Inter Press ServiceIPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 18 Jan 2019 20:26:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.8 Quenching Humanity’s Freshwater Thirst Creates a Salty Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 15:09:54 +0000 Edward Jones http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159704 Vladimir Smakhtin is Director, and Manzoor Qadir is Assistant Director, of the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) in Canada, hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University. Edward Jones, who worked on the paper at UNU-INWEH, is now a researcher at Wageningen University, The Netherlands

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Desalination plant, UAE: http://bit.ly/2Rbco3H

By Edward Jones, Manzoor Qadir and Vladimir Smakhtin
HAMILTON, Canada, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

Starting from a few, mostly Middle Eastern facilities in the 1960s, today almost 16,000 desalination plants are in operation in 177 countries, producing 95 million cubic meters of freshwater every day – equal to about half the flow over Niagara Falls.

Falling economic costs of desalination and the development in membrane technologies, particularly reverse osmosis, have made desalination a cost-competitive and attractive source of freshwater around the globe.

The increase in desalination has been driven by intensifying water scarcity due to rising water demands associated with population growth, increased water consumption per capita, and economic growth, coupled with diminishing water supplies due to climate change and contamination.

Worldwide, roughly half a billion people experience water scarcity year round; for 1.5 to 2 billion people water resources are insufficient to meet demands for at least part of the year. Desalination technologies can provide an unlimited, climate independent and steady supply of high quality water, predominantly used by the municipal and industrial sectors.

In particular, desalination is an essential technology in the Middle East and for small island nations which typically lack renewable water resources. In coming decades, according to predictions, the number of desalination plants will increase to quench a growing thirst for freshwater in homes, industrial facilities, and on farms.

This fast-growing number of plants, however, creates a salty dilemma: how to deal with all the chemical-laden leftover brine?

We analyzed a newly-updated dataset — the most complete ever compiled — to revise the world’s badly outdated statistics on desalination plants. Most startling was our finding that the volume of hypersaline brine produced overall is about 50% more than previously estimated.

Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day — enough in a single year (51.8 billion cubic meters) to cover Florida under 1 foot (30.5 cm) of brine.

Considered another way, the data shows that for every unit of freshwater output, desalination plants produce on average 1.5 units of brine (though values vary dramatically, depending on the feedwater salinity, the desalination technology used, and local conditions).

Some two-thirds of desalination plants are in high-income countries, with capacity concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa. And over half — 55% — of global brine is produced in just four countries: Saudi Arabia (22%), UAE (20.2%), Kuwait (6.6%) and Qatar (5.8%).

Middle Eastern plants, which largely operate using seawater and thermal desalination technologies, typically produce four times as much brine per cubic meter of clean water as plants where river water membrane processes dominate, such as in the US.

Brine disposal methods, meanwhile, are largely dictated by geography but traditionally include direct discharge into oceans, surface water or sewers, deep well injection and brine evaporation ponds.

Desalination plants near the ocean (almost 80% of brine is produced within 10km of a coastline) most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment.

Brine raises the salinity of the receiving seawater, and brine underflows deplete dissolved oxygen needed to sustain life in the marine environment. This high salinity and reduced levels of dissolved oxygen can have profound impacts on marine ecosystems and organisms, especially those living on the seafloor, which can translate into ecological effects observable throughout the food chain.

Furthermore, the oceans are polluted with toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process (copper and chlorine are of major concern).

There is a clear need for improved brine management strategies to meet this rising challenge. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

In fact, we can convert this environmental problem into an economic opportunity. Brine has many potential uses, offering commercial, social and environmental gains.

It has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to irrigate salt tolerant species, to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, to generate electricity, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinization).

With improved technologies, a large number of metals, salt and other minerals in desalination plant effluent could be mined.

These include sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, boron, strontium, lithium, rubidium and uranium, all used by industry, in products, and in agriculture.

The needed technologies are immature, however; recovery of these resources is economically uncompetitive today.

UNU-INWEH is actively pursuing research and ideas related to a variety of unconventional water sources, all of which need to be scaled up urgently to meet the even greater deficit in freshwater supplies looming in much of the world.

In particular, we need to make desalination technologies more affordable and extend them to low-income and lower-middle income countries.

Thankfully, costs are falling from continued improvements in membrane technologies, energy recovery systems, and the coupling of desalination plants with renewable energy sources.

At the same time, we have to address potentially severe downsides of desalination — the harm of brine and chemical pollution to the marine environment and human health.

The good news is that efforts have been made in recent years and, with continuing technology refinement and improving economic affordability, we see a positive and promising outlook.

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Excerpt:

Vladimir Smakhtin is Director, and Manzoor Qadir is Assistant Director, of the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) in Canada, hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University. Edward Jones, who worked on the paper at UNU-INWEH, is now a researcher at Wageningen University, The Netherlands

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Q&A: 17 Percent of the Problem, but 30 Percent of the Solutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 10:46:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159697 IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage interviews United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch TIM CHRISTOPHERSEN

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If forest loss continues at the current rate, it will be impossible to keep warming below two degrees Celsius as pledged in the Paris Agreement. Credit: José Garth Medina/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

From expansive evergreen forests to lush tropical forests, the Earth’s forests are disappearing on a massive scale. While deforestation poses a significant problem to the environment and climate, trees also offer a solution.

After a series of eye-opening reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) were published in 2018, it was clear that international action is more urgent than ever to reduce emissions and conserve the environment.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for approximately 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.

Tropical deforestation alone accounts for 8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. If it were a country, it would be the world’s third-biggest emitter, just behind China and the United States of America.

In fact, according to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the land-use sector represents between 25 to 30 percent of total global emissions.

If such forest loss continues at the current rate, it will be impossible to keep warming below two degrees Celsius as pledged in the Paris Agreement.

While forests represent a quarter of all planned emissions reductions under Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, there is still a long way to go to fulfil these goals.

The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) is among the international groups working to reverse deforestation. It supports countries’ REDD+ processes, a mechanism established to promote conservation and sustainable management of forests.

IPS spoke with UNEP’s Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch Tim Christophersen about the issues and solutions surrounding deforestation. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What is the current state of deforestation globally?

Tim Christophersen: The rate of deforestation has slowed since 2000 globally. At some point, it had even slowed by about 50 percent. We still have a lot of deforestation—it’s just that the rate has gone down so that’s partially good news.

The good news side is we see a lot of restoration and reemergence of forests on deforested land. But often those forests of course cannot replace the biodiversity or ecosystem values that they once had.

The bad news is that in some countries, deforestation has accelerated.

This picture is mixed but it is not all gloom and doom.

IPS: Where have you seen improvements and what cases are most concerning to you? 

TC: In general, the picture is quite positive in Europe where forest area is increasing by a million hectares per year.

In Asia and the Pacific, the picture is quite mixed with China investing heavily in restoration and planting millions of hectares of new forests and other countries such as Myanmar where the pace of deforestation is accelerating.

Recently, an area of concern is of course Brazil with changes in leadership there that will probably weaken protections of the Amazon rainforest. We expect they might not be able to keep their positive track record that they had especially in the years between 2007-2012 where deforestation of the Amazon dropped by 70 percent.

IPS: What has UN-REDD and REDD+’s role in this issue? What are some successful case studies or stories that REDD had a direct role in? 

TC: REDD has, for example, put the issue of indigenous rights front and center to the entire debate about forests and land use.

That is largely thanks to the strong role of indigenous communities in the climate discussions and the strong safeguards that were part of the REDD+ package. So these safeguards have triggered, also across other infrastructure projects, the knowledge and awareness of indigenous communities that they have rights, that they can determine national resource use within their jurisdictions—that was not so much the case before.

For example in Panama, we have worked together with indigenous communities to map forest cover and priority areas for REDD+ investments. In Ecuador, indigenous communities have been involved from the start in the design of the REDD+ framework.

There are [also] other potential buyers that are out there and willing to invest in verified and clearly demonstrated reductions in deforestation.

We have not seen the amount of funding flow into REDD+ that we had anticipated to date but it is picking up now. We also hope that more countries will come online with their emissions reductions that they properly verify with the UNFCC process.

The issue is that land use and forests are about 30 percent of the climate problem and solution—it is a problem that can be turned into a solution. It is currently causing 25 percent of emissions and it could absorb as much as one-third of all the emission sequestration that we need.

But it has only received about 3 percent of climate finance so there’s a huge mismatch between the opportunity that natural solutions provide and the funding that goes into it.

IPS: Over the last year including during the recent COP, many have brought up and discussed nature-based solutions. What are these, and what could such solutions look like on the ground? 

TC: Nature-based solutions are solutions to climate change or other challenges we face where we use the power of nature to restore or improve ecosystem services.

An example would be using forests for flood prevention or purification of drinking water for cities. This is quite widespread in fact but it is not always recognised. About one-third of all major cities in developing countries receive their drinking water from forested watersheds.

If we lose those forests, that would have detrimental impacts on a lot of people’s drinking water supply. It can often be cheaper or at least more cost-effective for cities, provinces or nations to invest in keeping and restoring their forests rather than other solutions for water purification or drinking water supply.

Another example that is often cited is the role of mangroves in storm protection in coastal areas. Again, this can be cheaper to invest in planting and conserving mangroves than building sea walls or other grey infrastructure projects that we have to increasingly invest in for climate adaptation.

IPS: There are many initiatives around the world that involve planting trees as a way to address climate change and land degradation and many have received mixed reviews in terms of its usefulness. Is it enough just to plant trees?

TC: Planting trees is never enough because trees are a bit like children—it’s not enough to put the in the world, you also have to make sure they grow up properly. That’s often overlooked that you cannot just plant trees and then leave them to their fate.

Because often the reasons for landscape degradation, for example overgrazing, will very quickly eliminate any trees that you plant. So it’s more about a longer-term, better natural resource management.

Planting trees can be one activity in a longer process of restoring degraded forests and landscapes.

There are other ecosystems that are also very important—peatlands, wetlands—but forests and trees will play a major role in the next decade. I am convinced there will be more and more investments into this area because if trees are planted and properly looked after, it is a huge opportunity for us to get back onto the 2 degree target in the Paris Agreement.

IPS: Since the planet is still growing in terms of population size and food needs, is there a way to reconcile development and land restoration? And do wealthier countries or even corporations have a responsibility to help with land restoration?

TC: Absolutely. I would even say land restoration on a significant scale is our only option to reconcile the need for increasing food production and meeting the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well most notable goal 13 on climate action.

Without restoration, we are probably not going to achieve the Paris Agreement. That part of nature-based solutions, massive investments in ecosystem restoration is absolutely essential and we see that more and more corporations are recognising that.

The aviation industry is one of those potential buyers with their carbon reduction offset scheme which is called CORSIA.

It certainly is an option to channel financing for forest protection but there are of course limits as to how much emissions we can realistically offset.

Offsets are absolutely no replacement for very drastic, highly ambitious emission mitigation measures. We have to very drastically and quickly reduce industrial emissions.

Offsets can maybe tip the balance in favour of offsetting only those emissions that can otherwise not be reduced or avoided but they are not a replacement for strong action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all industrial sectors including agriculture.

The biggest part of corporate interest we see in restoration is from large agri commodity investors and food systems companies because they want to secure their supply chains and that’s quite encouraging.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity

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Excerpt:

IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage interviews United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch TIM CHRISTOPHERSEN

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A Salty Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/a-salty-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-salty-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/a-salty-dilemma/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2019 11:57:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159655 As the threat of water scarcity increasingly grows, many have turned to the Earth’s plentiful oceans for a solution. However, this has created a new risk threatening public and environmental health: brine. In a new study, the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health (UNU-INWEH) assessed the state of desalination around the world […]

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A desalination plant. Across 177 countries, there are now 16,000 desalination plants, many of which are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa where water scarcity is already a reality.As desalination plants continue to pop up, so does a hypersaline, chemical by-product known as brine. Credit: RoPlant

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

As the threat of water scarcity increasingly grows, many have turned to the Earth’s plentiful oceans for a solution. However, this has created a new risk threatening public and environmental health: brine.

In a new study, the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health (UNU-INWEH) assessed the state of desalination around the world as countries increasingly convert sea water into freshwater for its citizens.

“There is an increasing level of water scarcity across the globe, but there are hot spots of water scarcity like those in the Middle East and parts of Africa. They really need an additional supply of water that they can use to meet the requirements of their population,” one of the report’s authors Manzoor Qadir told IPS.

Across 177 countries, there are now 16,000 desalination plants, many of which are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa where water scarcity is already a reality.

As desalination plants continue to pop up, so does a hypersaline, chemical by-product known as brine.

In fact, for every litre of freshwater a plant produces, 1.5 litres of brine is produced, a figure that is 50 percent more than previously estimated.

Globally, desalination plants produce enough brine in one year to cover all of Florida in one foot of the waste.

“Historically what we used to see was the equal volumes of brine versus desalinated water—that is not true…there is more brine produced than desalinated water. It really needs efficient management,” Qadir said.

Countries are increasingly turning to the oceans as a solution to water scarcity. Pictured here is Sri Lanka’s southern coast near Hikkaduwa town. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The study, which is the first to quantify brine production across the world, found that just four countries are responsible for 55 percent of global brine: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Almost 80 percent of brine is produced in plants near the ocean and are often discharged back into the ocean, posing major risks to ocean life and marine ecosystems.

According to the UNU-INWEH report, untreated brine increases both the temperature and salt concentration of sea water. Together, these conditions decreases the water’s oxygen levels, impacting sea organisms and the food chain.

The desalination process also uses toxic chemicals such as copper and chlorine, polluting oceans when released.

As desalination plants are predicted to increase in number, the assessment highlighted the need for improved brine management strategies to avoid further and future environmental damage.

The report’s authors pointed to the various economic opportunities to use brine including in the irrigation of salt tolerant crops,  electricity generation, and even aquaculture.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains.  Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300 percent achieved,” Qadir said.

“”There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity,” he added.

But first and foremost, countries need to minimise the volume of brine produced including the adoption of more efficient modern technologies, Qadir noted.

“[Middle Eastern countries] especially need to take concrete action just to make sure that there is an environmentally feasible management of brine,” he told IPS, while also acknowledging the importance of desalination.

UNU-INWEH found that eight countries including the Maldives, Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda and Qatar can meet all their water needs through desalination. And it is predicted that more and more countries will rely on such plants for their water needs.

“We need to raise the importance of global water scarcity and the key contributions of desalinated water, but at the same time we should not just ignore the other part of desalinated technology which is brine production,” Qadir concluded.

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Honduran Crisis Produces New Caravanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan/#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:34:52 +0000 Jan Egeland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159650 Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), visited Honduras in December 2018.

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The first caravan of Central American migrants reached the town of Matías Romero in Oaxaca state on November 1, 2018. The Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs estimates that 4,000 people spent the night there. Credit: IOM / Rafael Rodríguez

By Jan Egeland
OSLO, Norway, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

A new caravan heading towards Mexico and the United States was reportedly set to leave San Pedro Sula in Honduras on 15 January. The large number of people expected to leave Central America is a true testimony to the desperate situation for children, women and men in this poor and violence affected region.

Instead of talking about a crisis at the US-Mexican border, North Americans must wake up and address the real humanitarian crisis in Central America. The long walk north will be extremely dangerous and exhausting for the thousands of families from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that will join the caravans planned in 2019.

Obstacles on the way are likely to increase, as there is fatigue and frustration from communities who supported migrants during last year’s exodus. There is rising xenophobia in both the United States (US) and Mexico and increasingly tough border regulations in every country on the way.

Border controls, guards or walls will never stop people who are hunted by gang violence and flee for fear for their lives. Youth who have lost all hope for a better future in Central America will try repeatedly to reach a better life in the US, Canada or Mexico.

To tackle the current crisis, the more affluent American nations need to understand their own neighborhood and invest much more in bringing hope, security and good governance for people who currently see no other option than to flee.

Having spoken to many desperate Honduran families who have been or will be on the caravans, I am convinced that the current policies from the US through Mexico and Central America will only deepen the crisis, the desperation and the exodus. Investment in education, livelihoods and violence prevention are better alternatives to detention and deportation back to places where there is only misery and violence.

Hondurans who have managed to reach Mexico during previous journeys have told NRC staff that they were held in shelters, forced to sign deportation papers and deported without a fair hearing of their asylum claims. In spite of the hardships and the dangers many are still planning on leaving again even though they know of the slim chances of reaching the US.

“Dying here or dying there, it doesn’t make much difference. At least there I have a small chance to see that my life improves,” said one person who is planning to leave again for the north with the caravan.

If a gang is extorting you, if you are a witness to a crime or if your neighborhood is taken over by organized crime you may have no other option than to flee. People will only stay if they are protected from violence, lawlessness and crime and provided with education and livelihood opportunities.

Thousands of people remain stranded and blocked on the border between Mexico and the US where processing is extremely slow. The US and Mexico recently signed the agreement ‘Remain in Mexico’ in which the US will be able to send people back to Mexico while they go through the refugee status determination process.

This process can take years due to a backlog in the system. The agreement comes on top of President Trump’s attempts to build a wall, migrant children dying in US custody and last summer’s family separations crisis. 75,279 people were deported from Mexico and the US in 2018, according to a Honduran centre for migration: Observatorio Consular y Migratorio de Honduras (CONMIGHO).

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Excerpt:

Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), visited Honduras in December 2018.

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Bridging the Infrastructure Financing Gap in the Asia Pacific Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 15:33:03 +0000 Tientip Subhanij and Daniel W. Lin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159647 Tientip Subhanij is Chief, Financing for Development, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP & Daniel W. Lin is Consultant, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP

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Credit: Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

By Tientip Subhanij and Daniel W. Lin
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

Infrastructure development is undoubtedly critical for a country’s long-term economic growth and competitiveness as it impacts economic activities by increasing productivity, facilitating trade, and promoting innovation.

Across the Asia Pacific region, however, economic growth as well as broader development goals are hindered by a shortage of roads, mass rapid transit systems, telecommunications, power plants, water and sanitation and other basic infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that the average infrastructure requirement for a representative group of 24 developing countries in the region for 2016 to 2020 is 8.2 per cent of the GDP when China is excluded.

However, their current investments average only 3.2 per cent of GDP, leaving the financing gap as large as 5 per cent of GDP. Notably, of the 3.2 per cent of GDP currently invested in infrastructure on average, only 1 per cent of GDP comes from the private sector.

Adding to this challenge, private sector participation in infrastructure investment in emerging markets dropped by 37 percent between 2015 and 2016 globally, reaching the lowest level in 10 years.

Understanding the decline in private investment and how countries can encourage more private sector participation will, therefore, be important in achieving sustainable infrastructure development in the region.

The most recent successful example of engaging private sector financing is from Thailand, where the government has launched a new way to raise private capital through Thailand Future Fund (TFF). Traded on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, the TFF is a 44.7 billion Baht infrastructure mutual fund that aims at raising capital from institutional and private retail investors for the country’s infrastructure development.

The fund invests in value-enhancing state agencies’ infrastructure assets and projects to create long-term distribution growth potential, including expressways, railways, electricity generation and distribution, airports, and deep seaports.

An IPO was made from October 12 to 19 with prices set at 10 Baht each. Since then, major local institutional investors have shown great interest in TFF.

The TTF has the advantage of reducing the government’s burden on public finance by providing fund raising alternative. This is expected to accelerate the Thai government investment in infrastructure projects, which can be injected into TFF in the future, thus, providing institutional and retail investors the opportunity to invest in high performing and stable income infrastructure projects.

The Fund also promotes the development of Thailand’s capital markets by facilitating private sector investment in infrastructure development, which is considered a low risk long-term investment, allowing greater diversification for private investors.

The mobilization of private resources, including through public-private partnerships (PPP) has indeed been attracting strong interest from governments in Asia and the Pacific.

Recognizing this potential, the Regional Road Map for Implementing the 2030 Agenda, endorsed by ESCAP member States in May 2017, highlights the need to undertake research, analysis and consensus-building initiatives to enhance regional knowledge of infrastructure financing, including PPP.

Subsequently, in December 2017 the Committee on Macroeconomic Policy, Poverty Reduction and Financing for Development, requested the ESCAP secretariat to consider developing a network on PPP and infrastructure financing to provide a regular platform where member States can exchange their experiences, disseminate knowledge, engage private sector and build consensus regarding good practices on infrastructure financing.

To this end, ESCAP took the initiative to serve member States’ needs and successfully organized the first meeting of PPP and infrastructure financing network with support from the China Public Private Partnerships Center at the City of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China on 12 and 13 September 2018.

This was the first regional event, among many more to come, that leverages on the fact that countries in the region are increasingly accumulating experience in engaging private sector for their infrastructure investment.

It gathered the heads of PPP units, infrastructure specialists and capital market experts from 22 countries in the region to enhance knowledge and capacity of PPP units on the effective use of PPP mechanisms as well as other infrastructure financing strategies to support the pursuit of sustainable infrastructure development.

Given that the Asia-Pacific region’s infrastructure investment requirement is immense and public resources are limited, it is important to carefully design financing strategies to fill the existing gaps and meet future infrastructure demand.

As highlighted by the recent Thai example, this can be supported by mobilizing more resources from institutional investors by further deepening capital markets in the regions as well as increasing the availability of investable assets.

Moving forward, member States in Asia and the Pacific would greatly benefit from sharing established good practices with other countries and engaging the private sector in addressing their infrastructure financing challenges, with ESCAP playing an enabling role in such endeavours.

The post Bridging the Infrastructure Financing Gap in the Asia Pacific Region appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Tientip Subhanij is Chief, Financing for Development, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP & Daniel W. Lin is Consultant, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP

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Building Mongolia’s Green Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/building-mongolias-green-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-mongolias-green-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/building-mongolias-green-future/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 08:59:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage and IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159633 A country that has contributed least to global climate change now has to cope with and adapt to the very real effects they are faced with.

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January 2018 alone saw temperatures drop to -50 degrees Celsius. This has had vast impacts on Mongolia’s herders. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage and IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

The landlocked country of Mongolia sparks certain images in the mind—rolling hills with horses against a picturesque backdrop.

However, the East Asian country is facing a threat that will change its landscape: climate change.

“Climate change isn’t affecting everyone around the world evenly. Small island states is an example and another example is people who live in more norther climates like Mongolia,” United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox told IPS.

“The problem for Mongolia is, with respect to climate change, is that it contributes almost nothing to greenhouse gasses…so that means instead Mongolia has to be concerned with adaptation,” he added.

According to the Mongolian Ministry of Environment, the mean air temperature increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius between 1940 and 2014, more than twice the global average.

This has increased the frequency of natural disasters such as what is locally known as “dzud”—a summer drought followed by a severe winter, a phenomenon that has increased over recent years.

January 2018 alone saw temperatures drop to -50 degrees Celsius.

This has had vast impacts on the country’s herders.

Almost 50 percent of the Mongolia’s 3 million population are employed in animal husbandry. They produce 35 percent of agricultural gross production and account for 30 percent of the country’s export.

At the same time, 28 percent of the population live at or below the poverty line, making them dependent on this trade.

Almost 50 percent of the Mongolia’s 3 million population are employed in animal husbandry. They produce 35 percent of agricultural gross production and account for 30 percent of the country’s export. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

“Any adverse impact of a changing climate on pasture availability would threaten forage yield, livestock productivity, and, ultimately, local and national food production capacity. Hence, environment and climate condition play a key role in the sustainable development of the country,” said Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)’s Mongolia representative Romain Brillie.

Approximately 70 percent of grassland in the country is impacted by desertification while the area of barren land expanded 3 times between 1992 and 2006.

While overgrazing has contributed to the changes in the environment, climate change has exacerbated the impacts.

Without sustainable livelihoods, many have poured into the country’s cities including Ulaanbaatar where they live in informal settlements without basic facilities such as running water or sanitation.

And to cope with the long and harsh winters, families use coal-fired stoves, contributing to air pollution.

In fact, Ulaanbaatar has one of the highest rates of air pollution in the world, increasing the risk of acute and chronic respiratory issues.

According to U.N.’s Children Agency (UNICEF), the three diseases that have resulted in the most lost life-years in the East Asian countries are related to air pollution.

But steps are being taken to mitigate the crisis, Brillie noted.

“Mongolia has been very active in establishing a conducive policy environment for climate change mitigation and adaptation…for instance, Mongolia is one of the countries that has been the most successful in accessing the Green Climate Fund,” he told IPS.

In 2017, the government adopted a new law which aims to increase the country’s share of renewable energy in total primary energy sources to 25 percent by 2025, and 30 percent by 2030.

Mongolia has already started investing in wind power, establishing its first wind farm in 2013.

GGGI has also been working with the government to support its green development targets in energy and green finance.

In 2018, GGGI helped secure 10 million dollars from the Government of Mongolia and Mongolian commercial banks to invest into the Mongolia Green Finance Corporation, a vehicle to leverage investments by the financial sector.

Knox highlighted the importance of such civil society in efforts towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“I think it’s at the individual and community level that we really see sustainable development take hold,” he said.

Brillie also pointed to the much needed role of the private sector, stating: “Financing Mongolia’s NDC’s alone would require 6,9 billion dollars and public investment alone cannot match the extent of the challenge…policy, regulatory and financial incentives and guarantees need to come together to help private companies invest into green projects.”

While there are now standards in place, Knox noted the need to implement and enforce them including in efforts to cut back on coal energy.

Currently, only seven precent of Mongolia’s energy production is renewable energy, and they will have to ramp up action if they are to reach their 2030 target.

And the Paris Agreement should be the light forward.

“In many ways, the threat of climate change in Mongolia can only be addressed by collective action by the major emitters of the world…The parties to the Paris Agreement need to surmount up their commitments as quickly as possible and they need to take more effective actions to implement the commitments they have already undertaken,” Knox told IPS.

Brillie spotlighted the role youth can and will play in the country’s sustainable, green future as GGGI works with Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment to promote green education.

“Young people are already driving change across the world. We must provide the skills to create new and green lifestyle,” he said.

The post Building Mongolia’s Green Future appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

A country that has contributed least to global climate change now has to cope with and adapt to the very real effects they are faced with.

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UN Lambasted on High-Level Appointmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/un-lambasted-high-level-appointments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-lambasted-high-level-appointments http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/un-lambasted-high-level-appointments/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 11:15:11 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159611 The world’s developing countries, comprising over two-thirds of the 193 UN member states, are complaining they are not being adequately represented in the higher echelons of the world body –- despite competent candidates with strong professional and academic qualifications vying for these jobs. The 134-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, […]

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António Guterres takes the oath of office for his five-year term as UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2019 (IPS)

The world’s developing countries, comprising over two-thirds of the 193 UN member states, are complaining they are not being adequately represented in the higher echelons of the world body –- despite competent candidates with strong professional and academic qualifications vying for these jobs.

The 134-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, says “persistent imbalances in equitable geographic representation in the UN Secretariat are a major concern.”

While the UN is being commended for ensuring equitable representation of women in recent years, it still stands accused of neglecting qualified nationals of developing countries, including from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The high-level jobs go mostly to nationals of either Western nations, big donors or the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5), namely, the US, UK, France, Russia and China.

“Every Secretary-General, with no exception, caves into the demands of big powers,” one Asian diplomat told IPS, “These countries think high-ranking UN jobs are their political birthright”.

Addressing the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee), and speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, Karim Ismail of Egypt, told delegates last November that equitable geographic representation is key to ensuring the Organization’s international character and its Member States.

Urging the Secretariat to expedite efforts in this direction, including the representation of troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs), he called for more transparency in how geographical representation is measured and the basis for such assessment.

“The Assembly needs more complete and easily understandable information on how gender parity and geographical representation are reflected in the 38,000 posts across the Secretariat,” he added.

The high-level posts include Under Secretaries-Generals (USGs), Assistant Secretaries-Generals (ASGs), Directors (categorized as D-1s and D-2s), heads of UN peacekeeping missions overseas, mostly based in Africa, and Special Envoys of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

According to a system of geographical balance, when the secretary-general is from a Western nation, the deputy secretary-general is from the developing world, and vice versa. Currently, Amina Mohammed from Nigeria, holds the second highest ranking job in the world body, next in command to Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal.

Ian Richards, president of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of the UN’s International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “The current situation in which staff from developing countries are less likely to make it to the top is unacceptable and unfortunately mirrors political and financial influence in the system.”

An organization cannot talk about putting performance at the heart of human resources management and selection, if nationality continues to be a key consideration at senior levels, he pointed out.

Linked to this, he said, is the ongoing revolving door between the General Assembly and senior staff positions, for which there is no cooling-off period, and which undermines the independence of the UN.

“Guterres needs to have a frank discussion on this,” declared Richards. Otherwise, he warned, the UN’s much-touted reforms will be an exercise in futility—
and will not mean much.

The biggest contributors to the UN’s regular budget, who stake their claims for top jobs, include: the US, China, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Russia. Amongst Asian countries, China (a member of the G77) and Japan (although Asian, but not a G77 member, still wielding economic clout as a major donor) are both favoured in senior UN appointments.

But Asia is not merely China, Japan or India, one of the world’s most populous nations.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS it is widely known that the UN adopts a pro-active policy towards recruiting Japanese by sending head-hunting teams to Japan acknowledging the major financial contribution Japan makes.

“This needs to be done with others too so that talent can be spotted. There are major gaps in Human Resource recruitment within the UN, with the West getting the plum jobs, although progress has been made with regard to the recruitment of women redressing the imbalances of the past”, he added.

Asked who should be blamed for the continued under-representation—whether it should be Guterres or member states, former UN Assistant Secretary-General Dr Ramesh Thakur, emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, told IPS: “Both– but mainly member states”.

He said Asian countries need to do two things. (1) lobby for their own nationals, and, (2) lobby for the Asian group as a whole.

For example, he said, they could demand that, as the UN University is the only part of the UN system that has its global headquarters in Asia, the Rector (USG rank) must always be an Asian.

In point of fact, only one Rector has been Asian, one Latin American, zero African, and four from West European and Other States (as categorized by the UN).

Dr Thakur said there should be a demand by member states for a report, every two years, by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on regional representation in the ranks of USG, ASG and D2.

“The very fact of having to provide this documentation will make the Secretary-General and the UN system much more sensitive to the inequitable representation,” he declared.

Samir Sanbar, a former Assistant Secretary-General and one-time head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS that “equitable geographical representation by developing members –as required by the U.N. Charter– has been eroding consistently over the last two decades, despite the availability of qualified candidates.”

In the current unusual situation, he pointed out, two UK citizens now head two Secretariat Departments (Humanitarian Affairs and Global Communications) while a citizen of New Zealand heads Management, Portugal heads the office of legal affairs, France keeps heading the Peacekeeping Department (since 1996) and China holds Economic/Social Affairs. The US traditionally heads the Department of Political Affairs, and Russia heads the UN office in Vienna, after earlier heading the office in Geneva.

Initially, appointments from key countries were made selectively by the Secretary-General based on the merit of presented candidates.

Sanbar also pointed out there were some illustrious USGs—irrespective of their nationalities—- because of their superlative credentials.

For example, he said, Brian Urquhart was the most distinguished head of the Peacekeeping Department regardless of his solid U.K. citizenship. So was Bernard Miyet of France.

Similarly, were other heads of departments from developing countries like Sergio Vieira de Mello (Brazil), Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka) and Nitin Desai (India), said Sanbar, who served under five different secretaries-general during his career at the UN.

So is Guterres’ highly regarded Chef de Cabinet

“Our inspiring Dag Hammarskjold reportedly quipped: The U. N. needs the big powers to survive and small powers to succeed,” declared Sanbar.

Meanwhile, the 53-member Asia Pacific Group accounts for about 27 percent of UN member states and over half the world’s population– but still constitutes only around 17 per cent of the Secretariat’s international staff.

Pointing out these discrepancies, Mahesh Kumar of India told the Administrative and Budgetary that while the UN Charter puts equitable geographical representation at the heart of human resources management, challenges continue to persist.

He said out of a total UN Secretariat staff of 38,000, less than 10 per cent are covered by the system of desirable ranges. Even for these 3,600 posts, 64 countries are listed as un-represented or under-represented and 50 of these 64 are developing countries.

Further, the number of member states in the category of un-represented or under-represented continues to increase since 2014.

In addition, nearly 60 more developing countries are close to the lower level of their desirable range of representation and remain at risk of slipping into the under-represented category, he said.

“These numbers paint a very stark picture of the current inequitable representation,” he said.

He complained that regional disparity remains especially stark at senior level positions, adding that in peacekeeping positions too, the regional disparity is glaring.

Nearly half of the Force commanders — six out of 14 – are from Western European and Others Group, comprising only 14% of total member states.

Currently, the five biggest troop-contributors to the 90,000-strong UN peacekeeping force overseas include: Ethiopia (7,597 troops), Bangladesh (6,624), Rwanda (6,528), India (6,445) and Nepal (6,098).

In contrast, among the P-5 countries, China is the 10th largest troop contributor with 2,515 troops, France ranks 31 with 729, UK ranks 36 with 618, Russia ranks 68 with 85 and the US ranks 77 with 51 troops.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Shedding Light on Forced Child Pregnancy and Motherhood in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/shedding-light-forced-child-pregnancy-motherhood-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shedding-light-forced-child-pregnancy-motherhood-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/shedding-light-forced-child-pregnancy-motherhood-latin-america/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 08:35:45 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159601 Research and campaigns by women’s rights advocates are beginning to focus on the problem of Latin American girls under the age of 14 who are forced to bear the children of their rapists, with the lifelong implications that entails and without the protection of public policies guaranteeing their human rights. The Latin American and Caribbean […]

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Walking Miles In Their Shoeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/walking-miles-shoes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=walking-miles-shoes http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/walking-miles-shoes/#respond Thu, 10 Jan 2019 09:42:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159574 In light of the millions of refugees escaping persecution in search of a safer, more prosperous future, a new campaign aims to raise awareness of the difficult journeys such populations take around the world. Launched by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety raises awareness of the long, precarious journeys […]

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A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Some refugees had to walk 60 miles on foot to reach the safety of Bangladesh Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10 2019 (IPS)

In light of the millions of refugees escaping persecution in search of a safer, more prosperous future, a new campaign aims to raise awareness of the difficult journeys such populations take around the world.

Launched by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety raises awareness of the long, precarious journeys that many refugees take and calls on the public to amp up support.

“Every day, we are inspired by the acts of kindness from people who are doing their very best to improve life for refugees: the activists, the communities hosting refugees, businesses, donors, volunteers,’” said UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly T. Clements.

“This campaign will encourage people to support refugees through something they are already doing – walking, cycling, running,” she added.

According to UNHCR, people who are forced to flee travel approximately 2 billion km every year to reach the first point of safety.

In 2016, South Sudanese refugees travelled over 400 miles to reach Kenya while Rohingya refugees in Myanmar travelled up to 50 miles in search of safety in Bangladesh.

Later aided by the U.N. agency, Alin Nisa and her family were forced to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh after an armed group attacked the village and abducted community members.

Crossing mountains and rivers, Nisa carried her two young children while her husband carried his mother who could not walk.

They travelled 60 miles on foot, finally reaching the Kutupalong refugee settlement in Bangladesh.

Similarly, Zeenab and her family fled Syria after their home was destroyed and travelled over 90 miles to Jordan’s za’atari refugee camp.

“We’re grateful. Winter here is difficult, but it’s still better than Syria,” she told UNHCR.

And how better to understand refugees’ plight than actually walking in their shoes and covering the same distance?

Clements highlighted the importance of remembering refugees’ very real and dangerous journeys, especially as misconceptions continue to be spread about them.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed similar sentiments upon the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) in December, stating: “There are many falsehoods about the world’s migrants. But we must not succumb to fear or false narratives. We must move from myth to reality.”

Such narratives have been most apparent in the United States which has seemingly shut the door on refugees.

The Trump administration first implemented a 120-day refugee ban, followed by a ban on refugees from “high-risk” countries including South Sudan and Syria.

In January 2017, the U.S. government cut the refugee quota by more than half, which led to only 22,000 refugees being resettled in the country in 2018, the lowest rate since 1980.

Most recently, the administration has deployed troops at the U.S.’ southern border in an effort to prevent refugees and migrants who have travelled across Central America from entering the country or seeking asylum.

Anti-refugee rhetoric has also been on the rise in Europe, including Belgium which has seen violent riots against the country’s participation in the GCM.

People across 27 countries will take part in the 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety campaign, and UNHCR hopes to raise over 15 million dollars to support refugees with registration, food, water, shelter, and healthcare.

UNHCR’s funding requirements for 2019 amount to a record 8.5 billion dollars and has thus far received 926 million dollars in pledges.

Though the GCM is a stepping stone towards awareness and action, there is still much left to do.

U.N. Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour expressed such views in her closing remarks at the GCM conference, stating: “To the millions who have left their homeland, either recently or a long time ago, most of them in full compliance with the law, we have much more to offer: whether an opportunity to return home, after years abroad, taking back with them their skills and the fruits of their labour, or whether an increased chance to see their children having a better future in a country that they will be proud to call their home.”

Globally, over 68 million have been forcibly displaced. Of this, 25 million are refugees, a figure that has increased by almost 3 million within just one year.

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Preventing a New Euro-Missile Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/preventing-new-euro-missile-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=preventing-new-euro-missile-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/preventing-new-euro-missile-race/#comments Wed, 09 Jan 2019 15:00:15 +0000 Daryl G. Kimball http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159564 Daryl G. Kimball is Executive Director, Arms Control Association

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Russia's 9M729 missile reportedly has been tested using a mobile launcher system similar to that used by the 9K720 Iskander-M pictured here on September 18, 2017. Credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 9 2019 (IPS)

Next month, it is very likely the Trump administration will take the next step toward fulfilling the president’s threat to “terminate” one of the most far-reaching and most successful nuclear arms reduction agreements: the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe.

The treaty helped bring an end to the Cold War and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and to withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

On Dec. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia had fielded a ground-launched missile system, the 9M729, that exceeds the INF Treaty’s 500-kilometer range limit. He also announced that, in 60 days, the administration would “suspend” U.S. obligations under the treaty and formally announce its intention to withdraw in six months unless Russia returns to compliance. Suspension will allow the administration to try to accelerate the development of new missiles currently prohibited by the treaty.

Noncompliance with the treaty is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But Trump’s public declaration that he will terminate the treaty and pursue new U.S. nuclear capabilities will not bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty. Worst of all, blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia.

Without the treaty, already severe tensions will grow as Washington considers deployment of new intermediate-range missiles in Europe and perhaps elsewhere and Russia considers increasing 9M729 deployments and other new systems.

These nuclear-capable weapons, if deployed again, would be able to strike targets deep inside Russia and in western Europe. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis. Any nuclear attack on Russia involving U.S. intermediate-range, nuclear-armed missiles based in Europe could provoke a massive Russian nuclear counterstrike on Europe and on the U.S. homeland.

In delivering the U.S. ultimatum on the treaty, Pompeo expressed “hope” that Russia will “change course” and return to compliance. Hope that Russia will suddenly admit fault and eliminate its 9M729 system is not a serious strategy, and it is not one on which NATO leaders can rely.

Instead, NATO members should insist that the United States and Russia redouble their sporadic INF Treaty discussions, agree to meet in a formal setting, and put forward proposals for how to resolve issues of mutual concern about the treaty.

Unfortunately, U.S. officials have refused thus far to take up Russia’s offer to discuss “any mutually beneficial proposals that take into account the interests and concerns of both parties.” That is a serious mistake. Failure by both sides to take diplomatic engagement more seriously since the 9M729 missile was first tested five years ago has bought us to this point.

Barring an unlikely 11th-hour diplomatic breakthrough, however, the INF Treaty’s days are numbered. Doing nothing is not a viable option. With the treaty possibly disappearing later this year, it is not too soon to consider how to head off a dangerous and costly new missile race in Europe.

One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that none of them will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove those 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system. Key allies, including Germany, have already declared their opposition to stationing new intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

In the absence of the INF Treaty, another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles.

Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START, which is now scheduled to expire in 2021.

The INF Treaty crisis is a global security problem. Without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and reduce nuclear threats.

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Excerpt:

Daryl G. Kimball is Executive Director, Arms Control Association

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Recorded Increase in Human Trafficking, Women and Girls Targetedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/recorded-increase-human-trafficking-women-girls-targeted/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=recorded-increase-human-trafficking-women-girls-targeted http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/recorded-increase-human-trafficking-women-girls-targeted/#respond Wed, 09 Jan 2019 08:03:42 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159551 Human trafficking is on the rise and it is more “horrific” than ever, a United Nations agency found. In a new report examining patterns in human trafficking, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that the global trend has increased steadily since 2010 around the world. “Human trafficking has taken on horrific dimensions […]

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Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 9 2019 (IPS)

Human trafficking is on the rise and it is more “horrific” than ever, a United Nations agency found.

In a new report examining patterns in human trafficking, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that the global trend has increased steadily since 2010 around the world.

“Human trafficking has taken on horrific dimensions as armed groups and terrorists use it to spread fear and gain victims to offer as incentives to recruit new fighters,” said UNODC’s Executive Director Yury Fedotov.

Asia and the Americas saw the largest increase in identified victims but the report notes that this may also reflect an improved capacity to identify and report data on trafficking.

Women and girls are especially vulnerable, making up 70 percent of detected victims worldwide. While they are mainly adult women, girls are increasingly targeted by traffickers.

According to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, girls account for 23 percent of all trafficking victims, up from 21 percent in 2014 and 10 percent in 2004.

UNODC also highlighted that conflict has increased the vulnerability of such populations to trafficking as armed groups were found to use the practice to finance activities or increase troops.   

Activist and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad was among thousands of Yazidi women and girls who was abducted from her village and sold into sexual slavery by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, a tactic used in order to boost recruitment and reward soldiers. 

Murad recently received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, dedicating it to survivors of sexual violence and genocide.

“Survivors deserve a safe and secure pathway home or safe passage elsewhere. We must support efforts to focus on humanity, and overcome political and cultural divisions. We must not only imagine a better future for women, children and persecuted minorities, we must work consistently to make it happen – prioritising humanity, not war,” she said.

“The fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals,” Murad added.

Sexual exploitation continues to be the main purpose for trafficking, account for almost 60 percent, while forced labor accounts for approximately 34 percent of all identified cases.

Three-quarters of all female victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation globally.

The report also found for the first time that the majority of trafficked victims are trafficked within their own countries of citizenship.

The share of identified domestic victims has more than doubled from 27 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2016.

This may be due to improved border controls at borders preventing cross-border trafficking as well as a greater awareness of the different forms of trafficking, the report notes.

However, convictions have only recently started to grow and in many countries, conviction rates still remain worryingly low.

In Europe, conviction rates have dropped from 988 traffickers convicted in 2011 to 742 people in 2016.

During that same time period, the number of detected victims increased from 4,248 to 4,429.

There also continue to be gaps in knowledge and information, particularly in certain parts of Africa, Middle East, and East Asia which still lack sufficient capacity to record and share data on human trafficking.

“This report shows that we need to step up technical assistance and strengthen cooperation, to support all countries to protect victims and bring criminals to justice, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” Fedotov said at the report’s launch.

Adopted in 2015, the landmark SDGs include ambitious targets including the SDG target 16.2 which calls on member states to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.

SDG indicator 16.2.2 asks member states to measure the number of victims of human trafficking per 100,000 population and disaggregated by sex, age, and form of exploitation, reflecting the importance of improving data recording, collection, and dissemination.

“The international community needs to…stop human trafficking in conflict situations and in all our societies where this terrible crime continues to operate in the shadows,” Fedotov said.

“I urge the international community to heed Nadia [Murad]’s call for justice,” he added.

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Stopping Criminals from Laundering Their Trillionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/stopping-criminals-laundering-trillions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stopping-criminals-laundering-trillions http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/stopping-criminals-laundering-trillions/#comments Mon, 07 Jan 2019 14:33:25 +0000 Rhoda Weeks-Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159523 Rhoda Weeks-Brown is general counsel and director of the Legal Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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Rhoda Weeks-Brown is general counsel and director of the Legal Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

By Rhoda Weeks-Brown
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 7 2019 (IPS)

Al Capone had a problem: he needed a way to disguise the enormous amounts of cash generated by his criminal empire as legitimate income. His solution was to buy all-cash laundromats, mix dirty money in with clean, and then claim that washing ordinary Americans’ shirts and socks, rather than gambling and bootlegging, was the source of his riches.

Rhoda Weeks-Brown

Almost a century later, the basic concept of money laundering is the same, but its scale and complexity have grown considerably. Were Capone alive today, he would have to run his washers and dryers around the clock to keep pace with demand; the United Nations recently estimated that the criminal proceeds laundered annually amount to between 2 and 5 percent of global GDP, or $1.6 to $4 trillion a year.

Money laundering is what enables criminals to reap the benefits of their crimes, including corruption, tax evasion, theft, drug trafficking, and migrant smuggling. Many of these crimes pose a direct threat to economic stability. Corruption and tax evasion make it difficult for governments to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth by diminishing the resources available for productive purposes, such as building roads, schools, and hospitals. Criminal activity undermines state authority and the rule of law while squeezing out legitimate economic activity. And money laundering may create asset bubbles in markets like real estate, a common vehicle.

A recent example illustrates the point. A Guinean minister helped a foreign company obtain important mining concessions in exchange for $8.5 million in bribes. Falsely reporting that money as income from consulting work and private land sales, the minister transferred it to the United States and bought a luxury estate in New York. But his effort to turn ill-gotten gains into a seemingly legitimate asset was ultimately unsuccessful; last year, he was convicted of money laundering.

In some ways, expensive homes are the modern mobster’s collection of laundromats. A public advisory issued by US authorities last year indicated that over 30 percent of high-value, all-cash real estate purchases in New York City and several other major metropolitan areas were conducted by individuals already suspected of involvement in questionable dealings. The governments of Australia, Austria, Canada, and other countries have concluded that their own real estate markets could also be used to invest and launder dirty money.
More worrying still, dirty money—along with clean—may be a source of funding for terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist groups need money, lots of it, to compensate fighters and their families; buy weapons, food, and fuel; and bribe crooked officials. Similarly, proliferation does not come cheap. For example, North Korea has reportedly devoted a substantial portion of its scarce resources to developing nuclear weapons.

Countries with weak anti–money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes could be called out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global standard-setting organization. Once countries come to be viewed as vulnerable to illicit financial flows, their banks may face long-term reputational damage, costly demands for additional documentation on the part of international business partners, and the loss of correspondent banking relationships. This may marginalize already fragile economies, threaten remittance channels and foreign direct investment, and drive financial flows underground. So ignoring AML/CFT or delaying related reforms is no longer an option.

Thankfully, this message is starting to resonate. Under the leadership of the FATF, and with the support of the IMF, United Nations, World Bank, and other stakeholders, almost every country has criminalized money laundering and terrorism financing and established a legal framework to freeze terrorist assets.

But this work is far from finished. Whether because of lingering legal and institutional loopholes or innovation on the part of criminals (or both), there is no shortage of money laundering scandals in the news. As a case in point, investigators are currently probing the possibility that the better part of $233 billion in payments was laundered through the Estonian branch of Danske Bank from 2007 to 2015.

Rapidly developing financial technology has further complicated the picture. Mobile money transfers, distributed ledgers, and virtual currencies have legitimate and productive uses but can also be used to conceal or facilitate criminal activity. Put another way, nearly cost-free consumer payments and nearly untraceable ransom payments are two sides of the same (Bit)coin.

So how should countries prioritize their response to this evolving and globalizing challenge?

First, they should heed the FATF’s call to understand and address the threats that stem from changing technology, but should do so without stifling financial innovation and inclusion. The objective should be to increase transparency—to know who is behind financial transactions, where, and for what purpose—without unduly increasing transaction costs or driving financial flows underground.

Second, they should remove legal and practical barriers to international cooperation. Detecting money laundering and terrorism financing requires both safeguarding and sharing financial intelligence, and deterring criminals requires following the trail of dirty money or money intended for nefarious purposes, wherever it leads.

Finally, they should continue to strengthen the effectiveness of their efforts to mitigate identified risks. Whether national AML/CFT laws are perfect or not, beyond laws on the books, consistent (and persistent) implementation is critical to achieving durable results.

Given its mandate to preserve economic stability and financial integrity, the IMF maintains an extensive AML/CFT program, which includes active participation in international efforts to raise awareness of the threat and generate effective responses, along with the provision of advice and know-how to over 100 of its members—and counting.

What are some examples of these efforts? To name just a few, in Ukraine, we are working with national authorities to prevent banks from being misused by corrupt officials. As a result, regulatory sanctions for AML/CFT violations are increasing and the reporting of suspicious transactions is on the rise, yielding a significant number of corruption investigations and prosecutions of high-level public officials.

In Libya, we helped the authorities craft a new AML/CFT law that criminalized terrorism financing and established the legal basis for the imposition of sanctions against recognized terrorists.

And in the Caribbean, where the withdrawal of correspondent banking relationships is a critical concern, we convened international banks and their local counterparts to foster bilateral cooperation in addressing information gaps and meeting regulatory expectations. One global bank that had left the region has now decided to reestablish ties with some local banks.

The IMF is committed to helping its members identify today’s dirty money laundromats—and close them down. The stakes have never been higher.

The link to the original article: https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2018/12/imf-anti-money-laundering-and-economic-stability-straight.htm?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

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Excerpt:

Rhoda Weeks-Brown is general counsel and director of the Legal Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

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Designer Babies can Lead to Growth of Homogenous Individualshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/designer-babies-can-lead-growth-homogenous-individuals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=designer-babies-can-lead-growth-homogenous-individuals http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/designer-babies-can-lead-growth-homogenous-individuals/#respond Mon, 07 Jan 2019 12:52:26 +0000 Jagriti Gangopadhyay http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159518 Jagriti Gangopadhyay is a post-doctoral fellow at the Manipal Center for Humanities, Manipal, India

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Credit: Getty Images

By Jagriti Gangopadhyay
NEW DELHI, Jan 7 2019 (IPS)

A Chinese researcher has claimed that he helped make world’s first genetically edited babies but the development may come at a heavy cost. A designer baby is a GM human embryo with appropriate qualities which have been shaped as per the instructions received from the parents.

In the dystopian novel, Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, the setting is a futuristic world. The novel is set in London where citizens are being nurtured in artificial wombs and engineered through childhood indoctrination programmes into predestined categories based on their intelligence and skills. Though this novel was written decades ago, today, genetically modified (GM) children seem to be the next step towards transforming family structures across the globe. Though no designer baby has been born as yet, in a technology driven world, it is going to soon become a reality.

Already, Genomic Prediction, a company based in New Jersey, USA, plans to offer tests to calculate the risk of complex conditions like heart disease of an unborn child. The cost of human gene sequencing too is dropping—from $1,000 today, it could drop to below $100 over the next few years. In simple terms, a designer baby is a GM human embryo with appropriate qualities which have been shaped as per the instructions received from the parents. The process through which designer babies are produced is known as gene editing.

Next, these cuts are restored through non-homologous end joining or homologous recombination that result in the desired edits. Using molecular scissors, cuts can be made at certain locations of the genome. Specifically, designer babies were conceived so that children would be free from any life-threatening disease. For instance, if either of the parent has a history of a terminally ill disease in their family, the GM baby will be immune to that disease. Through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and pre-genetic testing, the doctor will be able to identify the genes which could carry the potential danger of that disease.

Those genes will be muted before the fertilisation of the egg and the fetus produced will be devoid of any anomaly. Given the noble cause associated with gene editing, it is important to understand the ethical challenges of such a process as well the consequences of such a technology in determining the future of families across the globe.

Politics of the body

In his seminal work Birth of the Clinic, Michel Foucault had argued that with the advancement of medical sciences, an individual will gradually lose the right over one’s body. This argument is increasingly becoming true with the intrusion of technology in reproductive health. In addition to parents succumbing to technology to satisfy their needs, there are several ethical challenges involved with designer babies.

Given the newness of the technology, it is difficult to predict how the designer baby will grow up to be. It is also too early to calculate the side effects of this kind of technology. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that the unborn child’s consent is not taken before the process of gene editing. This is a huge ethical challenge. Moreover, GM babies are bound to create more inequality in society. This technology is expensive and only a certain section of society will be able to access it. Hence, the designer babies will mostly be born with fair skin and skills which will result in securing lucrative jobs. Thus the technology will be used to perfect the body and the mind of the unborn baby and will result in the growth of homogeneous individuals.

The gender factor

India witnessed the debate around designer babies when the health wing of the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) announced that eugenics could be used to enable dark skinned Indian parents to have fair and high IQ children. RSS stressed on Ayurveda which has the abilities to purify the entire population of the country. The health wing of the RSS indicated that if the mother eats right and then it will be possible to have a customised baby.

The emphasis on fair and high IQ babies clearly indicates, the RSS’ vision of the future population of India. In addition to producing fair and high skill set producing children, gene editing will lead to discrimination on the basis of gender as well. In India, this technology will be used in sex selection as well. One of the features of this technology is that it can scan the sperms of the male partner. Given India’s history of preference for the male child, there are fears that the sperm with the male gene will be injected and more male children will be born.

Additionally, genetically engineered babies will also expand the gap between the West and the Third World. Since, this form of technology will be expensive in countries such as the US and countries of Europe, a large number of foreigners will travel to various Third World countries such as India, Bangladesh and Nepal and avail the technology at much cheaper rates. Genetically engineered babies as a form of technology is still in its infancy. However, given the upsurge in egg banking, IVFs and surrogacy, experts feel that this technology will garner popularity.

Past experiences show that due to lack of regulation, Third World countries were exploited by people in rich nations to satisfy their parenting needs. Since discussions around gene editing, gene engineering and designer babies have already started doing the rounds, it is important for international bodies such as the World Health Organization to set guidelines and regulatory measures at the very onset.

• The link to the original article:
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/science-and-technology/designer-babies-can-lead-to-growth-of-homogenous-individuals-62257

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Excerpt:

Jagriti Gangopadhyay is a post-doctoral fellow at the Manipal Center for Humanities, Manipal, India

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Climate Change Forces Central American Farmers to Migratehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/climate-change-forces-central-american-farmers-migrate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-forces-central-american-farmers-migrate http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/climate-change-forces-central-american-farmers-migrate/#respond Wed, 02 Jan 2019 20:02:38 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159467 As he milks his cow, Salvadoran Gilberto Gomez laments that poor harvests, due to excessive rain or drought, practically forced his three children to leave the country and undertake the risky journey, as undocumented migrants, to the United States. Gómez, 67, lives in La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera, in the […]

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Gilberto Gómez stands next to the cow he bought with the support of his migrant children in the United States,which eases the impact of the loss of his subsistence crops, in the village of La Colmena, Candelaria de la Frontera municipality in western El Salvador. This area forms part of the Central American Dry Corridor, where increasing climate vulnerability is driving migration of the rural population. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Gilberto Gómez stands next to the cow he bought with the support of his migrant children in the United States,which eases the impact of the loss of his subsistence crops, in the village of La Colmena, Candelaria de la Frontera municipality in western El Salvador. This area forms part of the Central American Dry Corridor, where increasing climate vulnerability is driving migration of the rural population. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CANDELARIA DE LA FRONTERA, El Salvador, Jan 2 2019 (IPS)

As he milks his cow, Salvadoran Gilberto Gomez laments that poor harvests, due to excessive rain or drought, practically forced his three children to leave the country and undertake the risky journey, as undocumented migrants, to the United States.

Gómez, 67, lives in La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera, in the western Salvadoran department of Santa Ana.

The small hamlet is located in the so-called Dry Corridor of Central America, a vast area that crosses much of the isthmus, but whose extreme weather especially affects crops in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“They became disillusioned, seeing that almost every year we lost a good part of our crops, and they decided they had to leave, because they didn’t see how they could build a future here,” Gómez told IPS, as he untied the cow’s hind legs after milking.

He said that his eldest son, Santos Giovanni, for example, also grew corn and beans on a plot of land the same size as his own, “but sometimes he didn’t get anything, either because it rained a lot, or because of drought.”

The year his children left, in 2015, Santos Giovanni lost two-thirds of the crop to an unusually extreme drought.

“It’s impossible to go on like this,” lamented Gómez, who says that of the 15 families in La Colmena, many have shrunk due to migration because of problems similar to those of his son.

The Dry Corridor, particularly in these three nations, has experienced the most severe droughts of the last 10 years, leaving more than 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned as early as 2016.

Now Gómez’s daughter, Ana Elsa, 28, and his two sons, Santos Giovanni, 31, and Luis Armando, 17, all live in Los Angeles, California.

“Sometimes they call us, and tell us they’re okay, that they have jobs,” he said.

The case of the Gómez family illustrates the phenomenon of migration and its link with climate change and its impact on harvests, and thus on food insecurity among Central American peasant families.

La Colmena, which lacks piped water and electricity, benefited a few years ago from a project to harvest rainwater, which villagers filter to drink, as well as reservoirs to water livestock.

However, their crops are still vulnerable to the onslaught of heavy rains and increasingly unpredictable and intense droughts.

Domitila Reyes pulls corn cobs from a plantation in Ciudad Romero, a rural settlement in the municipality of Jiquilisco, in eastern El Salvador. The production of basic grains such as corn and beans has been affected by climate change in large areas of the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Domitila Reyes pulls corn cobs from a plantation in Ciudad Romero, a rural settlement in the municipality of Jiquilisco, in eastern El Salvador. The production of basic grains such as corn and beans has been affected by climate change in large areas of the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In addition to the violence and poverty, climate change is the third cause of the exodus of Central Americans, especially from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to the new Atlas of Migration in Northern Central America.

The report, released Dec. 12 by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and FAO, underscores that the majority of migrants from these three countries come from rural areas.

Between 2000 and 2012, the report says, there was an increase of nearly 59 percent in the number of people migrating from these three countries, which make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America. In Guatemala, 77 percent of the people living in rural areas are poor, and in Honduras the proportion is 82 percent.

In recent months, waves of citizens from Honduras and El Salvador have embarked on the long journey on foot to the United States, with the idea that it would be safer if they travelled in large groups.

Travelling as an undocumented migrant to the United States carries a series of risks: they can fall prey to criminal gangs, especially when crossing Mexico, or dieon the long treks through the desert.

Another report published by FAO in December, Mesoamerica in Transit, states that of the nearly 30 million international migrants from Latin America, some four million come from the Northern Triangle and another 11 million from Mexico.

The study adds that among the main factors driving migration in El Salvador are poverty in the departments of Ahuachapán, Cabañas, San Vicente and Sonsonate; environmental vulnerability in Chalatenango, Cuscatlán, La Libertad and San Salvador; and soaring violence in La Paz, Morazán and San Salvador.

And according to the report, Honduran migration is strongly linked to the lack of opportunities, and to high levels of poverty and violence in the northwest of the country and to environmental vulnerability in the center-south.

With respect to Guatemala, the report indicates that although in this country migration patterns are not so strongly linked to specific characteristics of different territories, migration is higher in municipalities where the percentage of the population without secondary education is larger.

In Mexico, migration is linked to poverty in the south and violence in the west, northwest and northeast, while environmental vulnerability problems seem to be cross-cutting.

“The report shows a compelling and comprehensive view of the phenomenon: the decision to migrate is the individual’s, but it is conditioned by their surroundings,” Luiz Carlos Beduschi, FAO Rural Development Officer, told IPS from Santiago, Chile, the U.N. organisation’s regional headquarters.

He added that understanding what is happening in the field is fundamental to understanding migratory dynamics as a whole.

The study, published Dec. 18, makes a “multicausal analysis; the decision to stay or migrate is conditioned by a set of factors, including climate, especially in the Dry Corridor of Central America,” Beduschi said.

For the FAO expert, it is necessary to promote policies that offer rural producers “better opportunities for them and their families in their places of origin.”

It is a question, he said, “of guaranteeing that they have the necessary conditions to freely decide whether to stay at home or to migrate elsewhere,” and keeping rural areas from expelling the local population as a result of poverty, violence, climate change and lack of opportunities.

In the case of El Salvador, while there is government awareness of the impacts of climate change on crops and the risk it poses to food security, little has been done to promote public policies to confront the phenomenon, activist Luis González told IPS.

“There are national plans and strategies to confront climate change, to address the water issue, among other questions, but the problem is implementation: it looks nice on paper, but little is done, and much of this is due to lack of resources,” added González, a member of the Roundtable for Food Sovereignty, a conglomerate of social organisations fighting for this objective.

Meanwhile, in La Colmena, Gómez has given his wife, Teodora, the fresh milk they will use to make cheese.

They are happy that they have the cow, bought with the money their daughter sent from Los Angeles, and they are hopeful that the weather won’t spoil the coming harvest.

“With this cheese we earn enough for a small meal,” he said.

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Veterans of the Global Financial Crisis Pass their Wisdom on to the Next Generationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/veterans-global-financial-crisis-pass-wisdom-next-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=veterans-global-financial-crisis-pass-wisdom-next-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/veterans-global-financial-crisis-pass-wisdom-next-generation/#respond Wed, 02 Jan 2019 14:08:56 +0000 Chris Wellisz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159458 Chris Wellisz is on the staff of Finance & Development at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

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Credit: IMF

By Chris Wellisz
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 2 2019 (IPS)

It happened again and again in a career punctuated by upheavals: the peso crisis of 1994, the Asian crisis of 1997, and finally, the big one—the global financial crisis of 2008.

Each time he started a new government job, Timothy Geithner hoped to find a letter from his predecessor, explaining what to do and whom to call if things fell apart. The desk drawer was always empty.

“Financial crises are probably the most devastating economic events that can happen to a country,” says Geithner, who fought the last conflagration as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and later US Treasury secretary. “I’d like our successors to have a better base of knowledge.”

So every summer, Geithner takes time off from his job as president of Warburg Pincus, a private equity firm, to help teach a two-week crisis management workshop for regulators from around the world.

It’s one part of the Yale Program on Financial Stability, which also offers a master’s degree and is undertaking an ambitious project to create, on a very large scale, what Geithner never found in that desk drawer—a manual for crisis managers.

“A lot of times we’ve made the same mistakes in fighting financial crises over time simply because there was no body of knowledge that people had jointly studied and debated,” says Andrew Metrick, a professor of finance at Yale who founded and runs the program. “It’s almost like you show up at the emergency room and the doctor says, ‘It looks like a broken arm. I think I’ve seen someone once do something for a broken arm.’”

Metrick was one of those emergency room financial doctors. Six months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, he got a call from the Obama administration.

They desperately needed a financial economist. So Metrick moved to Washington to work for the Council of Economic Advisers. There, as chief staff economist, he helped develop programs to revive housing and financial markets.

When it came time to propose legislation, he discovered that academic research wasn’t very useful.

“There was no real great connection between academic knowledge, economic intuition, and what we actually could put in the law because there just wasn’t a good body of research there,” Metrick says. “I was determined that when I came back to the academy I would try to be part of something that would help to fill that gap.”

That was the genesis of the Yale Program on Financial Stability, which got off the ground in 2014 with donations from organizations including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Geithner joined soon after, teaching, raising money, and chairing the advisory board, which includes former central bankers such as the Federal Reserve’s Ben Bernanke, Mexico’s Agustín Carstens, and Malaysia’s Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

Geithner brought a practical focus to what became known as the New Bagehot Crisis-Response Project, named for Walter Bagehot, a 19th century British economist and author of Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market, a bible of sorts for the guardians of financial stability.

The project’s 14 researchers compile case studies of responses to the global financial crisis and the euro crisis that followed it. Eventually, they plan to study manias and panics going back to the South Sea Bubble in the 18th century.

While the global crisis spawned countless books, articles, and memoirs, the Bagehot project seeks to analyze it in a systematic way—and determine what kinds of government actions worked, what kinds didn’t, and why. The architects of crisis-fighting programs in various countries are consultants on the project.

“Our focus is really on the technical details of the interventions,” Metrick says.

Their plan is to create an online tool that crisis managers can turn to in real time, in case they need to recapitalize a bank, say, or set up an emergency liquidity facility. They will also learn what to avoid, like Ireland’s decision to guarantee the liabilities of its banks, which transformed a bank run into a far more serious sovereign debt crisis.

“Because the classic panic happens pretty rarely in the same country, even though it happens around the world with pretty appalling frequency, there’s not actually that much institutional memory, and there certainly wasn’t at the Treasury or the Fed, about how you deal with a systemic financial crisis,” Geithner says in an interview.

The summer symposium—Geithner called it a “war college”—was a two-week workshop for central bankers and regulators. The central banks of China, Europe, Japan, and the United States all sent participants, along with agencies like the Bank for International Settlements and the European Stability Mechanism.

Another piece of the Yale program is the two-day Financial Crisis Forum, where veterans including former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson offer their insights on subjects from capital injections to frozen money markets.

“For the current generation of officials, especially the younger ones who attend the conference, learning from history is vital,” says Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England from 2009 to 2013. “Going forward, current officials also need to learn from the crises that, believe it or not, were averted or successfully contained.”

Finally, there is Yale’s one-year master’s degree in systemic risk, which offers early career professionals a chance to hone their skills and develop new ones. A recent graduate is Özgü Özen Çavuşoğlu, who returned to her job in the financial stability division of Turkey’s central bank and is now researching an early-warning system for the country’s economy.

Just as important, she says, was the opportunity to forge bonds with colleagues from across the globe.

“We are living in an interconnected world,” Özen Çavuşoğlu says. “That’s why the network of people with the same understanding will play an important role in having a stable global economy.”

The link to the original article: https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2018/12/tim-geithner-yale-program-financial-stability-wellisz.htm?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

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Excerpt:

Chris Wellisz is on the staff of Finance & Development at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

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Renew Nuclear Arms Control, Don’t Destroy Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/renew-nuclear-arms-control-dont-destroy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renew-nuclear-arms-control-dont-destroy http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/renew-nuclear-arms-control-dont-destroy/#respond Wed, 02 Jan 2019 13:09:04 +0000 Andrew Lichterman and John Burroughs http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159455 Andrew Lichterman is Senior Research Analyst for Western States Legal Foundation, based in Oakland, California. John Burroughs is Executive Director of Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, based in New York City.

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A Soviet inspector examines a BGM-109G Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missile prior to its destruction pursuant to INF Treaty, October 18, 1988, at Davis-Monthan US Air Force Base in Arizona. Credit: US Department of Defense

By Andrew Lichterman and John Burroughs
NEW YORK, Jan 2 2019 (IPS)

A hard-earned lesson of the Cold War is that arms control reduces the risk of nuclear war by limiting dangerous deployments and, even more important, by creating channels of communication and understanding. But President Donald Trump and his National Security Advisor John Bolton appear to have forgotten, or never learned, that lesson.

In late October, Trump announced an intent to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo subsequently stated that the US will suspend implementation of the treaty in early February. While US signals have been mixed, initiation of withdrawal at that point or soon thereafter appears likely.

Agreed to in 1987 by the United States and the Soviet Union, the INF Treaty prohibits the two countries from deploying both nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges between 310 and 3420 miles.

The main reason cited for withdrawal is that Russia has tested and deployed ground-launched cruise missiles the treaty prohibits. Russia denies that the missiles violate the treaty and has made its own accusations, foremost that US ballistic missile defense launchers installed in Eastern Europe could be used to house treaty-prohibited cruise missiles.

On December 21, the United States opposed a Russia-sponsored UN General Assembly resolution calling for preservation of the treaty and for the two countries to consult on compliance with its obligations. The Russian representative said that US withdrawal “is the start of a full-fledged arms race.”

The US representative conveyed that the only way to save the treaty is for Russia to stop violating it. On behalf of the European Union, which opposed the resolution as a diversion, an Austrian diplomat said that erosion of the treaty will have critical consequences for Europe and beyond, dialogue between the US and Russia remains essential, and Russia should demonstrate compliance.

A representative of China, which supported the resolution, said the treaty is important for global stability, and cast doubt on prospects for making it multilateral. The General Assembly rejected the resolution by a vote of 46 against to 43 in favor, with 78 abstentions.

The INF Treaty allows either party to withdraw on six-month’s notice “if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.” The treaty also includes a bilateral mechanism for resolving disputes over compliance. The Trump administration has firmly asserted that Russia has violated the treaty, and NATO states have backed that assertion.

But the administration has not made the case that the missiles in question pose a threat that significantly affects the military balance between Russia and the very large and capable forces of the United States and its NATO allies, much less constitute an “extraordinary” development jeopardizing US “supreme interests.”

On December 14, a Russian official stated that Russia is open to mutual inspections regarding claimed violations.

President Trump has also indicated that withdrawal is premised in part on a buildup of intermediate-range missiles by China, which is not a party to the treaty. Here too no case has been made that these missiles, which are based in China’s national territory, are best answered in kind by US deployment of intermediate-range missiles.

Nor has it been demonstrated that peace and stability in that region or the world will be enhanced by repudiating the treaty rather than seeking more comprehensive arms control measures aimed at braking an emerging multipolar arms race. Further, in either Europe or Asia, US ground-based intermediate-range missiles would have to be deployed in other countries.

This likely would spark opposition from their populations—a factor that three decades ago contributed to the negotiation of the INF Treaty itself.

In sum, the INF Treaty should not be abandoned lightly. It remains a key element of the arms control framework limiting nuclear weapons and arms racing. Often forward deployed and intermingled with other forces, the missiles the treaty prohibits are among the weapons most likely to lead to miscalculation or misadventure in a crisis.

And the danger of crisis miscalculation, of a disastrous misunderstanding of an adversary’s mindset, is real. At the time the INF Treaty was being negotiated, some US strategists viewed their nuclear-armed missiles in Europe as useful for convincing “demonstration” shots to show a commitment to defend Europe with nuclear weapons with less risk of escalation to a catastrophic nuclear war.

A 1987 Washington Post article summarized NATO thinking: “A final advantage of the INF weapons is that NATO planners believe that they could use a single Pershing II or cruise missile, rather than another nuclear weapon, with somewhat less risk of triggering an all-out nuclear war.”

But we now know that Soviet military leaders, strongly influenced by the World War II national trauma of a homeland devastated and millions dead, saw things quite differently. In an article published in Survival only last year, Alexei Arbatov, a Russian arms negotiator and parliamentarian, notes that in 1983 Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, head of the Soviet General Staff, made clear that the Soviet Union would not allow itself to be taken by surprise, as it had been in 1941. Ogarkov stated, “We will start the offensive if we are obliged to do it, and as soon as we discover the first evidence of the beginning of nuclear attack by NATO.” And in so doing, he said, “We will deliver dozens and, if need be, a hundred nuclear strikes to break through NATO’s deep defense echelon.”

Arbatov recounted this little-known history to support a subtle but critical point about arms control. Even when prospects for arms control progress seem dim, constant efforts to negotiate create channels of communication that are invaluable in a crisis. They also build institutions devoted to understanding not only the capabilities of an adversary but also their intentions, their fundamental interests and their deepest fears.

But a long hiatus in serious arms control efforts and a climate of deepening hostility have eroded the diplomatic and military-to-military contacts between Russia and the United States. And in the triumphalism of the long post-Cold War period, U.S. arms control institutions such as the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency were downgraded or allowed to atrophy.

With tensions growing among nuclear-armed countries in potential flashpoints from Ukraine to the South China Sea, it is long past time to rebuild the capacity of the US government to negotiate intelligently with its nuclear-armed adversaries.

The best course would be to use the dispute over the INF Treaty as a moment to renew, rather than discard, the negotiating frameworks and institutions that played a significant role in avoiding catastrophe during the Cold War.

However, Trump and Bolton have expressed general hostility to any international obligation that might limit US use of force or military capabilities. Both see negotiations as a zero-sum game to be won or lost. Neither seems capable of imagining international agreements that benefit all parties and make the world a safer place.

So Congress must act, to preserve enough of a fragile status quo to leave space for future diplomacy. As former senator Russell Feingold has explained, there is a legitimate question as to whether it is constitutional for a president to withdraw from a Senate-ratified treaty over Congressional opposition.

However, such core foreign policy controversies seldom are finally resolved by the courts. Congress in any case has the practical power to prevent the administration from taking action contrary to the INF Treaty. Most important, it can refuse to fund weapons testing, production, or deployment that would violate the treaty.

Senator Jeff Merkley and six colleagues already have introduced the Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2018 (S.3667). It characterizes withdrawal from the INF Treaty without consultation with Congress as “a serious breach of Congress’s proper constitutional role as a co-equal branch of government,” and erects barriers to spending on missiles that would violate the treaty.

Despite intense antagonism during the Cold War, the US and Russia were able to negotiate agreements like the INF Treaty to address the riskiest elements of their nuclear confrontation. The time to start building a climate for negotiations is now. Waiting for a crisis may be too late.

The post Renew Nuclear Arms Control, Don’t Destroy It appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Andrew Lichterman is Senior Research Analyst for Western States Legal Foundation, based in Oakland, California. John Burroughs is Executive Director of Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, based in New York City.

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BAPA+40: An Opportunity to Reenergize South-South Cooperationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/bapa40-opportunity-reenergize-south-south-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bapa40-opportunity-reenergize-south-south-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/bapa40-opportunity-reenergize-south-south-cooperation/#respond Fri, 21 Dec 2018 12:35:46 +0000 Branislav Gosovic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159409 Branislav Gosovic, worked in UNCTAD, UNEP, UNECLAC, World Commission on Environment and Development, South Commission, and South Centre (1991-2005), and is the author of the recently-published book ‘The South Shaping the Global Future, 6 Decades of the South-North Development Struggle in the UN.’

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Global South-South Development Expo 2018. Credit: UNOSSC

By Branislav Gosovic
GENEVA, Dec 21 2018 (IPS)

The upcoming conference on the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (BAPA+40), scheduled to take place in the Argentine capital on 20-22 March 2019, ought to be more than just another UN conference where the developing countries assemble to present their demands and seek support from the North.

Also, it must not turn out to be a replay of the 2009 1st UN High-level Conference on South-South Cooperation*, i.e. an anodyne event in terms of impact and follow-up, though such a scenario may be preferred by some, risk of which exists since the 2019 gathering is also scheduled to last only three days, not enough time for genuine deliberations and negotiations.

Therefore, it is up to the developing countries to build up BAPA+40 into a major global event.

a. South-South cooperation and the United Nations system

One of the key objectives of the Global South at BAPA+40 should be to place South-South cooperation at the very centre of the UN system of multilateral cooperation.

The UN system needs to recognize the diversity and broad spectrum that SSC subsumes, to resist the limits being imposed on SSC and it being distanced and cut off from its original institutional and political roots and aspirations.

The United Nations ought to introduce clear and specific measures and programmes, necessary human and financial resources, and mandates by “mainstreaming” and “enhancing support” for SSC in every organization and agency of the UN system, to have them incorporate the needs and objectives of South-South cooperation.

It needs also to be reiterated that South-South cooperation is not a substitute for North-South development cooperation, but a parallel and new sphere of multilateral cooperation that opens new and promising opportunities, stimulates North-South cooperation, and provides alternative and innovative approaches in development cooperation.

In the fold of the UN, a significant, yet very limited step to mainstream South-South Cooperation has been taken by upgrading the UNDP Special Unit for TCDC first into a Special Unit for South-South Cooperation and then into the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

This cannot and should not be the end-station, but needs to be followed up ambitiously and seriously at the global level, by appointment of a UN Secretary-General’s high level representative who would provide political vision for South-South cooperation and the establishment of a UN specialized entity within the UNDP platform or in the UN Development System (UNDS) in the making, whose mission would be to promote South-South cooperation, as recommended by the Group of 77 Ministerial Meeting.

Any such entity would need to have its own intergovernmental machinery, a major capital development fund for South-South projects, and fully staffed substantive secretariat equipped to perform a number of important functions, including initiating and funding projects, undertaking research, maintaining a data base on SSC and a directory of national actors involved in SSC, and publishing a regular, periodic UN report on South-South Cooperation called for by G77 Summits.

A suggestion has been floated to consider entrusting this task to UNCTAD, given that its mandate concerning North-South issues has been eroded and its role marginalized.

Such a central entity for SSC would need to be backed, at the regional level, by greatly strengthened and invigorated UN regional economic commissions in the South.

These Commissions are the principal UN bodies based in and with a full knowledge of their respective regions. Their key mission should be the promotion of South-South cooperation or “horizontal cooperation”, as traditionally referred to in Latin America.

The proposed structure, drawing also on UN specialized agencies in their areas of competence, would have as one of its tasks to support and energize sub-regional, regional and inter-regional South-South cooperation.

Regular, high-level UN conferences on South-South cooperation would need to be convened, and a consolidated and regular substantive, analytical and statistical UN report on the state of South-South cooperation will need to be prepared.

b. Global South and South-South cooperation

Given the overall global context, the developing countries cannot rely solely on the United Nations, even if and when the suggested institutional improvements are approved and become operational.

South-South cooperation is an opportunity for the Global South to contribute to achieving a number of outstanding goals and aspirations and be a vehicle for reshaping the global system.

For this to happen, however, what is needed on the part of the developing countries is hard work, mobilization of resources and of collective power, major and sustained efforts and commitment/obligation to pursue and attain a series of objectives that need to be identified and agreed on.

In their efforts to follow this advice, in addition to many practical obstacles and problems, the developing countries would also encounter opposition and doubts within their own ranks, not to mention a frontal or undercover resistance by actors of the North.

This resistance would especially come from those who would consider every major move in that direction as a potential threat to their own interests and global designs, and would, very likely, take steps, including within individual developing countries, often with local support and even via ”inconvenient” regime and leadership change, to influence and embroil the collective efforts.

What matters, however, is that today the Global South has the resources and collective power to move forward, and that this is not a “mission impossible”, as some who are familiar with problems and difficulties encountered in South-South cooperation efforts and undertakings and the building and management of joint institutions might point out. There is little that stands in the way of:

    • Undertaking a critical, in-depth review and analysis of: South-South cooperation, important actions and proposals agreed on over the years and their implementation, experiences, public attitudes, performance of individual countries, functioning of joint institutions and mechanisms of cooperation and integration, main obstacles and shortcomings that call for action, including the all too frequent difficulties or failure to follow up on important decisions taken at the political level.
    • Focussing on how to resolve the issue of lack of adequate financing for South-South cooperation, activities, projects and institutions, probably one of the most serious practical obstacles standing in the way of SSC being put into practice as desired and called for.

    • Inspiring, informing about and involving in the South-South cooperation project the public and individuals; with this in mind, applying capacity-building and training to raise the awareness of the existing experiences and opportunities; using to this end also educational, marketing, media and public relations approaches, which are so common in contemporary society and are used not only to advertise and publicize goods and services, but also political and social goals and causes, in this case the common identity of the South as an entity.

    • Setting up a South organization for South-South cooperation, and pooling together and networking intellectual and analytical resources available in the South and internationally to staff and support the work of that institution.

    • Placing on the agenda the challenge of intellectual self-empowerment of the Global South and the harnessing of its intellectual resources and institutions into an interactive network for support of common goals and collective actions.

    • Evolving, at the highest level, a representative system of political authority (e.g., heads of state or government, one delegated from each region) for regular and ad hoc communication, consultations and contacts, for meetings to assess progress in the implementation of agreed SSC goals, and for communication/interaction with all heads of state and/or government in the Global South.

    • Based on the workings and experience of the South Commission, of the now defunct UN Committee on Development Planning and of the G77 High-Level Panel of Eminent Personalities of the South, to consider establishing a permanent South-South commission or committee to bring together, on a regular basis, high-stature personalities and thinkers from the South to reflect and deliberate on challenges faced by the developing countries and by the international community.

    • Elaborating and agreeing on a blueprint for national self-empowerment for South-South cooperation, to guide and be used as a reference by the individual developing countries in line with their own characteristics and capacities, and transforming this blueprint into a legal instrument binding for all developing countries.

    • Nurturing, training and educating future cadres and leaders for South-South cooperation, directly exposing them to and familiarizing them with different problems and different regions of the South, and, when they are ready, deploying them in national, sub-regional, regional and multilateral, including UN, settings.

    • Focussing on the role of “digital South-South cooperation” in the promotion and energizing of all forms of South-South cooperation, including closer contacts, communication, information sharing and interaction, mutual understanding between and among the peoples and countries of the South, transfer of technology, and education and culture.

    • Calling for closer cooperation between and joint initiatives of G77 and NAM, an important pending political and institutional topic on the agenda of the Global South.

There is little new in the above suggestions, which draw on practical experiences and have been articulated over the years and in different contexts. What they propose is within reach, is doable, and would represent a major “leap forward” for South-South cooperation.

What is needed today is firm political will, long-term vision and determined initiative for a group of the South’s countries and leaders to launch such a process on the desired track and, most importantly, sustain it with the necessary political commitment and financial and institutional support.

The 2019 Buenos Aires Conference in March next year is an opportunity for the South to stand up and raise its collective voice, as at the very beginnings of South-South cooperation in Bandung (1955), Belgrade (1961), Geneva (1964) and Algiers (1967).

* This article is a shortened version of the concluding pages of an extensive essay “On the eve of BAPA+40 – South-South Cooperation in today’s geopolitical context”, which was published in VESTNIK RUDN. International Relations, 2018, Volume 18, Issue 03, October 2018, pp. 459-478, the international journal of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), formerly Patrice Lumumba University, in a special volume to mark the 40th anniversary of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action. (See http://journals.rudn.ru/international-relations/article/view/20098/16398 )

The post BAPA+40: An Opportunity to Reenergize South-South Cooperation appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Branislav Gosovic, worked in UNCTAD, UNEP, UNECLAC, World Commission on Environment and Development, South Commission, and South Centre (1991-2005), and is the author of the recently-published book ‘The South Shaping the Global Future, 6 Decades of the South-North Development Struggle in the UN.’

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Mercury Contamination Threat Gravitates into Outer Spacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/mercury-contamination-threat-gravitates-outer-space/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-contamination-threat-gravitates-outer-space http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/mercury-contamination-threat-gravitates-outer-space/#respond Fri, 21 Dec 2018 06:38:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159405 The dangers of mercury contamination have escalated from the dental chair to the realm of outer space. First, it was the hazardous use of mercury in dentistry, then in cosmetics, particularly skin-lightening creams, and now it is threatening to make its way into satellite propulsion systems. A coalition of over 45 civil society organizations (CSOs) […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 21 2018 (IPS)

The dangers of mercury contamination have escalated from the dental chair to the realm of outer space.

First, it was the hazardous use of mercury in dentistry, then in cosmetics, particularly skin-lightening creams, and now it is threatening to make its way into satellite propulsion systems.

A coalition of over 45 civil society organizations (CSOs) and environmental groups worldwide has warned against the use of mercury in satellite propulsion systems because it is “highly likely that most, if not all,” of the mercury emitted at the altitudes planned would find its way back– and eventually into the earth’s surface.

This has been demonstrated by many studies, including a UN report, on the long-range transport of mercury, says the coalition in a letter directed at Silicon Valley/satellite companies that are considering using mercury in thrusters to power satellites.

While details are hard to come by, it appears that because mercury is far less expensive than other propellants, there is considerable interest in its use in rocket thrusters for satellites, according to a recent article in Bloomberg.

“The bottom line is that if mercury is widely used to propel satellites, the resulting releases would significantly increase the global pool of mercury in the atmosphere and hydrosphere,” the coalition warns.

The letter, spelling out the dangers, has been addressed to Mike Cassidy, CEO and co-founder Ben Longmier, CTO and co-founder Apollo Fusion, Inc.; Greg Wyler, Founder and Executive Chairman, OneWeb; Will Marshall, CEO and Robbie Schingler, CSO, Planet Labs; and Gwynne Shotwell, President and CEO of Space X.

Michael Bender, International Coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group told IPS that while there maybe marketing ‘cost savings’ from mercury to propel satellites, Apollo fails to recognize the costs, risks and impacts of a new mercury source on human health and the environment.

“This flies in the face of not only U.S., but global efforts, to reduce mercury pollution,” he added.

The letter “strongly urges” the chief executive officers (CEOs) to publicly pledge to avoid mercury in satellite propulsion systems, as it poses a severe risk of contributing to a worsening global mercury crisis.

According to media reports, Apollo Fusion, Inc. is considering the use of mercury in its satellite propulsion systems and SpaceX, along with OneWeb and Planet Labs were mentioned as potential customers, although the latter two both deny it.

Over the past several decades, the U.S. and other governments around the world have spent billions to regulate and reduce mercury emissions from major sources and eliminate the use of mercury in products and processes where viable substitutes exist, says the letter.

“That’s because mercury circulates in the atmosphere and ultimately making its way into humans by moving up the aquatic food chain. Health agencies worldwide—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and all 50 states (in the US) —warn pregnant women to avoid or limit consumption of certain fish primarily because of mercury exposure risks for the developing fetus.”

In a statement released December 20, Jane Williams, Executive Director of California Communities Against Toxics, said most of the mercury emitted from satellite propulsion systems will eventually find its way back to the earth’s surface according to numerous studies of the long-range transport of mercury.”

“If mercury is widely used to propel satellites, the resulting releases would significantly increase the global pool of mercury in the atmosphere and hydrosphere.”

“The Minamata Convention on Mercury seeks to reduce, and where feasible, eliminate all uses of mercury where technically-achievable mercury-free alternatives are available,” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, ZMWG International Co-coordinator at the European Environmental Bureau in Brussels.

“In the case of satellite propulsion systems, mercury-free alternatives have been available and almost universally used for decades.”

The second United Nations Conference of the Parties for the Minamata Convention on Mercury met in Geneva last month to further the Convention’s objective “to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.”

So far, over 100 countries (with the U.S. being the first) have ratified the Convention, which entered into force in August 2017.

Yet much more mercury reduction work is needed, because according to an upcoming UN report, global mercury emissions rose by 20% between 2010 and 2015.

There is already a global campaign against the use of mercury in dentistry.
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/global-coalition-seeks-ban-on-mercury-use/
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/

Among other provisions, the Minamata Convention seeks to reduce, and where feasible, eliminate all uses of mercury where cost-effective, technically-achievable mercury-free alternatives are available.

In the case of satellite propulsion systems, mercury-free alternatives have been available and almost universally used for decades.

In the 1970s, NASA recognized the risks related to mercury propulsion systems in satellites and chose other options – even though NASA recognized mercury was cheaper to use, says the coalition.

“The mercury-driven propulsion technology developed and marketed by Apollo for satellites will have dire implications if widely applied.”

The letter also cites a recent media report which says ‘the amount of propellant in each [satellite] would depend on various factors…A case study on Apollo’s website that the company calls a “representative configuration” ideal for a low-orbit satellite would carry 20 kilograms of an unnamed propellant.”

“Multiply that by 1,000, and the constellation of satellites could use 20,000kg, or 20 metric tons of mercury, which would be released over the satellites’ estimated five to seven years in orbit. By comparison, the U.S. emits about 50 metric tons of mercury each year…”

As part of the upcoming review of Annex A and B to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the coalition plans to raise the use of mercury as a propulsion fuel for possible inclusion in Annex A, the list of prohibited mercury-added products under the Convention.

“Therefore, we join with others in strongly urging the above aforementioned companies to pledge to avoid using mercury as a propellant in satellites,” the letter adds.

Meanwhile, there has also been a global campaign warning about the dangers of mercury use in the cosmetics industry – particularly in skin-lightening products.

http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/e-commerce-giants-fire-retailing-hazardous-mercury-based-cosmetics/

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Global Pact Gives Dignity and Rights to Latin American Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/global-pact-gives-dignity-rights-latin-american-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-pact-gives-dignity-rights-latin-american-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/global-pact-gives-dignity-rights-latin-american-migrants/#respond Thu, 20 Dec 2018 01:29:20 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159374 A landmark global migration pact provides dignity and rights to migrants in every situation and context, stressed representatives of non-governmental organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, where some 30 million people live outside their countries, forced by economic, social, security, political and now also climatic reasons. Experts and migrants from the region lamented that […]

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Immigrants in Chile, which draws migrants from other countries in Latin America, celebrate the Fiesta of Cultures for a Dignified Migration waving flags from their countries at the emblematic Plaza de Armas in Santiago on Dec. 18, International Migrants Day. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Immigrants in Chile, which draws migrants from other countries in Latin America, celebrate the Fiesta of Cultures for a Dignified Migration waving flags from their countries at the emblematic Plaza de Armas in Santiago on Dec. 18, International Migrants Day. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Dec 20 2018 (IPS)

A landmark global migration pact provides dignity and rights to migrants in every situation and context, stressed representatives of non-governmental organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, where some 30 million people live outside their countries, forced by economic, social, security, political and now also climatic reasons.

Experts and migrants from the region lamented that some countries are marginalising themselves from this multilateral and collaborative effort to solve a global problem by breaking with a pact that “establishes a minimum foundation for dialogue,” as Rodolfo Noriega of Peru, leader of the National Immigrant Coordinating committee in Chile that includes 72 organisations, told IPS.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved at a Dec. 10-11 intergovernmental conference in Marrakech, Morocco by 164 countries, which on Dec. 19 endorsed it in a vote at the United Nations in New York."There are places where the most urgent thing is for the migrant not to lose his or her life, or not to be persecuted, or not to be kidnapped by a trafficking network. There are other contexts in which the problem has to do with discrimination, access to opportunities, access to rights, one's value as a person and not being seen as just a number." -- Juan Pablo Ramacciotti

The right-wing governments of Chile and the Dominican Republic abstained from voting on the agreement, arguing that it does not protect the interests of their countries. This South American country is currently a destination for migrants from neighboring countries, and the Dominican Republic receives a major influx of people from Haiti, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola.

The non-binding agreement has 23 objectives and aims to “minimise the structural factors” that force mass exodus, while including measures against trafficking in persons and the separation of migrant families, and calling for international cooperation, as a first step towards establishing a common approach in a world in which one in 30 people is a migrant.

Juan Pablo Ramacciotti, an official with the Chilean Jesuit Migrant Service, told IPS that the agreement “recognises migrants as people who have dignity and rights in every situation and every context.”

The expert in Latin American migration recalled that currently in this region of 657 million inhabitants, the points of greatest need and crisis for migrants in the region are in the northern triangle of Central America and Venezuela.

In the first case, migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador cross Mexico in their attempt to reach the United States, and in the second, thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing a collapsing country and changing the situation in other South American countries.

“Today the caravan of 7,000 migrants (heading to the U.S. via Mexico) has made the headlines around the world, but it is a situation that is constantly repeated. There are caravans that may not be so massive, but they are permanently seeking to reach the United States. It’s a serious situation, a critical issue, where violations of rights and discrimination abound,” Ramacciotti said.

He added that the second problem arises from the economic and political crisis in Venezuela “because many people are leaving that country, presenting a humanitarian challenge, also because of the incorporation of Venezuelans in different countries, especially in South America.”

There are 258 million migrants around the world, and about 30 million of them are from Latin America and the Caribbean. The phenomenon of migration “has a diverse range of expressions that have placed the issue on the global agenda,” said Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Venezuelan immigrants, whose presence grew explosively in Chile as a result of the chaos in their country, successfully sell their products and typical foods in stalls in Vega Central, Santiago's main food market, which has become a meeting point for Venezuelans. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Venezuelan immigrants, whose presence grew explosively in Chile as a result of the chaos in their country, successfully sell their products and typical foods in stalls in Vega Central, Santiago’s main food market, which has become a meeting point for Venezuelans. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

This U.N. agency was responsible for coordinating the Latin American position during the talks leading up to the pact. At its headquarters in Santiago, the first regional meeting to establish a common position was held in August 2017, which concluded with the demand that the agreement ratify the human right to free movement of persons.

In this region, migration increased mainly with the exodus from Central America to the United States. By 2015, 89 percent of Salvadoran migrants, 87 percent of Guatemalan migrants and 82 percent of Honduran migrants resided in the United States.

Bárcena has indicated that the pact “is a response by the international community to the challenges and opportunities posed by migration, in a global agenda. It is a historic instrument that constitutes an example of renewed multilateral interest.”

In the opinion of the senior U.N. official, the complexity of the phenomenon of migration in the region “has been growing, as revealed by the movements in Central America and the insufficient responses to the so-called mixed flows, including unaccompanied migrant children; emigration from Venezuela and the new realities faced by the receiving countries; and emigration from Haiti and the discrimination suffered by migrants from that country.”

“And as a corollary, the picture of contrasting realities expressed in the endless adversities faced by many migrants on their journeys,” Bárcena said.

Ramacciotti pointed out that migration is caused by situations of humanitarian crisis, political crisis, extreme poverty and war and that therefore it is very important “that we jointly take charge of a problem and a challenge that we all face.”

Juan Pablo Ramacciotti, an expert on migration in Latin America with the Chilean Catholic Jesuit Migrant Service, gives an interview to IPS in Santiago. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Juan Pablo Ramacciotti, an expert on migration in Latin America with the Chilean Catholic Jesuit Migrant Service, gives an interview to IPS in Santiago. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), whose regional headquarters are also in Santiago, added two other ingredients driving people out of Latin American countries: climate change and the lack of opportunities in the countryside.

In Central America, for example, “The massive irregular migration we have seen in recent months is a direct consequence of food insecurity, climate crises, the erosion of the social fabric and the lack of economic opportunities in the rural villages and areas of these countries,” said Kostas Stamoulis, deputy director-general of FAO’s Economic and Social Development Department, earlier this month.

Because of the complexity of the phenomenon, “that migration is an issue that each country sees according to its own criteria, from the borders inward, is not a path that allows us to approach the phenomenon with a vision of the future or understanding that it is a problem that involves everyone: countries of origin, transit and destination,” Ramacciotti said.

He added that the fact that “we reached a pact in which we agree on major issues and which helps us move forward together is very good news for all.”

Noriega, for his part, criticised the non-binding nature of the pact and said that, furthermore, “the power and authority of the State is overvalued without giving a more explicit and full guarantee to the right to migrate.”

The pact means “having a minimum level of dialogue,” he said, but he criticised the reaffirmation of “the power of the State to decide who enters and who does not enter their countries and to decide what treatment irregular or regular immigrants should receive.”

He added that “a rather positive aspect is that it reaffirms principles that international law has already been asserting, such as, for example, that deportation should be a last resort in exceptional circumstances.”

With regard to the biggest threats to migrants, Ramacciotti said that depends on the context and the area in question.

“There are places where the most urgent thing is for the migrant not to lose his or her life, or not to be persecuted, or not to be kidnapped by a trafficking network. There are other contexts in which the problem has to do with discrimination, access to opportunities, access to rights, one’s value as a person and not being seen as just a number,” he explained.

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Is it Time to End Cheque Book Diplomacy at the UN?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/time-end-cheque-book-diplomacy-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-end-cheque-book-diplomacy-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/time-end-cheque-book-diplomacy-un/#respond Wed, 19 Dec 2018 11:03:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159361 The UN’s major donors – led by the United States – have long been accused of influence-peddling and misusing their financial clout not only to grab some of the high ranking jobs in the world body but also threaten funding cuts to push their own domestic agendas. The Trump administration’s plan to reduce its 22% […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2018 (IPS)

The UN’s major donors – led by the United States – have long been accused of influence-peddling and misusing their financial clout not only to grab some of the high ranking jobs in the world body but also threaten funding cuts to push their own domestic agendas.

The Trump administration’s plan to reduce its 22% assessed contributions to the world body –- mandatory payments to the UN’s regular budget– has helped resurrect a 1985 suggestion by the late Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme who proposed a new system of financing the UN.

The Palme proposal did not renounce the existing “capacity to pay” formula, but suggested there should be a cap of 10 percent maximum for any one country.

This cap is intended to reduce the UN’s excessive dependence on funding by the US and a fistful of big donors. The spirit of the Palme proposal is to protect the UN from being unduly influenced by these donors.

According to the current formula, besides the 22% by the US, the percentage for the other major contributors include: Japan pays 9.7 %, China 7.9%, Germany 6.4%, France 4.9 %, UK 4.5%, Italy 3.7% and Russia 3.1%.

The poorest countries of the world pay 0.001% of the UN budget, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, have a cap of 0.01% each

Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, is a strong advocate of the Palme proposal and argues that if UN decision-making is to be freed from excessive vulnerability to, and even being blackmailed by the big donors, it is important for UN not to be too dependent on any single donor for its overall budget or important projects.

In an interview with IPS, he pointed out that former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was compelled to change his report on Saudi Arabia’s blatant targeting of children and civilians in its attacks in Yemen a few years ago, because of the Saudi threat of withholding its funding for the UN.

Similarly, in 2005, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan was compelled by then US President George W Bush to appoint an American Executive Director of UNICEF within 72 hours —without any serious vetting by the UNICEF Executive Board.

A clear case of influence-peddling, and “cheque book diplomacy,” said Gautam, author of the recently-released book titled “Global Citizen from Gulmi: My Journey from the Hills of Nepal to the Halls of the United Nations”.

James Paul, who served as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum (1993-2012), told IPS that on 21 October 1985, in a speech to a General Assembly commemoration of the UN’s 40th anniversary, Olof Palme proposed that the cap on maximum assessment by any one country to the UN’s regular budget be reduced from 25% to 10%.

Palme said: “A more even distribution of the assessed contributions would better reflect the fact that this Organization is the instrument of all nations.”

The UN at that time was facing a growing financial crisis, due in large part to a growing debt by the United States; Palme was proposing an unconventional solution.

A number of countries agreed with Palme and a high-level UN reform paper took up the idea. The German government argued with Washington that the United States should pay up– or accept a lower assessment.

But US Secretary of State George Schultz rejected the idea out of hand, said Paul, author of the newly-released book titled “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy & Global Power in the UN Security Council.”

“Washington wanted to keep its financial strangle-hold. Unfortunately, many other member states preferred to maintain their own dues at a low level. Some were thought to pay less in dues to the world body than the operating cost of their delegation in New York,” he added.

In 2001, the US altered course and agreed to pay the UN most of the outstanding US debt if its regular budget dues rate was lowered to 22%, from 25%. That shift was, of course, far from the Palme idea. Outsize US financial influence continued.

“The 2001 changes are very relevant today, as yet another UN financial crisis is upon us and Washington is yet again the main culprit, said Paul”, who for many years was also an editor of the ‘Oxford Companion to Politics of the World’.

Could the distribution of dues be changed further in the direction that Palme suggested?

The process leading to the 2001 change proved that under the right circumstances other member states could be persuaded to come up with an additional share of the dues, he noted.

Martin Edwards, an Associate Professor and Director of the UN Studies Program at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, told IPS: “Given that the White House is heading us back toward arrears with its desire to ratchet US contributions down, this is an auspicious moment to propose this.”

He said the challenge would be to sell it, though, since the intent on the UN side is to diversify the portfolio and limit the influence of donors, they might not jump on it since it means foregoing future influence. (In the P-5, what other countries would be interested? Certainly not Russia and China.—the other three being the US, UK and France.)

“But, we have a relatively unexperienced US Ambassador arriving in the form of Heather Nauert, and she’s going to face competition from seasoned veteran counterparts. It would be smart to offer it to Nauert and see if she jumps on it to bring a quick win for her boss,” Edwards declared.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, a former UN Under-Secretary-General, told IPS:

“For the Olof Palme proposal, I would say with pride that as the Deputy Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN, I had advocated publicly in 1985 and thereafter that no one Member State should be paying more than 10 percent of the UN budget.”

Even at that time, he said, the US was very strongly opposed to the idea.

“I continue to believe very earnestly in the wide-ranging positive impact of the 10 percent ceiling proposal,” declared Chowdhury.

Gautam said: “I am not in favour of the argument that because the US economy is strong right now that it should be asked or expected to pay more to the UN”.

That, he pointed out, would be contrary to the spirit of the Palme proposal.

Any shortfall caused by capping the US contribution to the UN can be easily made up by other OECD countries (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) and the large number of middle-income emerging economies, without putting undue burden on the worlds low-income countries and LDCs.

“Please remember that in the larger scheme of international finance, in a world economy of $77 trillion and global military budgets of $1.7 trillion per year, the totality of the UN system’s budget and expenditure for humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, peace-keeping operations, technical assistance and other essential normative functions, amount to about $48 billion per year,” he pointed out.

This is a modest amount to respond to the huge challenges that the UN is asked and expected to help tackle.

He said the total UN system-wide spending annually is less than the defense budget of India or France, and less than one month’s US spending on defense.

With similar investment, bilateral aid and national budgets of much bigger proportions could hardly achieve results comparable to what the UN and international financial institutions achieve.

Today financing for development landscape is changing rapidly. Many UN activities benefit from private sector financing and philanthropic foundations.

Many NGOs rely increasingly in cloud-sourcing and crowd-funding as well as different modalities of public-private partnerships.

Harnessing such possibilities and exploring the utilization of schemes like the Tobin Tax and resources generated from the global commons that are supposed to be the common heritage of humanity should be seriously explored to liberate the UN from the perpetual threats of arbitrary cuts by its current major donors, declared Gautam.

Paul told IPS: “Obviously, the Swedish prime minister was generally inclined towards a fiscal system that required the richest participants to pay on a progressive basis.”

That’s why his voice on this issue was so influential, because he was balancing that principle against others he considered more important – the viability of the United Nations and the protection of the UN from pressure from the largest payer.

Can the Palme concept be applied today when yet another UN financial crisis has arisen and a US administration of unprecedented hostility to global cooperation is in power?

It would be worth trying, said Paul.

And it may be an urgently-needed revision to the post-1945 arrangements and the world order that lay behind them. Other member states would have to agree to accept a larger share of the UN dues to make up for a reduction by Washington, said Paul.

“That would be most likely if the shift took place over an extended period – say over ten years. Getting a fairer share of top executive posts might be an incentive to the other UN members, as would a greater democratization of UN policy-making.”

He said complaints that national budgets are over-stretched cannot be taken seriously, since UN dues are a very small number in all national budgets from the poorest to the very richest countries. Affordability is simply not the main issue.

Washington might oppose such a change, so as to keep its financial influence intact, but the time has come for the rest of the world to stand up and defend a necessary change to strengthen an institution that they need and want.

The world has changed since 1945 and the United States can no longer pretend to be the world’s “leader.”

Adoption of the Palme proposal might be the first step towards other much-needed changes to make the UN stronger and more effective in the years to come, declared Paul.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The post Is it Time to End Cheque Book Diplomacy at the UN? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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