Inter Press Service » Globalisation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 29 Jul 2015 22:06:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Faith Leaders Issue Global “Call to Conscience” on Climatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:36:34 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141742 Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“We received a garden as our home, and we must not turn it into a wilderness for our children.”

These words by Cardinal Peter Turkson summed up the appeal launched by dozens of religious leaders and “moral” thinkers at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate, a one-day gathering in Paris earlier this week aimed at mobilising action ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference (COP 21) scheduled to take place in the French capital in just over four months.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course [over climate change] is our minds and hearts” – Cardinal Peter Turkson, an adviser for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change
“Our prayerful wish is that governments will be as committed at COP 21 as we are here,” said Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and one of the advisers for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, released in June.

With the theme of “Why Do I Care”, the Summit of Conscience drew participants from around the globe, representing the world’s major religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – and other faiths and movements.

Government representatives also joined activists from environmental groups, indigenous communities and the arts sector to call for an end to the world’s “throw-away consumerist culture” and the “disastrous indifference to the environment”, as Turkson put it.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course is our minds and hearts,” he said, after pointing out that “climate change is being borne by those who have contributed least to it”.

The summit was used to highlight an international “Call to Conscience for the climate” and to launch a new organisation called ‘Green Faith in Action’, aimed at raising awareness about environmental and sustainable development issues among adherents of different religions.

Participants drew up a letter that will be delivered to the 195 state parties at COP 21, signed by summit speakers including Prince Albert II of Monaco; Sheikh Khaled Bentounès, Sufi Master of the Alawiya in Algeria; Rajwant Singh, director of an international network called Eco Sikh; and Nigel Savage, president of the Jewish environmental organisation Hazon.

Voicing the concerns of religious groups and faith leaders, the letter is equally a reflection of the challenges faced by indigenous communities, who made their voices heard in Paris, describing attacks on their territories and way of life by the petroleum industry, for example.

“We’re not some kind of folkloric tradition, we’re living beings,” said Valdelice Veron, spokesperson of the Guarani-Kaoiwa people of Brazil, who delivered her speech in traditional dress.

She and other indigenous delegates spoke of their culture also being decimated by the practice of mono-cropping, where large soybean plantations are causing ecological damage.

“We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard,” Patricia Gualinga, a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told IPS.

“We share all the concerns about the climate and we too are being affected in many different ways,” she said.

Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy who spoke near the end of the summit, said the participants’ appeal was “first and foremost, an appeal for action”.

“Climate change should be considered as an opportunity – for business, technology, [and other sectors],” Royal said. “We need to pave the way together.”

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand  together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Samantha Smith, leader of the “Global Climate and Energy Initiative” at green group WWF, the Summit of Conscience reflected a “really big and unprecedented social mobilisation” of civil society, which she hopes will continue beyond COP 21.

“When I read the latest climate science report, it keeps me awake at night. But when I see the mobilisation and the strength of the conviction, I’m optimistic,” Smith said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit.

“Now is not the time to focus on where we disagree. Now is the time to work together,” she added.

But not everyone is invited to the same table – the alliances do not necessarily extend to companies in the fossil fuel industry, said Smith.

“When I say that we need to be united, it doesn’t mean that we need to be united with the fossil fuel industry,” Smith told IPS. “That is an industry which has contributed vastly to the problem and so far is not showing a very substantial contribution to the solution.”

The business sector, including oil producers, held their own conference in May, titled the Business & Climate Summit. At that event, which also took place in Paris, around 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest companies declared that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wished to see this achieved at COP 21.

Then at the beginning of July, hundreds of local authority representatives, civil society members and other “non-state actors” took part in the World Summit on Climate & Territories in Lyon, France.

There, participants pledged to take on the “challenge” of keeping global temperatures below a 2 degree Celsius increase “by aligning their daily local and regional actions with the decarbonisation of the world economy scenario”.

The scientific community also held their meeting on climate this month at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

At most of these conferences, French president François Hollande has been a keynote speaker, reiterating his message that the stakes are high and that governments need to show commitment to reach a legally binding, global accord at COP 21, which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

“We need everyone’s commitment to reach this accord,” Hollande said at the Summit of Conscience. “We need the heads of state and government … local actors, businesses. But we also need the citizens of the world.”

Even as he delivered his speech, another conference on the climate was taking place – at the Vatican, with the mayors of about 60 cities meeting with Pope Francis to formulate a pledge on combating greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayors from around the world will meet again, in Paris during COP 21, through an initiative organised by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and by Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former mayor of New York. Billed as the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, this meeting will be held Dec. 4 and should bring together 1,000 mayors.

A question that some observers have been asking, however, is how does one cut through all the grandiose and repetitive speeches at these incessant “summits” and get to real, sustainable action?

Nicolas Hulot, the “Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet” and the main organiser of the Summit of Conscience, said he has faced similar queries.

“I’ve been asked ‘what is this going to be useful for’,” he said. “But a light has emerged today, and I hope it will light us up.”

Hulot sought to encourage indigenous groups and others who had travelled from South America, Africa and other regions to Paris for the event, promising them continued support.

“Don’t you doubt the fact that we’re all involved, and we’ll never give in to despair,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody hears your message because we heard it.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

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Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141689

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

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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Calls Mount for “Bold” Climate Deal in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/calls-mount-for-bold-climate-deal-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=calls-mount-for-bold-climate-deal-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/calls-mount-for-bold-climate-deal-in-paris/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 18:47:15 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141684 By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A diverse coalition of 24 leading British scientific institutions has issued a communique urging strong and immediate government action at the U.N. climate change conference set for Paris in December.

Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and president of the British Academy, has called for a strong international climate agreement in Paris this year. Credit: public domain

Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and president of the British Academy, has called for a strong international climate agreement in Paris this year. Credit: public domain

The statement, issued Tuesday, points to overwhelming evidence that if humanity is to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to two degrees C, the world economy must transition to zero-carbon by early in the second half of the century.

Climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, president of the British Academy, one of the signers, said it “demonstrates the strength of the agreement among the UK’s research institutions about the risks created by rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Our research community has for many decades been at the forefront of efforts to expand our understanding and knowledge of the causes and potential consequences of climate change,” he said.

“While some of our politicians and newspapers continue to embrace irrational and reckless denial of the risks of climate change, the UK’s leading research institutions are united in recognising the unequivocal evidence that human activities are driving climate change.”

Other signatories include the British Ecological Society, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Meteorological Society and the Wellcome Trust.

The letter notes that the dangers are hardly theoretical, and in fact, many systems are already at risk. A two-degree rise would bring ever more extreme weather, placing entire ecosystems and cultures in harm’s way.

At or above 4 degrees, it notes, the world faces substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, and fundamental changes to human activities that today are taken for granted.

It also stresses that addressing the problem has vast potential for innovation, for example in low-carbon technologies.

Climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including food, energy and water security, air quality, health improvements, and safeguarding the services that ecosystems provide, would bring considerable economic benefits.

Also on Tuesday, the Vatican hosted mayors and governors from major world cities who signed a declaration urging global leaders to take bold action at the U.N. summit.

Mayors from South America, Africa, the United States, Europe and Asia signed a declaration stating that the Paris summit “may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2 degrees centigrade.”

Leaders should come to a “bold agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity while protecting the poor and the vulnerable,” said the declaration, which Pope Francis, who has taken a strong public stand on climate change, also signed.

California Governor Jerry Brown, who is in Rome this week, skewered climate change deniers in an interview with the Sacramento Bee, calling them “troglodytes.”

“Because the other side, the Koch brothers, are not sitting still,” Brown said. “They’re raising money, they’re supporting candidates, they’re putting money into think tanks, and denial, doubt and skepticism is being spewed through various media channels, and therefore the sincerity and the authority of the pope is a welcome antidote to that rather virulent strain of climate change denial.”

According to research by Greenpeace, Charles and David Koch (who also funded the right-wing U.S. Tea Party) have sent at least 79,048,951 dollars to groups denying climate change science since 1997.

“We don’t even know how far we’ve gone, or if we’ve gone over the edge,” Brown said in a speech at the Vatican climate summit. “There are tipping points, feedback loops, this is not some linear set of problems that we can predict.

“We have to take measures against an uncertain future which may well be something no one ever wants. We are talking about extinction. We are talking about climate regimes that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Myths About the Nuclear Deal With Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 22:05:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141644 EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

The single biggest misunderstanding about the nuclear agreement with Iran is that it is a bilateral deal with the United States.

Not true.“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one. Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned." --
Dr Rebecca Johnson

The agreement involved the U.N.’s five big powers, namely, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1).

But still, right-wing conservatives and U.S. legislators want to dissect and delegitimise an international agreement, whose clauses include the phased removal of U.N. sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council, where the P5 have veto powers, will meet next week to adopt a resolution and thereby give its blessings to the agreement.

But pro-Israeli groups and some members of the U.S. Congress want it delayed, arguing the United States should take political precedence over the United Nations.

At a press conference early this week, Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and a member of the U.S. negotiating team, told reporters: “Well, the way that the U.N. Security Council resolution is structured, there is an interim period of 60 to 90 days that I think will accommodate the congressional review.”

And it would have been a little difficult, she said, “when all of the members of the P5+1 wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this since it is a product of the United Nations process, for us to say, ‘Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress.’”

“The proof of the Iran nuclear deal will be in its results,” Dr Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and member of Princeton University’s International Panel on Fissile Materials, told IPS.

“I’ve spent time talking with American and Iranian scientists, diplomats and also human rights defenders. None of us is naive about the hurdles still to be overcome, and yet we are convinced this agreement is a positive step forward – and much better than more years of stalemate and hostility,” she added.

“But we also have to be honest that preventing nuclear proliferation and promoting human rights doesn’t stop with that. We welcome that Iran was one of 112 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states parties to sign the humanitarian pledge initiated by Vienna this year, to ‘fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons’.”

Dr Johnson said “multilateral negotiations to ban nuclear weapons as well as efforts to rid the
Middle East of all nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have to keep going forward if we want to avoid further proliferation and nuclear threats in the future.”

Responding to the strong negative reactions from Israel, Hillel Schenker, Co-Editor, Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to think the deal between the global powers and Iran is “the end of the world.”

His house organ, the Yisrael Hayom freebie, financed by the right-wing Las Vegas-based casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is active on both the Israeli and American political playing fields, greeted the deal with the headline “An Eternally Disgraceful Deal”.

The leaders of the opposition, on the other hand, have declared that the agreement is a “bad deal”, only criticising Netanyahu for ruining Israel’s relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. government.

“What we are actually witnessing however is the failure of Netanyahu’s policy of fear, and the triumph of President Obama’s policy of hope,” Schenker added.

He also said, “Netanyahu was nurtured in a home dominated by his father, the late Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, whose analysis of the Spanish Inquisition led him to conclude that no matter what we, the Jews and the Israelis, do, the whole world will continue to be against us, and we can only rely on ourselves.”

This approach, he argued, is totally contrary to the approach of the founding fathers of modern Zionism, all of whom understood the importance of creating alliances with global powers.

Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS the confrontation with Iran has been built up with very little evidence open to the public, allowing for all kinds of claims to be made.

“I hope that this deal will put an end to such Iran-bashing. In any case, I think the deal is an important step in the right direction,” he said.

The next step is for all the countries in the region to accept the same nuclear limitations as Iran – in particular, Israel, he added.

“It is high time the international community turned its attention to Israel and demand that the country eliminate its nuclear arsenal and the nuclear facilities that allow it to manufacture nuclear weapons,” said Dr Ramana, author of “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India” and a member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Dr Johnson told IPS that negotiations, like baking, involve craft as well as science – getting the timing as well as the ingredients right is crucial.

She said diplomatic persistence made the time right for this deal to be brokered, but Americans, Israelis, Iranians, Arabs, Europeans and the rest of the world have to commit to going forward or it won’t succeed.

“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one,” she warned.

“Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned.”

She said such erroneous claims just feed into the hard-line minority in Iran – rump factions close to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – that would also benefit if this deal is rejected.

“I don’t think those commentators are so naive that they actually believe their criticisms of the deal. They don’t want Iran to come in from the cold because – for whatever political or financial reasons of their own – they have a vested interest in stoking outdated rivalries and continuing to demonise and isolate Iran.”

She also said sanctions are a blunt instrument of coercion, usually causing most harm to the most vulnerable – women and children – and playing into authoritarian cliques who want to suppress human rights and democracy.

“It will be a tragic lost opportunity if these U.S. and Iranian hard-liners succeed in derailing this constructive nuclear agreement,” she declared.

Schenker told IPS said Netanyahu’s entire political career has been based on fear-mongering, and the need for “a strong leader” to confront the dangers.

In the recent election, this was typified by his last minute declaration that “the (Israeli) Arabs are going to the polling stations in droves, being bused-in by left-wingers.”

But during his past three terms, the ultimate source of fear was the threat of the Iranian bomb, which was picturesquely presented at the U.N. General Assembly session two years ago, and with his speech before U.S. Congress last year.

The headline in today’s Ma’ariv daily (Friday, June 17), is that “47 percent of the Israeli public favour a military attack on Iran following the signing of the agreement”, despite the fact that virtually the entire leadership of the Israeli military and security establishment is opposed to such an attack.

The survey results are clearly the product of the fears generated by Netanyahu and his allies, and much of the mainstream media commentators. However, alternative, calmer voices are also being heard, Schenker noted.

Many Israeli observers wonder why Netanyahu thinks he can still go against the entire international community, with the aid of his Republican allies in the U.S., given that they have no chance to overturn a presidential veto of any obstructionist resolution that they may pass.

As President Clinton once said after his first meeting with Netanyahu back in 1996, “Who does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Unrestrained ‘Privatisation of Poverty-Reduction’ Puts Human Rights at Riskhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 13:54:44 +0000 Savio Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141612

Savio Carvalho is Senior Advisor, Campaigning on International Development and Human Rights, Amnesty International, International Secretariat, London, and has worked for two decades in the Development and Human Rights sector in South and Central Asia, East Africa and Europe.

By Savio Carvalho
LONDON, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Corporate lobbyists are unusual guests at development meetings, but when the United Nations held its Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa this week to decide who pays for its new “Sustainable Development Goals”, some governments laid out the red carpet for the private sector.

Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International

Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International

Unfortunately, the conference failed to agree on any mechanism for making sure the role of companies in development is kept transparent and accountable.

Some see giving companies a bigger role in development as a simple win-win. Governments get access to financing to take the pressure off aid budgets and come up with the 2.5 trillion dollars needed to respond to poverty and climate change, while meeting the housing, health, education and infrastructure targets in the post-2015 agenda.

On the other hand, companies get a potential say in policy making and access to juicy public contracts.

But before governments allow companies to shoulder significant responsibility for fighting poverty, climate change and other global challenges, they will have to convince critics who warn that they are putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

While getting companies involved in development has the potential to provide important sources of funding to improve lives, experience equally shows that when companies are not held to account, people and communities can be seriously harmed. If private sector involvement in development is going to pay off for the people who need it and not just corporate shareholders, states have to leave impunity at the door.

Increasing the role of the private sector in the delivery of crucial public services such as water, education and health is fraught with risk. On July 2, the U.N. Human Rights Council warned that without proper regulation the privatisation of education could put the right to education at risk for countless children, especially if it means those children who cannot afford to pay lose out on quality education.

Around the world, Amnesty International has documented too many cases of marginalised communities waiting to see justice done, sometimes for decades, for human rights abuses perpetrated after a multinational company rolled into town. States who seek the involvement of the private sector in advancing development goals without putting effective safeguards in place, forget these cases at their peril.

The more than 570,000 victims of the 1984 Bhopal toxic gas leak, India’s worst industrial disaster, are still waiting for justice more than 30 years later. The firm responsible, Union Carbide, is now owned by U.S.-based Dow Chemical. A Bhopal court is pursuing criminal charges against Dow but the company has failed to even show up to multiple hearings over the last year. Meanwhile, survivors have tried and failed to seek justice in both India and the U.S.

While Union Carbide paid some compensation to those affected under a 1989 settlement agreement with the Indian government, it was wholly inadequate to cover the harm caused and there were serious issues with the way it was paid out to victims. At the time, the Indian government lacked the leverage to effectively hold a powerful global company to account.

Foreign companies operating in countries that are rich in natural resources and poor in regulation can reap huge profits at the expense of vulnerable people.

Earlier this year Amnesty International warned that Canadian and Chinese mining giants have profited from, and in some cases colluded, with  human rights abuses by the Myanmar authorities to exploit one of the country’s most important copper mines, with thousands of people being illegally driven off their lands, serious environmental risks going unchecked, and peaceful protest brutally suppressed.

Far from investigating the abuses, one multinational company involved used an opaque trust fund in the British Virgin Islands to divest its investment, in a manner which possibly breached economic sanctions applicable at the time. Reducing their exposure to the problem, rather than fixing it, has often been the mantra of companies faced by scandalous abuses.

For residents of Niger Delta, the legacy of half a century of oil production in Nigeria is the devastation of their farming and fishing lands. Today the oil spills continue unabated. In Shell’s operations alone, there were 204 spills in 2014. Shell blames sabotage and theft, but old pipelines and badly maintained infrastructure are a major cause of pollution.

This year one local community in Bodo has finally won 80 million dollars in compensation from Shell for the impacts of a massive spill, but only after a lengthy court battle in the UK and years of false claims by the company.

These are cautionary tales world leaders should consider as they plan to entrust the private sector with responsibility for funding and carrying out development projects. In all these cases, corporate political and financial clout created barriers to local communities accessing justice and accountability.

Governments have watched corporate political power grow for decades, often doing their best to get out of its way instead of properly regulating it to ensure that human rights are not violated.

Corporate lobbyists, meanwhile, have done everything possible to ensure that the important international standards addressing these risks remain entirely voluntary.  Voluntary codes of conduct and standards that have no enforcement mechanism ultimately lack the teeth to really change corporate behaviour, and when abuses occur, they can leave victims with little or no hope of remedy.

If private sector involvement in development is going to pay off for the people who need it and not just corporate shareholders, states have to leave impunity at the door. Companies that want to make a profit through work on sustainable development must be required to show they have a clean track record when it comes to human rights.

They must demonstrate that they have internal systems that ensure they do not cause human rights abuses. They must disclose information to communities about any local operations that impact them, as well as any payments they make to the authorities.

Crucially, governments must be ready to hold companies to account when abuses happen. The failure of all but five countries to meet the U.N.’s official aid targets is a crying shame, but if filling the gap by giving the private sector free rein leads to human rights abuses in already vulnerable communities, it will only rub salt in the wounds that sustainable development is supposed to heal.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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IMF Steps Up Lending to Achieve Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/imf-steps-up-lending-to-achieve-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=imf-steps-up-lending-to-achieve-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/imf-steps-up-lending-to-achieve-sustainable-development/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 16:45:40 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141557 By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

As the Third International Conference on Financing for Development opens in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Monday, all eyes are on the United Nation’s post-2015 development agenda, billed as the most ambitious and far-reaching poverty eradication plan in the organisation’s history.

On the eve of the conference, on Jul. 10, some of the world’s leading development banks announced plans to extend 400 billion dollars in financing towards the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over a three-year period.

The African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank Group (referred to as the MDBs), together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have also “vowed to work more closely with private and public sector partners to help mobilize the resources needed to meet the historic challenge of achieving the SDGs”, said a press release issued this past weekend.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, announced here in Washington on Jul. 8 that the Fund has decided to increase developing nations’ access to credit to promote sustainable growth.

The changes, approved by the IMF executive board on Jul. 1, will expand concessional facilities – money-lending mechanisms – to developing countries by 50 percent.

More aid will be targeted at poor and vulnerable countries, and the IMF will maintain a zero-percent interest rate on rapid credit facility loans to fragile states and countries hit by natural disasters

Lagarde referred to three major international conferences – including the financing conference underway in Ethiopia, the U.N. summit slated to take place in New York City in September, and the year-end climate negotiations scheduled to be held in Paris – as “rare windows of opportunities” for the international community, including the IMF, to help developing countries achieve the SDGs.

“These three [meetings] combined can help us change the music,” she said. “We have a chance to collectively take a new approach.”

First laid out in the Rio+20 summit in 2012, the SDGs currently comprise 17 goals, ranging from reducing poverty and inequality to combating climate change. They are expected to form the global blueprint from which member states will derive their national policies over the next 15 years.

The goals come on the heels of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight poverty reduction targets set out in 2000 that will expire by the end of this year.

Many are worried that the SDGs are too broad and may be costly.

A United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing released in August 2014 puts the estimate of eradicating extreme poverty in all countries, one of the goals, at around 66 billion dollars annually.

The cost of investments required to achieve “climate-compatible” scenarios may go up to several trillion dollars per year.

United Nations Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo said in an IMF Survey published on Apr. 18 that achieving the SDGs will cost more than the MDGs.

“In addition to eradicating poverty, this agenda will cover economic, social and environmental issues, so huge amounts of financial resources will be required for its implementation,” he said.

Other than international aid, the report calls for the use of private resources, partnerships and innovative mechanisms to finance implementation of the SDGs.

But international aid is still crucial for many least developed countries, especially nations on the African continent and landlocked developing states.

In 1970, a target was set for developed countries to allocate 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) as Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries. However, only five developed countries from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have reached the target so far.

ODA is the measure of resource flows to developing countries for economic development and welfare.

Charles Kenny, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. said in a blog post on Jul. 7 that aid flows alone could not float the multi-trillion-dollar price tag of the SDGs.

“The truth is that development is no longer mostly about aid,” he said.

He referred to remittances from migrants living overseas, foreign direct investment and private lending to developing countries as well as domestic government revenues as other lucrative sources of financing.

The IMF has contributed to the goals by providing advice, assistance and lending to the countries.

Lagarde said that the IMF will focus on mobilising domestic revenue, especially through increasing the tax ratios in developing countries. She said that tax ratios in developing countries are below 15 percent in comparison to the OECD average of 34 percent.

“Money raised in that simple, fair and broad-based system and well spent on the right policies can be a game changer,” she said.

Eliminating inefficiency by combating corruption and untargeted subsidies was another IMF goal. Around 30 percent of public spending is lost due to inefficiencies in the public investment process, she said.

“They [developing countries] can’t do it by themselves,” Lagarde said. “If the international community participates in that effort, it will go a lot further.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“Why Hire a Lawyer When You Can Buy a Judge?”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/why-hire-a-lawyer-when-you-can-buy-a-judge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-hire-a-lawyer-when-you-can-buy-a-judge http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/why-hire-a-lawyer-when-you-can-buy-a-judge/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 21:16:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141490 Women and children hold up signs at a rally against corruption in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women and children hold up signs at a rally against corruption in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2015 (IPS)

A woman is stopped at a checkpoint; she gives birth, and dies. Another is sold in a slave market. A boy is killed by a tank. A young man drowns at sea, trying to reach a haven safe from oppression and poverty.

These were just some of the examples that Rima Khalaf, executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), touched on during a panel discussion on the importance of the rule of law held at the U.N. headquarters on Jul. 7.

In each of scenarios laid out above, Khalaf said, had the person in question been of a different race, ethnic group, gender or religion, they might have been spared an untimely or violent death. In other words, they might have been under the protection of the law.

All too often, however, citizens are either unable or unaware of how to demand their legal rights – be it access to food, jobs or justice.

As the U.N. closes a 15-year chapter of poverty eradication efforts defined by the eight ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and moves towards a new, sustainable development agenda, legal experts came together Tuesday to discuss how the rule of law can help bolster the post-2015 blueprint for global change.

Organised by the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), an intergovernmental body devoted to empowering citizens and enabling governments to establish robust legal systems worldwide, the two-part event series revolved around Goal 16 of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to build inclusive societies by providing equal justice to all.

Promoting and strengthening the rule law in the realm of international development would seem, as IDLO Director-General Irene Khan pointed out, “a no-brainer”.

Fast Facts: 2015 Rule of Law Index

The 2015 Rule of Law Index, published annually by the World Justice Project (WJP) crunched data from 100,000 households and 2,400 expert surveys in 102 countries to present a portrait of how ordinary people around the world perceive and experience the rule of law in their everyday lives.

Countries are scored on a 0-1 scale based on eight factors:
- Constraints on government powers
- Absence of corruption
- Open government
- Fundamental rights
- Order and security
- Regulatory enforcement
- Civil justice and
- Criminal justice

Under these criteria, Denmark bagged the top spot on this year’s index with a score of 0.87, while countries like Afghanistan and Zimbabwe brought up the rear, scoring 0.35 and 0.37 respectively.

Other countries in the top 10 zone include Singapore, Finland and New Zealand, while states like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Uganda live closer to the bottom of the index.

Asian countries featured heavily at the mid-point of the index, with India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines occupying spots in the 50-60 range out of 102 surveyed states.

According to the WJP, “the Index is the world’s most comprehensive data set of its kind and the only to rely solely on primary data, measuring a nation’s adherence to the rule of law from the perspective of how ordinary people experience it.”
In reality, however, the SDGs mark the first time that the U.N. has explicitly written the rule of law into its development plans.

“There is a paradox here at the U.N. that bothers me deeply,” Khan said at a panel co-hosted by the IDLO and the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Law) Tuesday. “You can almost think of it as parallel railway lines, with two trains hurtling down these tracks through the landscape of the U.N. since its inception.

“One is the train that is running the development agenda, and the other is the train running the human rights agenda. I only hope that the principle of the rule of law that has now been acknowledged as part of the development agenda will bring these two tracks together – and that the meeting won’t be a crash but a synergy.”

Since its inception in 1988, the IDLO has remained the only organisation dedicated entirely to promoting the rule of law, repeatedly pushing for effective and accountable legal systems around the world as the basis for eradicating poverty, fighting discrimination and ensuring access to basic services.

It also highlights the links between inequality and lawlessness, where good governance seeps through cracks in weak justice systems, eroding the public’s confidence in the very structures that are designed to ensure their well-being.

Recounting a conversation she had with a chief justice in one of the IDLO’s partner countries, Khan said, “I was told that in this particular country people often say, ‘Why hire a lawyer if you can buy a judge?’ It is these situations that the rule of law addresses.”

In short, she said, the rule of law regulates power, a crucial step in the realisation of the SDGs.

“Poverty is not a matter of income,” she stressed. “It is a matter of powerlessness.”

Consider the following example from Uganda, where three-quarters of the population are subsistence farmers and where land disputes can have a heavy impact on livelihood and food security.

For many years, inefficient and informal justice systems meant that farmers, and particularly women, had no recourse to resolutions over even the most minor discord.

With the introduction in 1995 of the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) – established to provide legal empowerment to rural communities through Land Rights Information Centres – fair land laws and policies, as well as swift access to justice, has become the norm, rather than the exception.

In Ecuador, an IDLO training programme on access to fair trade markets and the basic legal aspects of forming and running micro-enterprises has given local communities in predominantly rural areas significant leverage in tapping into new revenue streams.

And in Rwanda, where women held just 43 percent of seats in the lower parliament in 2003, a new constitution and the creation of women’s councils over the past decade pushed women’s political representation to 64 percent in 2013, resulting in stronger laws on violence against women and gender-based crimes.

Any number of similar examples, from Afghanistan to Kyrgyzstan to Kenya, stand as testimony to the sheer scope and significance of the rule of law for the global development agenda.

But while legal frameworks are vital to securing rights and enshrining the basic tenets of development in constitutions worldwide, they cannot and do not exist in a vacuum.

“Laws alone are not enough,” Khalid Malik, former director of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Report noted during the panel discussion. “Many countries have all manner of statutes and conventions, but behaviors have not altered. If institutions are not pro-poor, change will not happen.”

He stressed that part of the problem lies in “institutions often being captured by the elites”, or other powerful interests, making them less accessible to marginalised groups.

What is needed, he says, is an approach to the rule of law that is rooted in justice, and the empowerment of ordinary people.

“When you have a universal approach to education and health,” he stated, “You empower people enormously. Think of the Arab Spring – it happened mostly in countries that were doing well on health and education. Why? Because once you’re educated, you become far more aware of your rights, you start expecting more from institutions, and the relationship between the citizen and the state starts to change.”

It is precisely this change that lawmakers hope to see as the U.N. finalizes its new development plans for a more just and sustainable world.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Social Safety Net Not Wide Enough to Protect World’s Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:50:50 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141473 By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Fifty-five percent of the world’s poor still have limited protection from hunger and economic, social or political crises despite expansion of social safety programmes in developing countries in recent years.

According to a report released by the World Bank on Jul. 7, most of the poor without a social safety net system are in lower-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the vast majority of the world’s poor reside.

In these countries, safety schemes like cash transfers and school feeding programmes only cover 25 percent of the extreme poor, compared to 64-percent coverage in upper-middle-income countries.

Existing social welfare mechanisms are insufficient to close the poverty gap, leaving approximately 773 million people struggling to survive, experts say.

The report, the second in a series, was released following the World Bank Group and International Labor Organisation’s (ILO) announcement of their goals to provide universal social protection within the next 15 years.

A joint statement released by the two organisations on Jun.30 cited universal coverage and access to social protection as twin goals by 2030.

“The World Bank Group and the ILO share a vision of social protection for all, a world where anyone who needs social protection can access it at any time,” according to the joint statement by Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, and Guy Ryder, executive director of the ILO.

“The new development agenda that is being defined by the world community – the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – provides an unparalleled opportunity for our two institutions to join forces to make universal social protection a reality, for everyone, everywhere.”

The report comes just ahead of the United Nations’ third Financing for Development (FfD) conference scheduled to take place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa next week, where world leaders will discuss plans for funding the post-2015 development agenda, due to be launched in September.

The issue of providing universal social protection is slated to be at the centre of the agenda.

The five largest social safety programmes in the world are in China, India, South Africa and Ethiopia, where regular assistance reaches a combined total of 526 million people.

According to the report, all countries have at least one type of social security scheme, while the average developing country has about 20 such programmes. Globally, approximately 1.9 billion people benefit from these mechanisms.

On average, low-middle-income countries devote 1.6 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to these mechanisms, while richer countries devote 1.9 percent of their earnings to social programmes.

The World Bank reports that poor policy choices lie at the heart of inefficiencies in adequately providing for the poor. Fuel and electricity subsidies, for instance, reduce the portion of government spending allocated to social spending. These regressive subsidies disproportionately benefit the rich.

For example, Yemen spends nine percent of its GDP on energy and electricity subsidies, compared to the three percent it spends on social security net programs. The country, engulfed in political turmoil for the past few years, is already one of the poorest countries in the Arab World with up to 54.5 percent of its population living in poverty.

As developed countries like the United States and the European Union grapple with the balance between providing social security and maintaining economic growth in the slumping economy, developing countries have expanded their safety nets in a bid to reduce poverty.

Cash transfer programmes, recommended by the report as the most effective method, has “positive spillover effects on the local economy.” For each dollar transferred, the total income of the beneficiary increases from 1.08 dollars to 2.52 dollars.

“There is a strong body of evidence that these programmes ensure poor families can invest in the health and education of their children, improve their productivity, and cope with shocks,” said Arup Banerji, the World Bank Group’s senior director for social protection and labour.

“Going forward, more can be done to close the coverage gap and reach the world’s poorest by improving the effectiveness of these programmes underpinned by enhanced targeting, improved policy coherence, better administrative integration, and application of technologies.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Will the New BRICS Bank Break with Traditional Development Models, or Replicate Them?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/will-the-new-brics-bank-break-with-traditional-development-models-or-replicate-them/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:10:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141467 The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Just days ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in which the five countries are expected to formally launch their New Development Bank (NDB), 40 NGOs and civil society groups have penned an open letter to their respective governments urging transparency and accountability in the proposed banking process.

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don't have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions." -- Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights
The NDB is expected to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the global South.

With an initial capital of 100 billion dollars, it was born from a combination of circumstances including emerging economies’ frustration with the largely Western-dominated World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to a 2014 Oxfam Policy Brief, another factor leading to the creation of the BRICS Bank was a major gap in financing for infrastructure projects, with official development assistance (ODA) and funding from multilateral institutions meeting just two to three percent of developing countries’ needs.

Strained by economic sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has been particularly keen to bring the fledgling lending institution to its feet and has been pushing international rating agencies to rate the bank’s debt, as a necessary first step for it to begin operations.

Even without counting the contributions of its newest member – South Africa – the four BRIC nations represent 25 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 41.4 percent of the world’s population, or roughly three billion people.

In addition, the borders of these countries enclose a quarter of the planet’s land area on three continents.

But even as the five political leaders prepare to take centre stage in the Russian city of Ufa on Jul. 9, citizens of their own countries are already expressing doubts that the nascent financial body will truly represent a break from traditional, Western-led development models.

“The existing development model in force in many emerging and developing countries is one that favors export-oriented, commodity driven strategies and policies that are socially harmful, environmentally unsustainable and have led to greater inequalities between and within countries,” said the statement, released on Jul. 7

“If the New Development Bank is going to break with this history, it must commit itself to the following four principles: 1) Promote development for all; 2) Be transparent and democratic; 3) Set strong standards and make sure they’re followed; 4) Promote sustainable development,” the signatories added.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global network of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold international financial institutions accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “[Although] the Bank’s Articles of Agreement have an article on Transparency and Accountability […] thus far we haven’t seen any indication of operational policies on transparency or anything relating to accountability mechanisms.”

“And unfortunately,” she added, “there is no open engagement with civil society on these questions.”

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don’t have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions,” Gordon told IPS in an email.

“That is why civil society groups in BRICS countries are calling for a participative and transparent process to identify strategies and policies for the NDB that can set it on a different path and actually deliver development.”

A primary concern among NGOs has been that the BRICS bank will replicate the old “mega-project” model of development, which has proven to be a failure both in terms of poverty eradication and increased access to basic services.

A recent international investigation revealed that in the course of a single decade, an estimated 3.4 million poor people – primarily from Asia, Africa and Latin America – were displaced by mega-projects funded by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Though these projects were ostensibly aimed at strengthening transportation networks, expanding electric grids and improving water supply systems, they resulted in a worsening of poverty and inequality for millions of already marginalised people.

Following closely on the heels of this damning expose, a major report by the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Bank’s lax safeguards and protocols resulted in a range of rights violations against those who spoke out against the economic, social and environmental fallout of Bank-funded projects.

Behind this track record, rights groups and NGOs are concerned that a new development bank operating on within a broken framework will contribute to the spiral of violence and poverty that has marked the age of mega-projects.

At a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid, there is no doubt that the developing world stands to gain greatly from a Southern-led financial institution.

What remains to be seen is to what extent the new bank will move away from the old model of financing and truly set a standard for inclusive and pro-poor development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Putting the “Integrity of the Earth’s Ecosystems” at the Centre of the Sustainable Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/putting-the-integrity-of-the-earths-ecosystems-at-the-centre-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 22:22:31 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141446 Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Mangrove forests, like this one in western Sri Lanka, can store up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, yet they are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

By 2050, we will be a world of nine billion people. Not only does this mean there’ll be two million more mouths to feed than there are at present, it also means these mouths will be consuming more – in the next 20 years, for instance, an estimated three billion people will enter the middle class, in addition to the 1.8 billion estimated to be within that income bracket today.

These changes are going to put unprecedented pressure on the world’s natural resources, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s International Resource Panel (IRP).

Entitled ‘Policy Coherence of the Sustainable Development Goals: A Natural Resource Perspective’, the report warns that maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems will be critical for the successful realisation of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Unless the new development blueprint is centered on protecting and respecting the earth’s limited bounty, the goals of poverty eradication and ensuring decent lives for current and future generations will fall by the wayside, experts predict.

For instance, IRP studies have shown that annual global extraction increased “by a factor of eight in the 20th century” from seven billion tonnes of material in 1900 to 68 billion tonnes of resources by 2009.

Based on current trends, resource use and extraction could hit 140 billion tonnes by 2050 – three times what was extracted in the year 2000, according to UNEP data.

“Due to declining ore grades, depending on the material concerned, about three times as much material needs to be moved today for the same ore extraction as a century ago, with concomitant increases in land disruption, groundwater implications and energy use,” UNEP said in a press release on Jul. 6.

Meanwhile, pressures on biotic resources are also on the rise, with 20 percent of cultivated land, 30 percent of the world’s forests and 10 percent of its grasslands being degraded at a rate that far outstrips the ability of such earth systems to replenish themselves.

Deterioration of ecosystems also threatens to worsen the impacts of climate change, contribute to water scarcity and exacerbate world hunger, with environmental experts fearing that 25 percent of total global food production could be lost by 2050 as a result of converging land and resource issues.

“The core challenge of achieving the SDGs will be to lift a further one billion people out of absolute poverty and address inequalities, while meeting the resource needs – in terms of energy, land, water, food and material supply – of an estimated eight billion people in 2030,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said Monday.

“The fulfillment of the SDGs in word and spirit will require fundamental shifts in the manner with which humanity views the natural environment in relation to human development,” he added.

Representing over 30 renowned experts and scientists, and as many national governments, the IRP today called for the “prudent management and use of natural resources, given that several Goals are inherently dependent on the achievement of higher resource productivity, ecosystem restoration and resource conservation”.

The report also urged policy makers to introduce practices based on a ‘circular economy’ approach, whereby reusing, recycling and remanufacturing products and other materials reduces waste by “decoupling” natural resource use from economic progress.

While the SDGs represent a bold and wide-reaching framework for ending some of the world’s most pressing problems – among them hunger and extreme poverty – avoiding counter-productive results will depend on a “commitment to maintaining the integrity of the Earth’s systems while addressing the resource demands driven by individual goals,” UNEP experts cautioned.

As the world’s population increases, and more people climb into the ranks of the middle class (defined by increased income and a corresponding rise in consumption), it will become crucial for individuals to adopt consumption patterns – and governments and corporations to adopt production systems – that contribute to human well-being “without putting unsustainable pressures on the environment and natural resources”, the report said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Panama and Nicaragua – Two Canals, One Shared Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 23:31:54 +0000 Iralis Fragiel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141388 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/panama-and-nicaragua-two-canals-one-shared-dream/feed/ 1 Opinion: BRICS for Building a New World Order?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-brics-for-building-a-new-world-order/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brics-for-building-a-new-world-order http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-brics-for-building-a-new-world-order/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 11:38:34 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141375

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

As the leaders of the BRICS five meet in the Russian city of Ufa for their annual summit Jul. 8–10, their agenda is likely to be dominated by economic and security concerns, triggered by the continuing economic crisis in the European Union and the security situation in the Middle East.

The seventh annual summit of the large emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – also takes place with a background of escalating tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine and the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), as well as the growing economic power of Asia, in particular, China.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

Nearly a decade and a half has passed since the BRIC acronym was coined in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, a Goldman Sachs executive, now a minister in David Cameron’s U.K. government, to refer to the four fast-growing emerging markets. South Africa was added in 2011, on China’s request, to expand BRIC to BRICS.

Although in operation as a formal group since 2006, and holding annual summits since 2009, the BRICS countries have escaped much comment in international media, partly because of the different political systems and socio-cultural norms, as well as stages of development, within this group of large and diverse nations.

The emergence of such groupings coincides with the relative economic decline of the West.

This has created the opportunity for emerging powers, such as China and India, to participate in global governance structures hitherto dominated by the United States and its Western allies.

That the centre of economic gravity is shifting away from the West is acknowledged in the view of the U.S. Administration of Barack Obama that the ‘pivot’ of U.S. foreign policy is moving to Asia.“The major countries of the global South have shown impressive economic growth in recent decades … [it is predicted that] by 2020 the combined economic output of China, India and Brazil will surpass the aggregated production of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy”

And there is evidence of this shift. In the Fortune 500 ranking, the number of transnational corporations based in Brazil, Russia, India and China has grown from 27 in 2005 to more than 100 in 2015. China’s Huawei, a telecommunications equipment firm, is the world’s largest holder of international patents; Brazil’s Petrobras is the fourth largest oil company in the world, while the Tata group became the first Indian conglomerate to reach 100 billion dollars in revenues.

Since 2006, China has been the largest holder of foreign currency reserves, estimated in 2015 to be more than 3.8 trillion dollars. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China’s gross domestic product (GDP) surpassed that of the United States in 2014, making it the world’s largest economy in purchasing-power parity terms.

More broadly, the major countries of the global South have shown impressive economic growth in recent decades, prompting the United Nations Development Programme to proclaim The Rise of the South (the title of its 2013 Human Development Report), which predicts that by 2020 the combined economic output of China, India and Brazil will surpass the aggregated production of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.

Though the individual relationships between BRICS countries and the United States differ markedly (Russia and China being generally anti-Washington while Brazil and South Africa relatively close to the United States and India moving from its traditional non-aligned position to a ‘multi-aligned’ one), the group was conceived as an alternative to American power and is the only major group of nations not to include the United States or any other G-7 nation.

Nevertheless, none of the five member nations are eager for confrontation with the United States – with the possible exception of Russia – the country with which they have their most important relationship. Indeed, China is one of the largest investors in the United States, while India, Brazil and South Africa demonstrate democratic affinities with the West: India’s IT industry is particularly dependent on its close ties with the United States and Europe.

Although the idea of BRIC was initiated in Russia, it is China that has emerged as the driving force behind this grouping. British author Martin Jacques has noted in his international bestseller When China Rules the World, that China operates “both within and outside the existing international system while at the same time, in effect, sponsoring a new China-centric international system which will exist alongside the present system and probably slowly begin to usurp it.”

One manifestation of this change is the establishment of a BRICS bank (the ‘New Development Bank’) to fund developmental projects, potentially to rival the Western-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF. Headquartered in Shanghai, China has made the largest contribution to setting it up and is likely that the bank will further enhance China’s domination of the BRICS group.

Beyond BRICS, Beijing has also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which already has 57 members, including Australia, Germany and Britain, and in which China will hold over 25 percent of voting rights. Two other BRICS nations – India and Russia – are the AIIB’s second and third largest shareholders.

Such changes have an impact on the media scene as well. As part of China’s ‘going out’ strategy, billions of dollars have been earmarked for external communication, including the expansion of Chinese broadcasting networks such as CCTV News and Xinhua’s English-language TV, CNC World.

Russia has also raised its international profile by entering the English-language news world in 2005 with the launch of the Russia Today (now called RT) network, which, apart from English, also broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in Spanish and Arabic.

However, as a new book Mapping BRICS Media – which I co-edited with Kaarle Nordenstreng of the University of Tampere, Finland – shows, there is very little intra-BRICS media exchange and most of the BRICS nations continue to receive international news largely from Anglo-American media.

The growing economic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing – most notably in the 2014 multi-billion dollar gas deal – indicates a new Sino-Russian economic equation outside Western control.

Two key U.S.-led trade agreements being negotiated – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and both excluding the BRICS nations – are partly a reaction to the perceived competition from nations such as China.

For its part, China appears to have used the BRICS grouping to allay fears that it is rising ‘with the rest’ and therefore less threatening to Western hegemony.

The BRICS summit takes place jointly with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council meeting. The only other time that BRICS and the SCO combined their summits was also in Russia – in Ekaterinburg in 2009.

Apart from two BRICS members, China and Russia, the SCO includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. SCO has not expanded its membership since it was set up in 2001. India has an ‘observer’ status within SCO, though there is talk that it might be granted full membership at the Ufa summit.

Were that to happen, the ‘pivot’ would have moved a few notches further towards Asia.

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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Opinion: The ACP at 40 – Repositioning as a Global Playerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 16:25:36 +0000 Patrick I. Gomes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141340 ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

By Patrick I. Gomes
BRUSSELS, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

In his memoirs, Glimpses of a Global Life, Sir Shridath Ramphal, then-Foreign Minister of the Republic of Guyana, who played a leading role in the evolution of the Lomé negotiations that lead to the birth of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, pointed to the significant lessons of that engagement of developed and developing countries some 40 years ago and had this to say:

“As regards the Lomé negotiations, the process of unification – for such it was – added a new dimension to the Third World’s quest for economic justice through international action. Its significance, however, derives not merely from the terms of the negotiated relationship between the 46 ACP states and the EEC, but from the methodology of unified bargaining which the negotiations pioneered.

Never before had so large a segment of the developing world negotiated with so powerful a grouping of developed countries so comprehensive and so innovative a regime of economic relations. It was a new, and salutary, experience for Europe; it was a new, and reassuring, experience for the ACP States.

“Forty years later, that lesson remains retains its validity. Unity of purpose and action remains the touchstone of ACP’s meaning and success.”

With a conscious appreciation of that founding unity of purpose and action, the ACP Group convened a high-level symposium at its headquarters in Brussels on Jun. 6. The event marked the milestone of four decades of trade and economic cooperation, vigorous and contentious political engagements and a range of development finance programmes – all aimed at the eradication of poverty from the lives of the millions of people in its 79 member states.“The ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975”

In 1975, it was 46 developing countries that met in the capital city of Guyana, to sign the Georgetown Agreement and give birth to the ACP Group. They had recently embarked on their post-colonial path of independence following successful negotiations of non-reciprocal trade arrangements with the then nine-member European Economic Community (EEC) in February.

Known as the Lomé Agreement, after the capital of Togo where it was signed, this legally-binding, international agreement had a life-span of 25 years to 2000. Essentially, it comprised three pillars of trade and economic cooperation, development assistance – mainly through grants from the European Development Fund (EDF) – and political dialogue on issues such as human rights and democratic governance.

During that period, the preferential trade and aid pact undoubtedly gave an impetus to various aspects of economic and social development in the ACP Group. Substantial revenue was received from preferential access to the European market for exports of clothing, banana, sugar, cocoa, beef, fruit and vegetables, for example, and with the accompanying aid programmes.

The benefits were seen in the economies of Mauritius, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Guyana and Fiji, to name a few. Member states of the ACP Group, less-developed countries (LDCs), landlocked states and small island developing states (SIDS), had access to returns from trade for improved social services and in this sense, the first decades of Lomé were certainly gains for development in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

But these gains entrenched an aid-dependency of commodity export economies with minimal structural transformation through value-added manufacturing and related service sectors in ACP countries.

The fierce trade-liberalising world of the late 1990s, rising indebtedness due to enormous increase in the cost of energy and pressure from the challenge of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to the European Union’s discriminatory practice of preferential trade and aid to this exclusive set of developing countries meant that post-Lomé ACP-EU trade relations had to be WTO-compatible.

Finding compatibility for “substantially all trade” between the economies of the ACP’s 79 members – grouped in six regions of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific – and Europe, and ensuring that development criteria take precedence over tariff reductions and WTO rules have proven contentious in this long-standing partnership.

With this overhang of tensions in its troubled access to its principal market, the ACP faces the conclusion of the 20-year Agreement signed in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin, in 2020.

A soul-searching and vigorous process to be repositioned as a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality is the singular task on which the ACP now concentrates.

Such a task has entailed a series of actions that are informed by the report of the Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives for the ACP Group of States that was approved by the Council of Ministers in December 2014.

The main thrust of the transformation and repositioning of the ACP is captured in the strategic policy domains identified in the report.

These are in five thematic areas that address:

a) Rule of Law & Good Governance;

b) Global Justice & Human Security;

c) Building Sustainable, Resilient & Creative Economies; and

d) Intra-ACP Trade, Industrialisation and Regional Integration;

e) Financing for Development.

In each of these, and in ways that are mutually reinforcing, very specific programmed activities of an annual action plan are being prepared and will be executed.

For example, the annual plan will address the thematic area of “sustainable, resilient and creative economies” through the mechanism of an ACP Forum on SIDS with financial resources, mainly from the intra-ACP allocation of the EDF and the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one of the partner agencies of the UN system with which the ACP Group works very closely.

Conceptualised so as to address systemic and structural factors affecting sustainable development, the ACP emphasises South-South and triangular cooperation as a major modality for implementation of its role as catalyst and advocate.

The current stage of rethinking and refocusing provides an opportunity for 40 years of development through trade by which the ACP Group and the European Union could recast the world’s most unique and enduring North-South treaty of developed and developing countries to effectively participate in a global partnership where no one is left behind.

The ACP has social and organisational capital accumulated from a rich experience on trade negotiations with the world’s largest bloc of Europe and its 500 million inhabitants.

Undoubtedly marked by contentious issues on trade provisions to satisfy the WTO’s non-discriminatory behaviour among its member States, ACP-EU relations reveal the persistent battle of poor versus rich with a view to finding common ground on issues of mutual interest.

The 40th anniversary celebration by the ACP Group at a High-Level Inter-regional Symposium on Jun. 4 and 5 witnessed reflections on achievements and failures, as well as limitations in the performance of the ACP Group, in itself as a group and among its member states, as well as in its partnership with the European Union and the wider global arena.

The theme of the symposium covered the initial Georgetown Agreement and the ambitious objectives that were set in 1975. The high point was the keynote address by H.E. Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly.

Interestingly, discussions revealed how relevant and timely they remain and of special note was the “promotion of a fairer and more equitable new world order”.

This retrospective conversation has been recognised as fundamental for how, and in what direction, the ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975.

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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German Development Cooperation Piggybacks Onto Africa’s E-Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:56:06 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141320 During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

In a major paradigm shift, the German government is now placing its bets on digitalisation for its development cooperation policy with Africa, under what it calls a Strategic Partnership for a ’Digital Africa’.

According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), “through a new strategic partnership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), German development cooperation will be joining forces with the private sector to support the development and sustainable management of Digital Africa’s potential.”

“Digitalisation offers a vast potential for making headway on Africa’s sustainable development,” said Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a State Secretary in BMZ, noting however that this “benefits all sides, including German and European enterprises.”

Broad consensus about the overlap between public and private interests in attaining sustainable development goals was apparent at two high-profile events earlier this year – the annual re:publica conference on internet and society, and BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference, both held in Berlin."Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships” – Muhammad Radwan of icecairo

In Berlin for re:publica 2015 in May, Mugethi Gitau, a young Kenyan tech manager from Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator for “technology, innovation and community”, delivered a sharp presentation titled ‘10 Things Europe Can Learn From Africa’.  “We are pushing ahead with creative digital solutions,” said Gitau, delivering sharp know-how and hard facts.

The Kenyan start-up iHub is a member of the m:lab East Africa consortium, the region’s centre for mobile entrepreneurship, which was established through a seed grant from the World Bank’s InfoDev programme for “creating sustainable businesses in the knowledge economy”.

In turn, m:lab East Africa is part of the Global Information Gathering (GIG) initiative, which was founded in Berlin in 2003 as a partnership of BMZ, the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The m:lab East Africa consortium has spawned 10 tech businesses which have gone regional, and boasts a portfolio of 150 start-ups, including Kopo Kopo, an add on to the M-Pesa money transfer application which has scaled into Africa, the PesaPal application for mobile credits, the Eneza ‘one laptop per child’ project, and locally relevant rural applications such as iCow and M-Farm which help farmers keep track of their yields and cut out the middleman to reach buyers directly.

“We are by nature a people who love to give, crowdsourcing is in our genes, our local villages have a tradition of coming together to help each other out, so it’s no wonder we have taken to sharing and social media like naturals,” Gitau told IPS, mentioning the popular chamas or “merry-go-rounds” whereby people bank with each other, avoiding banking interest costs.

Referring to the exponential tide of 700 million mobile phone users in Africa, which has already surpassed Europe, Thomas Silberhorn, a State Secretary in BMZ, told a re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information projects in developing countries: “This is a time of huge potential, like all historical transformations.”

The pace and range of innovative mobile solutions from Africa has been formidable. The creative use of SMS has enabled a range of services which enable urban and, significantly, rural populations to access anything from banking to health services, job listings and microcredits, not to mention mobilising “shit storms” against public authority inefficiencies.

However, the formidable pace of digital penetration has raised concerns about the “digital divide” – the widening socio-economic inequalities between those who have access to technology and those who have not.

Increasingly a North-South consensus is growing concerning three core aspects of digital economic development – the regulation of broadband internet as a public utility; the sustainable potential of mobile technology and low price smart devices to bring effective solutions to a whole gamut of local needs; and the need for good infrastructure as a precondition for environmental protection and as the leverage people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

New models of development cooperation, technology transfer and e-participation governance are emerging in response to the impact of digitalisation on all sectors of society and service provision in areas as disparate as they are increasingly connected including health, food and agriculture – access to education, communication, media, information and data and democratic participation.

“Tackling the digital divide is crucial,” said Philibert Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, addressing BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference. “It encompasses a package of vision, implementation and much needed coordination among stakeholders.”

Rwanda, which now boasts a number of e-participation projects such as Sobanukirwa, the country’s first freedom of information project, is committed to universally accessible broadband and is rising to the forefront of Africa’s power-sharing technical revolution. 

The most active proponents of the e-revolution argue that digitalisation also offers the possibility to place governments under scrutiny and have leaders judged from the vantage point of e-participation, open data, freedom of expression and information – all elements of the power-sharing models that have seen the light  in the internet age.

“Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships,” said Muhammad Radwan of icecairo.

The icecairo initiative is part of the international icehubs network, which started with iceaddis in Ethiopia and icebauhaus in Germany.

The icehubs network (where ‘ice’ stands for Innovation-Collaboration-Enterprise) is an emerging open network of ‘hubs’, or community-driven technology innovation spaces, that promote the invention and development of home-grown, affordable technological products and services for meeting local challenges.

The network is enabled by GIZ, a company specialising in international development, which is owned by the German government and mainly operates on behalf of BMZ, which is now intent on using a “digital agenda” to guide German development cooperation with Africa.

“Let us take digitalisation seriously,” said Kitschelt. “Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.”

Kitschelt’s words certainly found their echo among African e-revolutionaries whose rallying cry has moved forward significantly from “fight the power“ to “share the power”.

However, while this may be well be what the future looks like, there were also those at the re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information who wondered about priorities when Silberhorn of BMZ told participants: “”The fact that in many development countries we are witnessing better access to mobile phones than toilets is a clear catalyser for changing development priorities.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

*  Foondi is an African design and training start-up that focuses on creating access to open source, low-cost appropriate technology-related sources to leverage local technologies for bottom-up innovation. It provides a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Its larger vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa working on building solutions that target emerging markets and under-served communities in Africa.

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:52:45 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141296

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

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

It is hard to imagine today the public enthusiasm that greeted the founding of the U.N. in 1945.  After massive suffering and social collapse resulting from the Second World War, the U.N. seemed almost miraculous – a means at last to build peace, democracy, and a just society on a global scale.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Everywhere, hopes and aspirations were high.  Seven decades later, results have fallen far short.  On this anniversary, we can ask: what might have been possible and what is still possible from this institution that has inspired such passion, positive and negative, over the years?

The organisation, of course, was not set up by the United States and its allies to fulfill the wishes of utopian thinkers.  Though the Charter of 1945 invokes “We the Peoples,” the war victors structured the U.N. as a conclave of nation states that would express the will of its members – particularly themselves, the richest and most influential countries.

Despite statesmen’s pronouncements about noble intentions, the U.N.’s most mighty members have never seriously considered laying down their arms or sharing their wealth in an unequal world.  They have been busy instead with the “Great Games” of the day – like securing oil and other resources, dominating client states and bringing down unfriendly governments.Faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organisation’s overall expenditures.

Nevertheless, through the years, the U.N. has regularly attracted the hopes of reforming intellectuals, NGOs, humanitarians and occasionally even some governments – with ideas about improvement to the global system and well-being on the planet. In the run-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1995, many reports, conferences and books proposed U.N. institutional reform, some of which advocated a direct citizen role in the organisation.

Among the ideas were a chamber of directly-elected representatives, a vitalised General Assembly and a more representative Security Council, shorn of vetoes.  Some thinkers wanted an institution “independent” from – or at least buffered against – the sordid arena of great power politics.  But most reforming ideas, including relatively moderate changes, have come to naught.

Governments of all stripes have had a very short-term perspective and a narrow, outmoded conception of their “national interest” in the international arena.  They have shown remarkably little creativity and far-sightedness and they have taken care not to threaten powerful status quo interests.

The U.N.’s seventieth anniversary has come at a moment of exhaustion and frustration among reformers that has sapped belief in creative change. We are at a low-point in U.N. institutional prestige and public support.  Not surprisingly, the organisation has attracted few proposals and initiatives this time around.

As we know, the planet is facing unprecedented problems that the U.N. is in business to address: poverty, gross inequality, civil wars, mass migration, economic instability, and worsening climate change.  Secretaries General have regularly appointed panels of distinguished persons to consider these “threats,” but member states have not been ready to produce effective solutions.

Most of the money and energy at the U.N. in recent years has poured into “peacekeeping,” which is typically a kind of military intervention outsourced by Washington and its allies. The organisation, dedicated in theory to ending war, is ironically now a big actor on the world’s battlefields. It has a giant logistics base in southern Italy, a military communications system, contracts with mercenaries, an intelligence operation, drones, armored vehicles and other accouterments of armed might.  Meanwhile, the Department of Disarmament Affairs has seen its funding and status decline considerably.

The richest and most powerful states like to blame the smaller and poorer countries for the U.N. reform impasse (fury at the “G-77” – the group of “developing” countries – can often be heard among well-fed Northern diplomats at posh New York restaurants).  But in fact the big powers (with Washington first among them) have been the most ardent “blockers” – strenuously opposed to a strong U.N. in nearly every respect, except military operations.

The big power blocking has been especially strong when it comes to global economic policy, including proposals to strengthen the Social and Economic Council.  The same powers have also kept the U.N. Environment Programme weak, while opposing progress in U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations.

Poor countries have complained, but they are not paragons of reform either: their  leaders are inclined to speak in empty populist rhetoric, demanding “aid” while pursuing personal enrichment. We are far from a game-changing “new Marshall Plan” or a global mobilisation for social justice that reformers rightly call for.  Well-meaning NGOs repeat regularly such ideas, with little effect, in comfortable conference venues.

The U.N. has weakened as its member states have grown weaker.  The IMF, the World Bank and global financial interests have pushed neo-liberal reforms for three decades, undermining national tax systems and downsizing the role of public institutions in economic and social affairs.  Governments have privatized banks, airlines and industries, of course, and they have also privatized schools, roads, postal services, prisons and health care.

The vast new inequalities have led to more political corruption, a plague of lobbying, and frequent electoral malfeasance, even in the oldest democracies.  As a result, nation states command less loyalty, respect and hope than they did in the past.  Traditional centrist parties are losing their voters and the public is sceptical about governing institutions at all levels, including the U.N.

When nations cut their budgets, they cut the budget of the U.N. too, small as it is.  Bold steps to improve the U.N. would require money, self-confidence and a long-term view, but member states are too weak, politically unstable, timid and financially insecure to take on such a task.  As states slouch into socially, economically and politically conservative policies, the U.N. inexorably follows, losing its public constituency in the process.

Tightening U.N. budgets have tilted the balance of power in the U.N. even more sharply towards the richest nations and the wealthiest outside players.  Increasingly, faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organization’s overall expenditures.

This “extra-budgetary” funding, enables the donors to define the projects and set the priorities.  The purpose of common policymaking among all member states has been all but forgotten.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

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Critics of World Bank-Funded Projects in the Line of Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/critics-of-world-bank-funded-projects-in-the-line-of-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=critics-of-world-bank-funded-projects-in-the-line-of-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/critics-of-world-bank-funded-projects-in-the-line-of-fire/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 23:16:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141252 The World Bank has increased financial support for the cotton sector in Uzbekistan, despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour. Credit: David Stanley/CC-BY-2.0

The World Bank has increased financial support for the cotton sector in Uzbekistan, despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour. Credit: David Stanley/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

For an entire month beginning in February 2015, a group of between 40 and 50 residents of the Durgapur Village in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand would gather at the site of a hydroelectric power project being carried out by the state-owned Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC).

All day long the protestors, mostly women and their children, would sit in defiance of the initiative that they believed was an environmental and social danger to their community, singing folk songs that spoke of their fears and hopes.

“I had expected a very constructive conversation with the World Bank. Instead all I am hearing are non-responses." -- Jessica Evans, senior advocate on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch
Their actions were well within the bounds of the law, but the reactions of THDC employees to their peaceful demonstration were troubling in the extreme.

According to one of the women involved, THDC contractors and labourers routinely harassed them by hurling abusive slurs – going so far as to call the women ‘prostitutes’ and make derogatory comments about their caste – and attempted to intimidate them by threatening “severe” consequences if they didn’t call off their picket.

In a country where activists and communities demanding their rights are routinely subjected to identical or worse treatment at the hands of both state and private actors, this tale may not seem at all out of the ordinary.

What sets it apart, however, is that this hydroelectric project was not simply a government-led scheme; it is financed by a 648-million-dollar loan from the World Bank.

Governed by a set of “do no harm” policies, both the Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have – on paper at least – pledged to consult with and protect local communities impacted by its funding.

But according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, the Bank has not only systematically turned a blind eye to reports of human rights abuses associated with its projects, it also lacks necessary safeguards required to avoid further violations in the future.

When silence and negligence equals complicity

Based on research carried out over a two-year period between May 2013 and May 2015, in Cambodia, India, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan – the latter following allegations of rights abuses in Uzbekistan – the report entitled ‘At Your Own Risk: Reprisals Against Critics of World Bank Group Projects’ found that Bank officials consistently fail to respond in any meaningful way to allegations of severe reprisals against those who speak out against Bank-funded projects.

In some cases, the World Bank Group has even turned its back on local community members working with its own officials.

Addressing the press on a conference call on Jun. 22, the report’s author, Jessica Evans, highlighted an incident in which an interpreter for the Bank’s Inspection Panel was flung into prison just weeks after the oversight body concluded its review process.

Withholding all identifying details of the case for the security of the victim, Evans stated that, besides questioning government officials “behind closed doors”, the Bank has so far remained completely silent on the fate of an independent activist working to strengthen the Bank’s own process.

Such actions, or lack thereof, “make a mockery out of [the Bank’s] own stated commitments to participation and accountability,” the report concluded.

HRW has identified dozens of cases in which activists claim to have been targeted – harassed, abused, threatened or intimidated – for voicing their objections to aspects of Bank or IFC-funded initiatives for a range of social, environmental or economic reasons.

Because the bulk of communities in close proximity to major development schemes tend to be among the poorest or most vulnerable, and therefore lack the access or ability to formally lodge their complaints, the true number of people who have experienced such reprisals is “sure” to be much higher than the figures stated in the report, researchers revealed.

Evans told IPS, “On this issue of reprisals the World Bank’s silence and inaction has already crossed the line” into the realm of compliance.

She added that the Inspection Panel raised the issue of retaliation back in 2009, giving the Bank ample time to take necessary steps to address a chronic and pervasive problem.

Instead, it continues to engage with governments that have a poor human rights track record, while remaining apparently deaf to pressures and demands from civil society to strengthen mechanisms that will protect powerless and marginalized communities from violent backlash.

Take the case of Elena Urlaeva, who heads the Tashkent-based Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, and who was arrested in a cotton field on May 31, 2015, while documenting evidence of the Uzbek government’s massive system of forced labour in cotton production.

According to HRW, Urlaeva was detained, abused and sexually violated during an extremely violent cavity probe. On the grounds that they were searching for a data card from her camera, male doctors and policemen conducted such a rough and invasive search that the ordeal left her bleeding.

She was forbidden from using the bathroom and eventually forced to go outside the station in the presence of male officers who called her a “bitch”, filmed her in the act of relieving herself and threatened to post the video online if she complained about her treatment.

Evans told IPS all of this occurred against a backdrop of the World Bank’s increased financial support of the cotton sector – already it has pledged over 450 million dollars to three major agricultural projects of the Uzbek government – despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour.

In the absence of any robust mechanism within the World Bank to make continued funding conditional on compliance with international human rights standards, there is a “real risk” that independent monitors and rights activists will continue to face situations as horrific as the one Urlaeva recently endured, Evans stressed.

A ‘disappointing’ reaction

Both the World Bank and the United Nations have tossed the issue of development-related rights abuses from one forum to another.

In his May 2015 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston stressed the urgency of “putting questions of resources and redistribution back into the human rights equation.”

He decried several member states’ attempts to keep international economics, finance and trade “quarantined” from the human rights framework, and blasted international financial institutions (IFIs) for contributing to this culture of impunity.

“The World Bank can simply refuse to engage with human rights in the context of its policies and programmes, IMF does the same, and the World Trade Organisation is little different,” Alston remarked, adding that these bodies throw the issue at the HRC, while the latter simply knocks the ball back into the financiers’ court.

It is becoming akin to a game of political ping-pong, with the ball representing the human rights of some of the most impoverished people in the world – at whom multi-million-dollar development projects are ostensibly targeted.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global coalition of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold IFIs accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “You can’t have successful development without robust civil society participation in setting development priorities, designing projects, and monitoring implementation.”

If development banks and their member states neglect to take leadership and implement the necessary protocols and policies, she said, “they will continue to see increasing development failures, human rights abuses, and conflict.”

If the World Bank Group’s initial reaction to HRW’s comprehensive research is anything to go by, however, Bank on Human Rights and other watchdogs of its ilk have their work cut out for them.

Though HRW’s researchers invited the Bank and the IFC’s input with an in-depth list of questions back in April, they have received nothing but a rather “bland response” that failed to address the issue of reprisals at all and simply stated that the Bank “is not a human rights tribunal.”

“I had expected a very constructive conversation with the World Bank,” Evans said. “Instead all I am hearing are non-responses. We have proposed really pragmatic recommendations for how the Bank can work effectively in challenging environments, but we are a long way from that at the moment.”

Both the Bank’s Inspection Panel and the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) have greeted the report with enthusiasm, but they are independent bodies and remain largely powerless to effect change at the management level of the World Bank Group.

This power lies with the Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, who will have to “take the lead and send a clear message to his staff that the question of reprisals is a priority issue,” Evans concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Take Good News on Afghanistan’s Reconstruction With a ‘Grain of Salt’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/take-good-news-on-afghanistans-reconstruction-with-a-grain-of-salt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=take-good-news-on-afghanistans-reconstruction-with-a-grain-of-salt http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/take-good-news-on-afghanistans-reconstruction-with-a-grain-of-salt/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 23:09:29 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141228 Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Since 2002, a year after it invaded Afghanistan, the United States has poured over 100 billion dollars into developing and rebuilding this country of just over 30 million people. This sum is in addition to the trillions spent on U.S. military operations, to say nothing of the deaths of 2,000 service personnel in the space of a single decade.

Today, as the U.S. struggles to salvage its legacy in Afghanistan, which critics say will mostly be remembered as a colossal and costly failure both in monetary terms and in the staggering loss of life, many are pointing to economic and social gains as the bright points in an otherwise bleak tapestry of occupation.

“Much of the official happy talk on [reconstruction] should be taken with a grain of salt – iodized, of course – to prevent informational goiter.” -- John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
Among others, official groups like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) say that higher life expectancy outcomes, better healthcare facilities and improved education access represent the ‘positive’ side of U.S. intervention.

From this perspective, the estimated 26,000 civilian casualties as a direct result of U.S. military action must be viewed against the fact that people are now living longer, fewer mothers are dying while giving birth, and more children are going to school.

But the diligent work undertaken by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) suggests that “much of the official happy talk on [reconstruction] should be taken with a grain of salt – iodized, of course – to prevent informational goiter.”

Formed in 2008, SIGAR is endowed with the authority to “audit, inspect, investigate, and otherwise examine any and all aspects of reconstruction, regardless of departmental ownership.”

In a May 5 speech, John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General, called the reconstruction effort a “huge and far-reaching undertaking” that has scarcely left any part of Afghan life untouched.

Poured into endless projects from propping up the local army and police, to digging wells and finding alternatives to poppy cultivation, funds allocated to rebuilding Afghanistan now “exceed the value of the entire Marshall Plan effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.”

“Unfortunately,” Sopko said, “from the outset to this very day large amounts of taxpayer dollars have been lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.

“These disasters often occur when the U.S. officials who implement and oversee programs fail to distinguish fact from fantasy,” he added.

‘Ghost schools, ghost students, ghost teacher’

In one of the most recent examples of this disturbing trend, two Afghan ministers cited local media reports to inform parliament about fraud in the education sector, alleging that former officials who served under President Hamid Karzai had falsified data on the number of active schools in Afghanistan in order to receive continued international funding.

“SIGAR takes such allegations very seriously, and given that they came from high-ranking individuals in the Afghan government, and also that USAID has invested approximately 769 million dollars in Afghanistan’s education sector, SIGAR opened an inquiry into this matter,” a SIGAR official told IPS.

Submitted on Jun. 18 to the Acting Administrator for USAID, the official inquiry raises a number of questions, including over widely cited statistics that official development assistance has led to a jump in the number of enrolled students from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013.

While USAID stands by these figures, sourced from the Afghan Ministry of Education’s Education Management Information System (EMIS), it is unable to independently verify them.

Faced with allegations of “ghost schools, ghost students, and ghost teachers”, SIGAR has requested an immediate response from USAID as to whether the agency is able to investigate allegations of fraud, and verify that it is receiving accurate data, in order to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are not being wasted, the SIGAR official explained.

This is no easy undertaking in a place where students are spread out over an estimated 14,226 schools primarily in rural areas, and where even the education ministry does not keep tabs on security threats, or the literacy of teachers, let alone the particulars of curricula.

Last year SIGAR reported that the education ministry continues to count students as ‘enrolled’ even if they have been absent from school for three years, suggesting that the actual number of kids in classrooms is far below the figure cited by the government, and subsequently utilised by U.S. aid agencies.

In his May 5 speech Sopko claimed that a top USAID official believed there to be roughly four million children in school – less than half the figure on which current funding commitments is based.

There is no question that continued funding is needed to bolster Afghanistan’s education system.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) office in Kabul, the country continues to boast one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, standing at approximately 31 percent of the population aged 15 years of age and older.

There are also massive geographic and gender-based gaps, with female literacy levels falling far below the national average, at just 17 percent, and varying hugely across regions, with a 34-percent literacy rate in Kabul compared to a rate of just 1.6 percent in two southern provinces.

These are all issues that must urgently be addressed but according to oversight bodies like SIGAR, they must be addressed within a system of efficiency, transparency and accuracy.

Furthermore, discrepancies between official statistics and reality are not limited to the education sector but manifest in almost all areas of the reconstruction process.

Take the issue of life expectancy, which USAID claimed last year had increased from 42 years in 2002 to over 60 years in 2014.

If accurate, this would represent a tremendous stride towards better overall living conditions for ordinary Afghans. But SIGAR has cited a number of different statistics, including data provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook and the United Nations Population Division, which offer much lower numbers for the average life span – some as low as 50 years.

Although the original data comes directly from the USAID-funded Afghanistan Mortality Survey, conducted in 2010 by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, and would therefore appear to pass the reliability test, SIGAR is concerned that “USAID had not verified what, if anything, the ministry had done to address deficiencies in its internal audit, budget, accounting, and procurement functions.”

While SIGAR is not able to put a concrete number on losses resulting from poorly planned programmes, theft and corruption by both American and Afghan elements, and weak administration of monies placed directly in the hands of Afghan ministries, a SIGAR official told IPS it is hard to imagine that the overall cost to U.S. taxpayers “is not in the billions of dollars.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: We Have a Moral Imperative to Act on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 10:13:32 +0000 Edwin Gariguez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141165 Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

By Edwin Gariguez
MANILA, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

My country, the Philippines, is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Even though we are among those countries that hardly contributed emissions and benefited least from burning fossil fuels, we find ourselves at the frontline of the climate crisis.

The catastrophe we experienced from Super Typhoon Haiyan [in early November 2013], one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, which killed thousands and damaged billions of properties, is proof to this. Almost two years later, our people are still struggling to recover from its devastating impact.“If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart”

It should therefore not come as a surprise that concern about climate change is higher in the Philippines than elsewhere. A recent public consultation showed that 98 percent of Filipinos are “very concerned” about the impacts of climate change, compared with a global average of around 78 percent.

The Church cannot remain a passive bystander. It is our moral imperative to give voice to the voiceless.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has pronounced its strong opposition to coal mining because it will make our country contribute to climate change, and endanger ecosystems as well as the health and lives of people.

Our churches have often led the struggles against dirty energy. In my hometown of Atimonan, Quezon, for example, more than 1,500 protesters led by church leaders staged a demonstration against a proposed coal-fired power plant last week.

Similarly, Catholic priests in Batangas are at the forefront of the fight against the construction of a new coal power plant. Last month, about 300 priests held a prayer rally ahead of a committee hearing that discussed the project.

Pope Francis also understands that climate change is not only an environmental issue but a matter of justice. His upcoming encyclical is anticipated to bring the link between climate change and the poor to centre stage.

In the Philippines, we are grateful that Pope Francis came to visit and held mass in areas hit the hardest by Typhoon Haiyan.

We admire him for standing in solidarity with us, using his position to inject momentum for faith communities around the world to take a moral stance on climate change.

A papal encyclical is an extraordinary way to send a powerful message to world leaders whose actions to date lag far behind the scale of the response that is necessary.

We hope that the Pope’s message will remind world leaders of their moral duty to act as we approach the climate summit in Paris [in December], where a new international climate agreement is supposed to be reached.

The moral imperative to act could not be stronger and the world now needs to stand united in the face of the climate crisis that knows no geographic boundaries, while the worst impacts still can be avoided.

Through the Pope’s encyclical, the Church will raise critical issues that need to be taken into account in the global response to this unprecedented threat.

Global capitalism has lifted millions out of poverty by burning fossil fuels. On the flipside, it has also created vast inequalities and sacrificed the environment for the sake of short-term gain. Now is the time to break the stranglehold of fossil fuels over our lives and the planet.

If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart.

The Pope’s critique of today’s destructive, fossil-fuel dependent economy will not go down well with the powerful interests that benefit from today’s status quo.

But we, the Church and the people of the Philippines, will stand alongside the Pope as strong allies in the struggle for a socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually rich world that Pope Francis and the broader climate movement are fighting for.

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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When a Kid With Low Self-Esteem Dreams of Becoming the Presidenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/when-a-kid-with-low-self-esteem-dreams-of-becoming-the-president/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-a-kid-with-low-self-esteem-dreams-of-becoming-the-president http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/when-a-kid-with-low-self-esteem-dreams-of-becoming-the-president/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 22:08:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141148 Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

You may have heard of Global Citizenship Education (GCED), but unless you move in international development circles, chances are you’re not entirely sure what the acronym means.

Speaking at a seminar on this very issue at the United Nations headquarters on Jun. 15, Sofia Garcia-Garcia of SOS Children’s Villages, a care organisation striving to meet the needs of over 80,000 children in 133 countries worldwide, provided an excellent summary.

Recounting a recent project undertaken by the Global Movement for Children in Latin America and the Caribbean, of which Garcia’s organisation is a member, she explained what happened when 1,080 kids and adolescents from 10 Latin American countries were consulted about their own priorities for the U.N.’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education. It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity." -- Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria.
“SOS works with children without parental care, and they are usually children with very, very low self esteem,” Garcia told a packed conference room Monday.

“But within 10 minutes of us explaining the initiative and saying, ‘We want to hear your voice, you are the agent of change’, children who didn’t even consider themselves as speakers were suddenly wanting to be the president of the country.”

The exercise concluded with the publication of ‘The World We Want’, an illustrated, child-friendly version of the 17 proposed SDGs.

“This is the real power of global citizenship education,” Garcia-Garcia asserted.

Backed by several missions including the Republic of Korea and the United States, and co-sponsored by civil society groups like CONCORD – an alliance of over 2,600 NGOs across Europe – as well as the 12-million member Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Inter Press Service news agency (IPS), the panel served as a knowledge platform to share some of the key components of GCED.

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education,” stressed Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria. “It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity: all other rights should be contingent on the right to education.”

But our current reality does not reflect his convictions. We are living in a world where 58 million children are out of school and a further 100 million children do not complete primary education, according to the latest Education for All global monitoring report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO).

Add to this the fact that there are 168 million child labourers, as well as 200 million jobless adults, and the urgency of the situation becomes clear.

All told, some 781 million people globally cannot read or write, a staggering statistic in a world where not only basic literacy but also, increasingly, computer literacy, forms the fine line between a decent life or one of poverty.

However, GCED goes beyond the simple metrics of more bodies in the classroom. In short, the concept of global citizenship refers to a “sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity,” according to UNESCO.

It aims to transform classroom pedagogy, create bonds of cultural understanding and civic consciousness and forge a global citizenry for the 21st century based on human rights, peace and equity. While advocacy is happening on a global scale, implementation of GCED will be local in nature, undertaken in accordance with countries’ education ministries and tailored to meet the specific needs of states, or communities.

GCED recognises that basic literacy alone is not sufficient to level the playing field in a world plagued with inequalities, where the wealth gap between the richest and poorest countries has risen from 35:1 during the colonial era to 80:1 today, and where the richest 85 people own more riches between them than 50 percent of the global population.

Rather, it is the quality of education that will close wealth gaps and ensure such elusive goals as peace, security and the curbing of violent extremism.

Calling attention to the increasing number of people from the developed world heading for “theatres of war in the Middle East”, Nigerian Ambassador Sarki asked, “Can we really say these people are not educated? Many of them are. Indeed, masterminds of terrorist activity are highly educated people – the question is, what kind of education have they had? We can be educated, and remain narrow-minded,” he stated.

The concept of GCED dates back to 2012 when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Global Education First Initiative, and after much advocacy in which the Republic of Korea has played a major role, the initiative has been incorporated into the Zero Draft outcome document for the post-2015 agenda, to be finalized during negotiations at the end of the month.

Already, scores of international and grassroots initiatives centered on GCED are springing to life, or bearing fruit.

For instance, global citizenship education is one of the key strategic areas in UNESCO’s 2014-2017 education programme, while groups like SOS Children’s Villages have put the concept at the front and centre of their work by undertaking unique forms of education in order to include some of the most vulnerable groups.

Garcia-Garcia, SOS’s post-2015 advisor, told IPS that the organisation works very closely with families at risk of separation or with children who have lost parental care so, “for us, non-formal education is as essential as formal education”.

“There are lots of places to learn,” she told IPS on the sidelines of Monday’s event, “and the classroom is just one of them.”

This kind of thinking will be vital to extending the boons of GCED to the world’s indigenous people who number some 370 million and many of whom are locked in a struggle to preserve ancient forms of knowledge sharing, from local languages to oral histories.

With indigenous communities pushing hard for a place in the post-2015 agenda, global citizenship education could offer the out-of-the-box strategies needed to bring hitherto marginalized peoples into a more inclusive and sustainable framework.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Infrastructure Investments in Emerging Economies Hit Record Levels – but at What Cost?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/infrastructure-boom-in-emerging-economies-hits-record-levels-but-at-what-cost/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:50:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141081 Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

According to new data released by the World Bank Tuesday, investments in infrastructure in 139 emerging economies shot up to 107.5 billion dollars in 2014, with just five countries – Brazil, Colombia, India, Peru and Turkey – accounting for 73 percent of the total.

The update, published by the Bank’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) database, reveals that projects with private participation in the water, energy and transport sectors totaled 51.2 billion in the first half of 2014, compared to 41.7 billion in the first half of 2013.

"The concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.” -- Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Based on a review of investments in some 6,000 projects in 139 low- and middle-income countries between 1990 and 2014, the data show that the energy sector accounted for the greatest number of new projects, but the transport sector captured the largest amount of investment, securing 55.3 billion dollars or 51 percent of the total.

Some 33 road construction projects attracted 28.5 billion dollars in investment, with four of the top five road projects in Brazil and one in Turkey. Five airport projects secured 13.2 billion dollars in investment commitments.

Driven largely by massive infrastructure booms in Brazil, Colombia and Peru, Latin and America and the Caribbean accounted for 55 percent of global investments, snagging 69.1 billion dollars last year.

These mega-projects include 11 major ventures, eight of them in the energy sector, in Peru alone, amounting to over eight billion dollars, the largest of which, the Lima Metro Line 2, brought in 5.3 billion dollars in investment.

Not all regions are seeing an increase. Both India and China experienced declines last year, with the latter witnessing its lowest infrastructure investment levels since 2010, at 2.5 billion dollars. India’s commitments dropped down to 6.2 billion dollars.

In sub-Saharan Africa investment plunged from 9.3 billion in 2013 to 2.6 billion in 2014, although increased infrastructure activity in Ghana, Kenya and Senegal suggests that the downward trend might soon be reversed.

Despite uneven investment levels globally, the Bank estimates that spending on infrastructure projects in 2014 represents 91 percent of the five-year average between 2009 and 2013.

In a statement released on Jun. 9, Bank officials claimed, “This is the fourth highest level of investment commitments ever recorded, exceeded only by levels seen from 2010 through 2012.”

What this data reveals is that a global consensus to bolster public-private partnerships in mega-projects is bearing fruit.

Practically every major international organisation from the United Nations to multilateral development banks believe that strengthening road, energy and transport networks are crucial at a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid.

But a closer look at the track records of these gigantic infrastructure projects and new plans for financing them suggests that pouring billions of dollars into highways and dams in the developing world not only enriches some of the wealthiest sectors of the population, they also threaten to further impoverish the poorest, thereby widening global inequality.

‘Appropriate Scale’ – a thing of the past

The world’s most cited scholar on mega-project management and planning, Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, found that on average only one in 1,000 mega-projects is completed on time, within its stated budget and with the ability to deliver what was promised.

Flyvbjerg’s extensive database on the subject reveals that approximately nine out of every 10 large-scale projects incur cost overruns, often over 50 percent of the stated budget – an expense borne primarily by taxpayers.

According to Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, these massive projects can cost “potentially billions and trillions of dollars, so when they go over budget and over time, they can devastate the national budget of a country.”

Alexander told IPS that, while there is a very real need for improved infrastructure, particularly in developing countries, there is an equally urgent need to tailor such ventures towards those who would most benefit from the services.

“Whether they are in education, healthcare, water or electricity, projects really need to be appropriate in scale to meet their goals. But the concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.”

Part of the reason for this change, experts say, is the push to use investment in infrastructure to finance development, particularly by strengthening public-private partnerships and by ‘financialising’ investment.

Research by the Heinrich Böll Foundation reveals that the G20 group of major economies aims to finance the so-called infrastructure gap by tapping into the roughly 80 trillion dollars in long-term private institutional finance – from pension funds to insurance schemes – by creating infrastructure as an “asset class”.

Under this model, governments will undertake a range of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and financial institutions will package and sell financial products “that offer long-term investors a stake in a portfolio of PPPs”.

“When speculators take stakes in physical infrastructure,” the organisation says, “such infrastructure is subject to the whims of herds of investors [and] could trigger instability in the provision of basic services.”

Already, a lack of evidence on the success of PPPs suggests that the current pace of investment in infrastructure with private participation is at best a gamble – and at worst a recipe for disaster.

In a sample of 128 World Bank-financed public-private partnerships, 67 percent of those in the energy distribution sector failed, as did 41 percent of those in the water sector. These are the findings of the World Bank’s own independent evaluation group (IEG).

Other research indicates that mega-projects seldom lead to improvement in access to basic services, since many such ventures are undertaken to serve global, rather than local, demand.

“Energy projects, for instance, are often launched to serve a mine, or you’ll see a dam or power plant built for the same purpose – as is the case with the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Alexander explained.

The very countries highlighted in the Bank’s latest update have a poor track record of successfully managing mega-projects.

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil, for instance, are notorious for their delays, while the majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule.

Meanwhile, back in April, an expose published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that in the course of a single decade, some 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Fifty percent of those displaced by large-scale ventures – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

The investigators further alleged that the Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp, pumped 50 billion dollars into projects that financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations.

Brent Blackwelder, president emeritus of Friends of the Earth International, told IPS that “planning bigger and bigger projects despite the failure rate proves what Einstein said: that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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