had been clamouring for immediate action – and at most for a 1 degree rise – but bowed to political realism, and accepted an easier target.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The agreement was to block the rise in global temperature before 2020, and start a process for gradually reverting the climate to safe levels, to be concluded before 2050.

Well, in the last four years, we have already witnessed an increase in temperature by 1 degree, and there is only another 1 degree left before 2020.

The European Environment Agency (EEA), which publishes a report every five years, states that Europe needs “much more ambitious goals” if it wants to reach its declared targets and for 2050, European Union leaders have endorsed the objective of reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent compared with 1990 levels.

However, Germany increased its carbon emissions by 20 million tons in 2012-13, instead of reducing them. This means that, in order to reach its targets, Germany should now reduce emissions by 3.5 percent a year over the next six years, which is a difficult, if not impossible, target to achieve.

It will increase energy costs and probably lead to a reaction to block measures which can hurt the economy. By the way, this is the official position of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress, who will fight any climate proposal.Climate change dissenters are clearly unconcerned that the very future of our planet is at stake or, like the governmental system, have fallen prey to the ‘ostrich syndrome’

By now, the effects of climate change have become visible, and not just to the climatologists. Last year the total number of people displaced by climatic disasters (such as hurricanes, landslides, drought, floods and forest fires) reached the staggering figure of 11 million people.

Last month, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi, issued a study report citing data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975.

By 2011, the cost of natural disasters had ballooned to 350 billion dollars. In the 110 years between 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters increased from 25 to 3,526. Together, extreme hydro-meteorological, geological and biological events increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period.

There is no doubt that the activities of man are having a dramatic impact on the climate and the planet, affecting people’s lives, but – as usual – the world is moving on two levels, which are unrelated and opposed.

One of the main issues among countries at climate negotiations has been how much to invest in combating climate change but here the signs are very discouraging, to say the least. Take the Green Climate Fund, for example, which was intended to be the centrepiece of efforts to raise  100 billion dollars a year by 2020 but, as of December last year, only 10 billion dollars had been pledged to the fund.

This is the track for reducing fossil emissions. Let us now look to the other track: what the rich countries are spending to keep them.

According to a report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International (OCI), G20 governments are actually subsidising fossil fuel exploration with 88 billion dollars every year.

The report notes that “with rising costs for hard-to-reach reserves, and falling coal and oil prices, generous public subsidies are propping up fossil fuel exploration which would otherwise be deemed uneconomic.” In fact, G20 governments spend more than twice what the top 20 private companies are spending on finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, and are doing so with public money.

So, on one hand, the system makes the right declarations of principle and, on the other, does the very opposite.

Meanwhile, there are some signs that the campaign against the need for doing something about climate change is losing credibility.

It is known that some members of the Republican Party in the United States are financed by energy giants, and it goes without saying that they will do whatever they can to boycott any deal on climate change that U.S. President Barack Obama may try to agree to at the next climate conference in Paris in December.

It is also known that a number of scientists dissent from the thinking of the more than 2,000 scientists whose work has contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in presenting the link between human activity and deterioration of the climate. Of course, the dissenting voices have received a disproportionate echo in conservative media.

However, last month, the Washington Post reported that one of the leading dissenters and guru of climate change deniers, Dr. Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, had been receiving funds from the fossil fuel industry.

The report cited documents that Greenpeace obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act showing that Soon had been receiving funding from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company and the American Petroleum Institute, among others.

Climate change dissenters are clearly unconcerned that the very future of our planet is at stake or, like the governmental system, have fallen prey to the ‘ostrich syndrome’. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Canada’s Waste Still Rotting in a Philippine Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/canadas-waste-still-rotting-in-a-philippine-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canadas-waste-still-rotting-in-a-philippine-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/canadas-waste-still-rotting-in-a-philippine-port/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 14:47:44 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139666 Filipinos march along the streets of the Makati Business District, demanding the immediate re-exportation of the 50 Canadian container vans filled with hazardous wastes currently festering in Manila’s port. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

Filipinos march along the streets of the Makati Business District, demanding the immediate re-exportation of the 50 Canadian container vans filled with hazardous wastes currently festering in Manila’s port. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Mar 15 2015 (IPS)

Filipino Catholic priest and activist Reverend Father Robert Reyes, dubbed by media as the “running priest”, joined a protest of environmental and public health activists last week by running along the streets of the Makati Business District, the Philippines’ financial capital, to urge the government to immediately re-export the 50 Canadian containers filled with hazardous wastes that have been in the Port of Manila for 600 days now.

Along with the groups BAN Toxics, Ecowaste Coalition and Greenpeace, Reyes staged BasuRUN, a name derived from the Filipino word ‘basura’, which means trash or waste.

“We need to send a clear signal to the rest of the world that the Philippines is not a dumping ground for Canada’s [or any other country’s] toxic waste.” -- Antonio La Vina, dean of the Ateneo School of Government
“These toxic wastes are the worst forms of expressing friendship between our two countries,” said the politically active and socially conscious Reyes.

Although praised by activists but criticised by the Filipino Catholic bishops, Reyes’ latest run, which ended across the Canadian Embassy located in the financial district, added another voice to the call for Canada to take responsibility for its “overstaying” toxic shipment in the Philippines.

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is an embarrassment to the civic-minded and environmentally conscious Canadians,” said Reyes. “We know this is not the real Canada. We urge Prime Minister Harper to take immediate action. Take back your illegal waste shipment now,” he stressed.

In June 2013, the Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) seized 50 container vans carrying various hazardous household waste and toxic materials imported from Canada, with the consignee Chronic Plastics, Inc., declaring the shipment as “assorted scrap plastic materials for recycling”.

When questioned by activists, Canada said that it does not have any legal capacity to compel the Canada-based private corporation to re-export the shipment.

Richard Gutierrez, executive director of BAN Toxics, told IPS the shipment should be re-exported in accordance with the Basel Convention, an international treaty signed in 1982 with 182 parties as of 2015 that regulates toxic waste shipments.

The Basel Convention prohibits illegal toxic waste trade and requires the exporting country, in this case Canada, to take back illegally seized shipments and pay the costs for the return.

Both Canada and the Philippines are parties to the Basel Convention, but Canada has yet to respond to calls for the re-exportation of the shipment under its obligation under international law.

“Canada’s refusal to take back the illegal shipment is a blatant violation of its obligation under Basel,” Gutierrez added. “Toxic waste trade is also not simply an issue of trade or business among private individuals or companies. At its very core is the respect for human dignity. It is about protecting the right to life and health. Dumping of toxic waste is anathema to human rights.”

He said the importation also violates a number of local laws such as the Administrative Order 28 (Interim Guidelines for the Importation of Recyclable Materials Containing Hazardous Substances) of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

BAN Toxics said the Philippine government is spending at least 144,000 pesos (about 3,000 dollars) a day for the loss of income from storage space and an additional 87 million pesos (about 1.9 million dollars) in demurrage costs to the ship’s owners.

Other activist groups in the struggle include Mother Earth Foundation, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, and ‘Ang Nars’, a party-list group of Filipino nurses who staged protests last year.

Harmful to health, environment, dignity

Abigail Aguilar, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace, expressed shock that the waste is still festering in a Filipino port after nearly two years.

“How the Canadian government finds the dignity to let this linger on for more than 600 days is despicable and sickening. It is best that it takes it back and not let the Filipinos suffer. [That] is the moral thing to do,” Aguilar told IPS.

Baskut Tuncak, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and toxic wastes, has called out to rich countries to respect human rights by ceasing the export of garbage and toxic wastes to poorer countries.

“The international transfer of toxic wastes to developing countries has repeatedly violated the human rights of people who are often in most vulnerable situations, and contravened the principles of equality and non-discrimination,” the rapporteur said earlier this year.

Tuncak said that without the correct precautions, the transfer of toxic waste is harmful to the environment and to the health of human beings, adding, “Unbridled toxic waste trade often takes place to exploit differences in the cost of labour and enforcement of laws including environmental protection.”

A 2010 study published by the U.S.-government supported scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) revealed that chemical pollutants from toxic waste sites in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia “put over eight million persons at risk [of] disease, disability, and early deaths from exposure to industrial contaminants in 2010, creating a loss of 828,722 years of good health,” identified in the study as disability-adjusted life years.

The study said that the wastes in question contained an assortment of “toxic metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium.”

A 2014 study by Ban Toxics and the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government said toxic wastes from other countries have exposed Filipinos to a number of health and environmental risks, such as hazardous e-waste and medical and clinic garbage that include a toxic brew of mercury, lead, cadmium, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs).

Antonio La Vina, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said, “We need to send a clear signal to the rest of the world that the Philippines is not a dumping ground for Canada’s [or any other country’s] toxic waste.”

He said the Canadian waste is but a symptom of a bigger problem, namely: as long as the Philippines dodges ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits the importation of hazardous waste from developed to lesser developed countries, it will continue to be viewed and treated as a dumping ground.

The shipment currently sitting in Manila’s port was initially described as recyclable material, but Greenpeace reports that the containers are also holding hospital waste, used adult diapers, and sanitary napkins.

Leachate from these containers, or liquid that has percolated through a solid, threaten the surrounding environment, posing great risk to human health in the area. Manila currently has a population of 1.6 million people.

An open petition on Change.org urging the Canadian government to assume full responsibility of the waste shipment already has 25,000 signatures and expects more.

According to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics database (UN Comtrade), 4.7 million tons of hazardous waste were shipped by developed to lesser developed countries between 1998 and 2008.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: The ‘Acapulco Paradox’ – Two Parallel Worlds Each Going Their Own Wayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-acapulco-paradox-two-parallel-worlds-each-going-their-own-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-acapulco-paradox-two-parallel-worlds-each-going-their-own-way http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-the-acapulco-paradox-two-parallel-worlds-each-going-their-own-way/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 11:57:14 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139629

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the world of finance is detached from the reality experienced by the majority of people. The rich and the poor appear to be living in two completely different worlds.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 12 2015 (IPS)

The world is clearly splitting into two parallel worlds, with each going their own way, in what we could call the ‘Acapulco paradox’.

Take the official version of the image of Acapulco – a splendid Mexican resort, with horse riding on the beaches, a place blessed by nature and enriched by beautiful villas, gourmet restaurants, a place of bliss and relaxation.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Now take the version of the people living there – a place torn by criminal gangs with several deaths every day, where locals live in fear and total insecurity.

In the same way, there are now two ways to look at global reality.

One is the macroeconomic approach based on global data and, according to which, Greece has been doing better along with Italy, Portugal and Spain. In those countries, macroeconomic data are improving. Spain is even being touted as the example of how a country, which went through the bitter pill of austerity, now has growth at the same level as Germany.

Then, speak with young people, among whom unemployment is close to 40 percent, or with pensioners, or with those working in the hospital and education sectors, and you get a totally different picture. According to Caritas, the number of people living in misery has doubled in the last seven years.

The alternative model is the United States, which invested in growth and not in austerity like Europe. Its growth is running at 2.4 percent against an anaemic 0.1 percent for Europe. Again, the positive macro data do not coincide with the people’s data.

“Take the official version of the image of Acapulco, a place of bliss and relaxation. Now take the version of the people living there, a place torn by criminal gangs, where locals live in fear and total insecurity. In the same way, there are now two ways to look at global reality”
Let us take the latest example of economic recovery: the decision of the Walmart retail chain, one of the largest employers in the United States to increase the hourly wage from 8.9 to 10 dollars. This looks like very positive news, but the fact is that 60 percent of Walmart staff do not work sufficient hours to make a living – some work just two days a week, and with 640 dollars a month you are still into poverty.

Maybe it is just a coincidence, but the suicide rate rose from 11 per 100,000 people in 2005 to 13 seven years later. In the time it takes to read this article, six Americans will have tried to kill themselves and in another ten minutes one will have succeeded. More than 40,000 Americans took their own lives in 2012, more than died in car crashes, says the American Association of Suicidology.

If you start looking into the macro data, things become clearer. Profits from the financial sector are now over 20 percent of the total, double the level from the Second World War to the 1970s, and since 1970 productivity has grown by less than half. What this means is that the real economy has grown by half that of finance.

It is now clear that it is growth of the finance industry which is really holding back the rest of the economy, and far fewer people are employed in the financial sectors than in production and services.

These data come from nothing less than the Bank of International Settlements, the Gotha of the banking world, which also reports that brilliant people are trying to move into the financial sector, to the detriment of other sectors of the economy.

Looking into the figures opens up fascinating analyses. One of them from Hong Kong, published in the New York Times in the first week of March, deals with the personal wealth of lawmakers from China and the United States.

The NYT reported that according to the Shanghai-based Hurun Report, of the 1,271 richest people in China – a record 203 – nearly 16 percent are in the Parliament or its advisory body. Their combined net worth is 463.8 billion dollars, which is more than the annual economic output of Austria.

By comparison, American lawmakers are poorer. Eighteen of the Chinese lawmakers have a net worth greater than the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. President Barack Obama’s cabinet.

We should pity the U.S. lawmakers, the 22 richest members of whom have only an average of 124 million dollars (70 percent of the senators are millionaires anyhow) and make up only four percent of the Senate, while four percent of the richest Chinese lawmakers are the country’s 203 billionaires.

Statistics in Europe also open the way to illuminating reflections. Take Spain, for example, where billionaires are in decline. In the Forbes list of the richest men in the world, Spain now has 21, five less than last year. Their combined wealth is 116,300 million dollars, and they increased their wealth in a year by only 500 million dollars, against the 3,200 million dollars of the richest man in the world, Bill Gates.

Yet, 500 million dollars is the equivalent of 35,714 average yearly  salaries, close to the population of the sunny town of Teruel in eastern Spain (around 36,000), and 116,300 million dollars is the equivalent of 8.3 million yearly salaries, equal to the combined population of Andalusia, the largest Spanish region, and the Balearic Islands.

The problem is that those two worlds are supposed to meet and relate through political institutions: Parliament, which represents everybody, and Government, which is supposed to regulate society for the good of every citizen.

Well, a good case study comes again from Spain, where it is possible to become a Spanish resident without going to Spain. It is sufficient to buy two millions euros’ worth of the country’s public debt, or buy one million euros’ worth of shares, or buy a house that costs at least 500,000 euros plus taxes, to become a Spanish resident. Since September 2013, 530 foreigners have obtained that right.

It is probable that the experience of obtaining a Spanish residence permit of the tens of thousands who crossed the Mediterranean at risk of their lives (it is estimated that over 20,000 have died up to now) looks very different. And many European countries have taken a similar path, including the United Kingdom, Cyprus and Portugal

In the United Kingdom, there is now a debate on a law from 1914 which excludes “non-domiciled” residents (‘non-doms’) from paying taxes on their foreign income or assets. It is enough to have a domicile abroad, usually by declaring permanent home in a tax haven. The number of ‘non-doms’ surged by 22 percent between 2000 and 2008 (year of the last available date), to reach 130,000 people.

This is part of an effort to reduce taxation on rich people, by creating loopholes and new regulations, to attract as many rich people as possible. President François Hollande in France has learnt at his expense what it means to speak of taxing the rich and had to make a quick turnaround. Obama is doing the same, and the only ‘leader’ who is speaking about taxing the rich is now Pope Francis.

However, one of the best examples of the ‘Acapulco paradox’ comes from the City in London.

After all the popular uprising about the disproportionate salaries of bankers, with public declarations from the U.K. government, the Church of England and the Bank of England, the announcement of an improvement in the U.K. economy by the European authorities has been taken at face value.

Barclays, for example, is increasing salaries by 40 percent, and an increase in salaries of 25 percent is expected all over the City this year. A young financial analyst, just out of university, at entrance salary could expect to take home the equivalent of 100,000 dollars per year.

While this will be good for statistics on average incomes, the yearly incomes of the 10 percent poorest British citizens will keep them at survival level. It is likely that their view of economic recovery will be different from those in the City. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Coal: Burning Up Australia’s Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/coal-burning-up-australias-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-burning-up-australias-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/coal-burning-up-australias-future/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 02:17:08 +0000 Suganthi Singarayar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139597 Globally, coal production and coal power account for 44 percent of carbon emissions annually. Credit: Bigstock

Globally, coal production and coal power account for 44 percent of carbon emissions annually. Credit: Bigstock

By Suganthi Singarayar
SYDNEY, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

With less than a year to go before the United Nation’s annual climate change meeting scheduled to take place in Paris in November 2015, citizens and civil society groups are pushing their elected leaders to take stock of national commitments to lower carbon emissions in a bid to cap runaway global warming.

Industrialised countries’ trade, investment and environment policies are under the microscope, with per capita emissions from the U.S., Canada and Australia each topping 20 tonnes of carbon annually, double the per capital carbon emissions from China.

“Without changing our energy choices, we are not going to be able to act effectively on climate change.” -- Fiona Armstrong, convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA)
But despite fears that a rise in global temperatures of over two degrees Celsius could lead to catastrophic climate change, governments around the world continue to follow a ‘business as usual’ approach, pouring millions into dirty industries and unsustainable ventures that are heating the planet.

In Australia, coal mining and combustion for electricity, for instance, has become a highly divisive issue, with politicians hailing the industry as the answer to poverty and unemployment, while scientists and concerned citizens fight fiercely for less environmentally damaging energy alternatives.

Others decry the negative health impacts of mining and coal-fired power, as well as the cost of dirty energy to local and state economies.

Globally, coal production and coal power accounts for 44 percent of CO2 emissions annually, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Australia’s reliance on coal for both export and electricity generation explains its poor track record in curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reporting last year that Australia’s 2010 carbon emission rate was 25 tonnes per person, higher than the per capita emissions of any other member of the organisation.

Counting the cost of coal: The case of Hunter Valley

Compromising Other Industries

Judith Leslie, who lives seven km from Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth mine, also believes that house values in the village of Bulga - approximately five km from three of the largest open cut coal mines in the Hunter Valley – have fallen as a result of the mine’s presence.

She said that houses in the area had not sold for years and she believed it was a direct result of the presence of the mine.

Brushing aside the community’s concerns, the government appears to be moving full steam ahead with coal-based projects. On Mar. 5 the New South Wales Government’s Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) stated that Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley mine could be expanded if “stringent criteria” were met.

Reasons given for approving the expansion of the mine included the “adverse economic impacts” on the towns of Singleton and Cessnock if the Warkworth and Mount Thorley projects were not approved.

The PAC also argued that a further 29 million tonnes of coal could be mined from the area, providing an additional 120 jobs over 11 years, on top of continued employment for the existing 1,300 workers. It also spoke of a projected 617 million dollars in royalties to the state of New South Wales.

But this projected revenue will again come at a loss. Expanding mines means threatening existing industries, like the Hunter Valley Thoroughbred Breeding industry, which contributes over five billion Australian dollars (3.8 billion U.S. dollars) to the national economy and 2.4 billion Australian dollars (1.8 billion U.S. dollars) to the economy of New South Wales.

According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, in 2010 Hunter Valley wine makers produced more than 25 million litres of wine valued at over 210 million Australian dollars (160 million U.S. dollars).

The total value of investment expenditure that is directly associated with the grape and wine industry exceeds 450 million Australian dollars (343 million U.S. dollars) each year.

According to the Department, combined vineyard and tourism industries provide 1.8 billion Australian dollars (1.3 billion U.S. dollars) to the New South Wales economy.

All this revenue could be lost of mines are expanded at the expense of other, more sustainable industries.
According to new studies out this year, the health costs associated with the five coal-fired power stations located in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, about 120 km north of Sydney, are estimated to be around 600 million Australian dollars (456 million U.S. dollars) per annum.

A report released in February by the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), a coalition of 28 organisations working to protect human health, concluded that the “estimated costs of health damages associated with coal combustion for electricity in the whole of Australia amounts to 2.6 billion Australian dollars [197 million U.S. dollars] per annum.”

CAHA’s convenor, Fiona Armstrong, told IPS that CAHA aims to draw attention to Australia’s health and energy policy in light of its heavy dependence on fossil fuels.

“Without changing our energy choices, we are not going to be able to act effectively on climate change,” she contended.

She pointed out that the Hunter Region, one of the largest river valleys on the coast of New South Wales, is one of the most intensive mining areas in Australia.

“It’s responsible for two-thirds of our emissions,” she explained, “So it’s a good example […] to see what the impacts are for people on the ground, [and] also to see what the contribution of coal from that community has on a global level.”

Hunter Valley produced 145 million tonnes of coal in 2013. Keeping in mind a conversion rate of 2.4 tonnes (2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted for each tonne of coal produced), experts say that coal mined in the Hunter Valley in 2013 produced the equivalent of 348 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

According to the NSW Minerals Council, mining in the Hunter Region employs over 11,000 fulltime workers. It contributes 1.5 billion Australian dollars in wages and contributes 4.4 billion Australian dollars to the local community through direct spending on goods and services, as well as to local councils and community groups.

But these riches come at a high price.

The Hunter Valley is known for its vineyards, horse studs and farming areas, all of which are threatened by extensive mining in the region.

Addressing a community meeting in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe this past February, John Lamb, president of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association, spoke about the cost of mines on local communities, and the uncertainty wrought by their inability to fight against the rampant growth of the industry.

Lamb’s Association previosly fought the expansion of the Mount Thorley Warkworth coal mine by the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto.

Dust from coal mines, he said, coats the roofs of people’s homes and runs into their rainwater tanks, polluting the community’s water supply. Day and night, noise is a constant issue.

Lamb also noted the impact of mining on land values in the area. The village of Camberwell in the Hunter Valley, for instance, which is surrounded by mines on three sides, only has four privately owned homes – the rest are occupied by miners or are derelict.

Yancoal, the owner of the Ashton mine – 14 km northwest of the town of Singleton in Hunter Valley – owns 87 percent of homes in the area.

Health risks for communities, ecosystem

Wendy Bowman, one of the last remaining residents of Camberwell village who has farmed in the Valley since 1957, is extremely concerned about the extent of mining in the area.

She lives on a farm at Rosedale, between the towns of Muswellbrook and Singleton, and she is refusing to leave the area. She left her previous farm when the dust and water pollution caused by the Ravensworth South open cut mine became impossible to live with.

In a video on the CAHA website, she says that she has dust in her lungs and that she has lost 20 percent of her lung capacity. But she is far more concerned about the health of the children in the area than she is about her own medical condition, and the consequences for the Department of Health in 20 or 30 years time.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coal mining and coal combustion for electricity generation is associated with high emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both of which react to form secondary particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Complex air pollutants such as these are known to increase the risk of chronic lung and respiratory disorders and disease, including lung cancer, and pose additional threats to children, and pregnant women.

CAHA states that most health and medical research on coal-related pollution focuses on fine particles measuring between 2.5 and 10 micrometres in diameter (PM 2.5-PM10), which are particularly damaging to human health.

According to the CAHA report, emissions of PM10 increased by 20 percent from 1992-2008 in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, an increase that is attributable to the increase in coal mining in the Hunter Valley.

The report states that while at one time the Hunter Valley was “renowned for its clean air”, in 2014 it was identified as an “air pollution hot spot”.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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200 Million Fewer Women than Men Onlinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/200-million-fewer-women-than-men-online/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=200-million-fewer-women-than-men-online http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/200-million-fewer-women-than-men-online/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 15:14:35 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139574 British actor and U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson (left) speaking at the United Nations in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

British actor and U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson (left) speaking at the United Nations in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 10 2015 (IPS)

Two hundred million fewer women have access to the internet than men, according to a report released Monday.

The report published by No Ceilings also said an estimated 300 million fewer women than men own a mobile phone, with these gaps primarily concentrated in developing countries.

Women’s participation and safety online was a popular topic on the first day of the 59th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations.

The 2015 CSW also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+20), the historic agenda for women’s empowerment. Women’s participation in media and new communication technologies is covered under Section J of the Platform.

Discussions at the CSW covered both the positive and negative impact of information communication technology on progress towards gender equality.

Jan Moolman, Senior Coordinator of the Association for Progressive Communications spoke about how women have achieved empowerment by using the internet.

She said new media helped individuals to construct and represent themselves online. She also said new media offered women “opportunities for movement building” and the opportunity to leap over many kinds of barriers.”

Moolman added that threats against women online needed to be treated as a freedom of information issue, because they were used to try to silence women when they spoke up on gender equality.

“If we have 52% of the population unable to express themselves freely that is a freedom of expression issue,” Moolman said.

U.N. Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) are also increasingly using new media with their campaigns. For example through social media campaigns such as HeForShe, infographics and a new monitor of countries which have committed to step-it-up for gender equality.

Speaking about the HeForShe campaign at Facebook Headquarters in London yesterday, U.N. Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson spoke about how she herself had received threats after speaking out on gender equality.

“The minute I stepped up and talked about women’s rights I was immediately threatened, I mean, within less than 12 hours I was receiving threats.”

A website was set up with a countdown threatening to release nude photographs of the British actor. Watson said that she knew the website was a hoax, but that the experience helped her friends and family see the need for progress on gender equality.

I think it was just a wake up call that this is a real thing that’s really happening now, women are receiving threats in all sorts of different forms, she said.

Watson also said that the threats helped convince her of the importance of campaigning for gender equality.

If anything, if they were trying to put me off, it did the opposite.

No Ceilings is an initiative, supported by the Clinton Foundation, which has compiled thousands of data points on gender equality across a range of areas, including access to information and communication technologies.

Women You Should Have Heard of

Another way women’s positive contributions to science and technology was highlighted on International Women’s Day yesterday was through the hashtag #womenyoushouldhaveheardof. The hashtag challenged the assumption that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields are not suited to women and girls by raising awareness about some of the women who have made historic contributions to science and technology.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

 

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Opinion: Greece and the Germanisation of Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-greece-and-the-germanisation-of-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-and-the-germanisation-of-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-greece-and-the-germanisation-of-europe/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:02:38 +0000 guillermo-medina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139475

In this column, Guillermo Medina, a Spanish journalist and former Member of Parliament, analyses the negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup and concludes that Germany, currently Europe’s dominant power, has achieved its basic goal: the consolidation of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order. This, says the author, is a milestone in the political tussle in the European Union since the reunification of Germany between moving towards a Europeanised Germany or a Germanised Europe.

By Guillermo Medina
MADRID, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

At last, on Tuesday Feb. 24, the Eurogroup (of eurozone finance ministers) approved the Greek government’s commitment to a programme of reforms in return for extending the country’s bailout deal.

The agreement marks the end of tense and protracted negotiations. It consists of a four-month extension for the second bailout programme worth 130 billion euros (over 145 billion dollars), in force since 2012 and which was due to expire on Feb. 28. The first bailout was for 110 billion euros, equivalent to 123 billion dollars.

Guillermo Medina

Guillermo Medina

During this period, the European Central Bank (ECB) will provide Greece with liquidity and the terms of a new bailout will be hammered out.

The eleventh-hour agreement was no doubt motivated partly by fears that a “Grexit” – Greek withdrawal from the eurozone monetary union – would have triggered a financial earthquake with unforeseeable consequences. The result is a very European-style compromise that averts catastrophe and gains time while avoiding facing the underlying problems.

In exchange for an extension of financial support from Greece’s partners and creditors, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will have to submit all his government’s measures during this period to Eurogroup inspection.

But the deal promises Greece more than just restrictions. The country will have to pay its debts to the last euro, but if, as seems probable, deadlines for primary surplus targets are extended, the country will have greater ability to pay (France has just secured this for itself).

In the final document, Greece promised to adopt a tax reform that would make the system fairer and more progressive, as well as reinforce the fight against corruption and tax evasion and reduce administrative spending.“Germany has undeniably secured its basic goal: the enshrining of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order, although political prudence and even self-interest have softened the application of the dogma, and may continue to do so in future”

If the government pursues these goals, together with the fight against contraband, efficiently and with determination (as indeed it should, because they are part of its programme and target its domestic enemies), the income will be helpful for the application of its social and economic programmes.

In view of the successive positions that Greece has had to relinquish in the course of the negotiations, it appears that the country has achieved the little that could be achieved.

The negotiations between Greece and its European partners mark a milestone in the political tussle in the European Union since the reunification of Germany in 1990, between moving towards a Europeanised Germany or a Germanised Europe.

Germany has undeniably secured its basic goal: the enshrining of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order, although political prudence and even self-interest have softened the application of the dogma, and may continue to do so in future.

Germany has openly tried to impose its convictions and its hegemony on Europe. Greece was only the immediate battlefield. Brussels and Berlin have been divided from the outset about how to solve the Greek crisis, but Germany prevailed.

However, the masters of Europe do not have any interest in “destroying” Greece, and so cutting off their nose to spite their face. They are satisfied with a demonstration of the asymmetry of power between the two sides, and the public contemplation of assured failure for whoever defies the status quo and supports any policy that deviates from the one true official line.

The problem with a Germanised Europe is not the preponderant role that Germany would play, but that it would impose a “Made in Germany” model of Europe that conforms to its own interests. That is how it would differ from a Europeanised Germany.

The Greek crisis has highlighted the ever-widening contrast between the values and ideals that we consider to be central to the European project, such as solidarity, mutual aid and social justice, and the new values that set aside basic aims like full employment, social welfare and equal opportunities.

It is paradoxical that Europe, which is apparently absent from or baffled by threats from the opposite shore of the Mediterranean, should take a harsh, tough attitude with a small partner overwhelmed by debt. It is also paradoxical that structural reforms are demanded of Greece, without admitting Europe’s own urgent need to redesign the eurozone and reframe the policies that have led to the poor performance of its monetary union.

The Greek crisis and the difficulties in overcoming it have a great deal to do with a design of the euro that benefits financial interests, particularly Germany’s.

The project neglected the harmonisation of tax policies and created a European Central Bank that lacked the powers that permit the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England to issue money and buy state debt.

As is well known, the ECB has made loans to European banks at very low interest rates, and they in turn have made loans to states, including Greece, at much higher interest. Government debts thus mounted up, and in order to pay they were forced to cut public spending.

Why does Europe persist in following failed policies while refusing to follow those that have lifted the United States out of recession? The only explanation is stubborn attachment to an ideological vision of economic policy that is devoid of pragmatism.

How can insistence on the path of error be explained at such a time? There may well be a quota of incompetence, but the basic reason is, as Nobel prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman affirm, that the goal of the policies imposed by the “Troika” (European Commission, ECB and International Monetary Fund) is to protect the interests of financial capital. And this is because the powers of political institutions, the media and academia, are dominated by financial capital, with German financial capital at the core.

Financial interests are essentially capable of shaping the decisions of European governance institutions. In the United States this subservience is less clear-cut, allowing hefty penalties to be imposed on certain banks, as well as the development of other economic strategies.

This is because independent mechanisms of control and oversight exist, the Federal Reserve has well-defined goals (whereas the ECB has spent years fighting the insistent threat of inflation), and there is democratic administration with the political will to resist.

In conclusion: the issue is to clarify what sort of Europe the citizens of Europe want, and what institutional changes are needed to achieve it.

And even more importantly, having seen the consecration of German hegemony over the Old World, what sort of German leadership would be compatible with a united Europe based on solidarity? Is this even possible? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139452 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was Monday named winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, believed to be the most lucrative individual award in the world.

The award, with an initial $5 million prize and an annual $200,000 gift for life, “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity,” according to organisers the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The foundation, founded by and named after the Sudanese born philanthropist, grants the award to democratically elected African heads of state or government who have left office democratically in the previous three years, served their constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated “exceptional leadership.”

At the event in Nairobi, President Pohamba was named just the fourth winner of the prize since its inception in 2007, and the first winner since 2011.

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee.

“President Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the ‎Prize Committee.”

Pohamba became president of Namibia in 2004, and will be succeeded later in March by president-elect Hage Geingob.

On Twitter, the foundation wrote that Namibia has “shown improvement in 10 out of 14 sub-categories of the [Ibrahim Index of African Government],”a framework that calculates good governance in areas including rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and human development.

Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim called Pohamba “a role model for the continent.”

“He has served his country since its independence and his leadership has renewed his people’s trust in democracy. His legacy is that of strengthened institutions through the various initiatives introduced during his tenure in office,” he said.

The Ibrahim prize is not awarded unless judges can find a candidate of sufficient quality.

Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano was the inaugural winner in 2007, followed by Botswana president Festus Mogae in 2008. The next and most recent winner was Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde, in 2011 after judges did not award the prize in 2009 or 2010. Prizes were not awarded in 2012 and 2013.

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim said the prize would only be awarded to deserving candidates.

“It is a prize for excellence in leadership. We are not lowering our standards,” he said.

“If this prize was offered to European presidents and leaders, how many … would have won this prize in the last eight years?”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Manipulate and Mislead – How GMOs are Infiltrating Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-manipulate-and-mislead-how-gmos-are-infiltrating-africa/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 10:29:47 +0000 Haidee Swanby and Maran Bassey Orovwuje http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139429 “There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

“There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

By Haidee Swanby and Mariann Bassey Orovwuje
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

The most persistent myth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they are necessary to feed a growing global population.

Highly effective marketing campaigns have drilled it into our heads that GMOs will produce more food on less land in an environmentally friendly manner. The mantra has been repeated so often that it is considered to be truth.

Now this mantra has come to Africa, sung by the United States administration and multinational corporations like Monsanto, seeking to open new markets for a product that has been rejected by so many others around the globe.“It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations are the bedrock of hunger in Africa”

While many countries have implemented strict legal frameworks to regulate GMOs, African nations have struggled with the legal, scientific and infrastructural resources to do so.

This has delayed the introduction of GMOs into Africa, but it has also provided the proponents of GMOs with a plum opportunity to offer their assistance and, in the process, helping to craft laws on the continent that promote the introduction of barely regulated GMOs and create investor-friendly environments for agribusiness.

Their line is that African governments must adopt GMOs as a matter of urgency to deal with hunger and that laws implementing pesky and expensive safety measures, or requiring assessments of socio-economic impacts, will only act as obstructions.

To date only seven African countries have complete legal frameworks to deal with GMOs and only four – South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Sudan – have approved commercial cultivation of a GM crop.

The drive to open markets for GMOs in Africa is not only happening through “assistance” resulting in permissive legal frameworks for GMOs, but also through an array of “philanthropical” projects, most of them funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

One such project is Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), funded by the Gates Foundation in collaboration with Monsanto. Initially the project sought to develop drought tolerant maize varieties in five pilot countries but, as the project progressed, it incorporated one of Monsanto’s most lucrative commercial traits into the mix – MON810, which enables the plant to produce its own pesticide.

Interestingly, MON810 has recently come off patent, but Monsanto retains ownership when it is stacked with another gene, in this case, drought tolerant.

WEMA has provided a convenient vehicle for the introduction of Monsanto’s controversial product, but it has also used its influence to shape GM-related policy in the countries where it works.

The project has refused to run field trials in Tanzania and Mozambique until those countries amend their “strict liability” laws, which will make WEMA, and future companies selling GMOs, liable for any damages they may cause.

WEMA has also complained to governments about clauses in their law that require assessment of socio-economic impacts of GMOs, saying that assessment and approvals should be based solely on hard science, which is also often influenced or financed by the industry.

African civil society and smallholders’ organisations are fighting for the kind of biosafety legislation that will safeguard health and environment against the potential risks of GMOs, not the kind that promotes the introduction of this wholly inappropriate technology.

About 80 percent of Africa’s food is produced by smallholders, who seldom farm on more than five hectares of land and usually on much less.  The majority of these farmers are women, who have scant access to finance or secure land tenure.

That they still manage to provide the lion’s share of the continents’ food, usually without formal seed, chemicals, mechanisation, irrigation or subsidies, is testament to their resilience and innovation.

African farmers have a lot to lose from the introduction of GMOs – the rich diversity of African agriculture, its robust resilience and the social cohesion engendered through cultures of sharing and collective effort could be replaced by a handful of monotonous commodity crops owned by foreign masters. 

There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems.

The mantra that GMOs are necessary for food security is hijacking the policy space that should be providing appropriate solutions for the poorest farmers.

Only a tiny fraction of farmers will ever afford the elite GM technology package – for example in South Africa, where over 85 percent of maize production is genetically modified, GM maize seed costs 2-5 times more than conventional seed, must be bought annually and requires the extensive use of toxic and expensive chemicals and fertilisers.

What is more, despite 16 years of cultivating GM maize, soya and cotton, South Africa’s food security continues to decline, with some 46 percent of the population categorised as food insecure.

It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations – such as unfair trade agreements and subsidies that perennially entrench poverty, or the patenting of seed and imposition of expensive and patented technology onto the world’s most vulnerable and risk averse communities – are the bedrock of hunger in Africa.

Without changing these fundamental power relationships and handing control over food production to smallholders in Africa, hunger cannot be eradicated.

A global movement is growing and demanding that governments support small-scale food producers and “agro-ecology” instead of corporate agriculture, an agricultural system that is based on collaboration with nature and is appropriate for small-scale production, where producers are free to plant and exchange seeds and operate in strong local markets.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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. 

This opinion piece was originally published by Common Dreams.

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