Inter Press Service » United Nations http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-turns-political-corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:30:24 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133725 The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day. By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats. For the moment, many […]

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Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day.

By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats.

For the moment, many Afghans are proud just that they voted, and that going by official figures, they did so in large numbers. Seven million voted in the presidential elections, a big jump from the 2009 turnout.“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more."

The turnout was 58 percent of an estimated 12 million eligible voters, marking a 20 percent increase over the 5.6 million votes in the election in 2009.

“We’ve sent a clear message with our vote: Afghan people want radical change, it has to be positive, and it’s going to be made by ourselves,” professor of international criminal law Wahidullah Amiri tells IPS.

Amiri teaches at Nangarhar University. Founded in 1963, this is the second largest university in the country, with around 8,000 students, including 1,200 female students, enrolled in 13 faculties. The campus is spread over 160 hectares in Daroonta, a village 10 km from Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm here over the polling, which went far better than expected, is evident: “The turnout was beyond any expectations,” Prof. Abdul Nabi Basirat, who heads the department of international relations at the political science facultym tells IPS. “The international community did not expect that, we Afghans did not expect it, and even I did not.

“It’s a landmark, showing that Afghans are taking charge of their own future, selecting the successor to [outgoing president Hamid] Karzai. We bravely confronted the Taliban threats without the help of NATO or other external players.”

The Afghan government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and policemen to protect the vote, with the International Security Assistance Force playing only a marginal role, much smaller than in 2009. The Taliban did not manage to carry out a single large-scale assault in any major city.

“Substantially, the Taliban failed to disrupt the election process,” the dean of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, Naqibullah Saqeb, tells IPS. “Their failure is a success for the Afghan government. Many were saying it would have been challenging, if not impossible, for the government to run the elections, due to its weakness and due to Taliban strength. We have done it.”

The Taliban movement – deeply divided over this year’s election – claimed to have carried out “nearly 1088 attacks” nationwide at “polling centres and the vehicles and convoys carrying votes, election material and ballot boxes.”

The Afghan interior minister announced the ministry had counted 690 security incidents. The figures do not match, but they still indicate that the Taliban are far from being a spent force, depicting the emergence of two different electoral narratives.

One narrative took place in Afghanistan’s cities and urban areas, which enjoy relative security and a higher turnout, and the other in the insecure rural areas, especially in the volatile south-east of the country, with very different patterns of voter participation.

Koshal Jawad belongs to one of the areas contested between the government and the Taliban. “I wanted to vote, but I couldn’t,” Jawad, a student of political science planning to present his final dissertation in two months, tells IPS.

“I live in Haska Mena [also called Dih Bala] district, bordering Pakistan. In the past 12 months it has become unsafe. We now have hundreds of Taliban there, mainly Pakistani people. They did not allow us to vote: they stopped the cars, and checked the fingers, to see if anyone had a finger dipped in ink, which shows you’d voted.”

“Nobody really knows how many voters there are, how many of them hold a voter card, or how many of the ballots cast will turn out to have really been linked to voters,” writes Martine Van Bijlert, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

In the more insecure areas, elections were neither transparent nor accountable, says Van Bijlert. “Alongside a robust, genuine and determined vote, there are indications of significant irregularities: old patterns of intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and ‘ghost polling stations’ in remote and insecure areas.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is verifying all the ballot boxes received from about 6,400 polling centres and 20,000 polling stations across 34 provinces. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has registered more than 3,000 complaints, and the independent Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan has registered 10,000 cases of alleged irregularities.

“Fraud is still part of the electoral process, this is clear,” says Amiri. “But to such a limited extent in comparison to 2009 that it will not affect the overall legitimacy of the process to Afghan eyes.”

Preliminary results are expected Apr. 24, with the final result due on May 14, but many believe no candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote. That could lead to a runoff between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The first results covering 10 percent of the overall vote give Abdullah Abdullah 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani 37.6 percent.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have been carrying out their own counts, claiming victory for their candidates.

“It’s part of the game. Politics is competition, where one player wins and the other loses. Usually losers are not eager to admit they are losers, so everyone claims to be the winner,” Muhtarama Amin, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, tells IPS.

“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more,” she says. “We are a maturing political system: any candidate knows that massive fraud would undermine his legitimacy, leading soon to the collapse of his government.”

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OP-ED: Beyond the Street Protests: Youth, Women and Democracy in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133719 Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to […]

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The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to join a recent discussion in Salamanca, Spain, on young women’s political participation in the region.In the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

That’s what Paola Pabón from Ecuador, Silvia Alejandrina Castro from El Salvador and Gabriela Montaño from Bolivia have in common. They are among the very few women in parliaments and they are young: They broke a double glass ceiling.

Of the 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 26 percent are young, aged 15-29. This is a unique opportunity for the region’s development and for its present and future governance. Even though the average regional rate of women taking up positions in parliament is 25 percent, higher than the global average, a closer look shows that women still lag behind.

Our recent survey of 25 parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean shows a very low representation of youth in the region’s parliaments – especially those of African or indigenous descent. Only 2.7 percent of male parliamentarians in the region and 1.3 percent of women MPs were under 30 years old—even though more than one fourth of the region’s population is young.

When we look at the age of MPs below under 40, 15 percent are men and not even 6.5 percent are women.

UNDP’s regional Human Development Reports have shown that young people have enormous potential as agents of change. But despite Latin America’s remarkable progress in reducing poverty and inequality – and its strides toward strong democracies with free and transparent elections – gender, income, ethnic origin, or dwelling conditions are all decisive barriers to young citizens’ rights and civic engagement.

One in every four young people aged 15-29 in the region are poor or extremely poor. And only 35 percent of them have access to education. More worrying still: Some 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.

And the region’s youth have been taking to the streets, playing a central role in recent protests in countries like Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Such demonstrations urge us to understand the demands of young people, and to address lingering structural problems in our societies, especially inequality.

The increasing frequency of such mobilisations tells us that young people want to actively participate in their society’s development. The first Ibero-American Youth Survey - which we launched last year with the Ibero-American Youth Organization (OIJ) and other partners — shows that young people in Latin America, Portugal and Spain expect their participation to increase over the next five years.

Institutions should provide formal spaces for this, or protests will become the only effective way for young people to make their voices heard. And the region will waste an opportunity to enhance the quality of its democratic governance.

We are working towards this goal. UNDP and partners brought together 22 young MPs from 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013 to put together the region’s first young legislators’ network to boost young people’s political participation and inclusion.  We have been partnering with OIJ and other U.N. sister agencies and governmental youth secretaries to push this agenda.

Moreover, our youth online platform JuventudconVoz (youth voices), with the OIJ and the Spanish Cooperation agency, is also helping boost young Latin Americans political participation and leadership skills.

Protests sparked by young Latin Americans will likely continue in several countries. Beyond the street level, in the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

Jessica Faieta is UNDP’s Director a.i. and Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean @JessicaFaieta / www.latinamerica.undp.org @UNDPLAC

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U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133695 The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation. But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation.

But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest that went unsung and unnoticed."Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss." -- James A. Paul

Hassan Ali, a senior Sudanese diplomat, told delegates, “The democratically-elected president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, had been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the General Assembly because the host country, the United States, had denied him a visa, in violation of the U.N.-U.S. Headquarters Agreement.”

Furthermore, he complained, the host country also applied arbitrary pressures on foreign missions, “depending on how close a country’s foreign policy is to that of the United States.”

“It was a great and deliberate violation of the Headquarters Agreement,” he said, also pointing to the closing of bank accounts of foreign missions and diplomats as another violation.

“Those missions have now been without bank accounts for some three years,” he added.

The refusal of a visa to the Sudanese president was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But does the United States have a right to implicitly act on an ICC ruling when Washington is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC?

“Good question,” said John Quigley, professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University.

“As you suggest, the U.S. had no obligations under the Rome Statute,” he told IPS.

So the question would not arise of Washington having an obligation that might conflict with the obligation to grant a visa to a representative of a U.N. member state, he added.

It would be harder if the United States were a party to the Rome Statute.

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Even then, the two obligations might not conflict. That is, the U.S. would have an obligation to let him in. Once he is in, the U.S. would have an obligation to turn him over to the ICC,” said Quigley, author of ‘The Ruses of War: American Interventionism Since World War II’.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in-waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the Headquarters Agreement – even though Washington got away scot-free after barring the Sudanese president from the General Assembly last year.

James A. Paul, who served for over 19 years as executive director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.S. government was in clear violation of international law and practice.

This includes violations of specific international agreements such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, and particularly the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, entered into by the U.S. and the U.N. in 1947 and unanimously ratified by Congress.

This particular violation of visa denial is one of many such violations, some of which get lots of attention and some of which don’t, he said.

“My guess is that there have been hundreds of cases in which the U.S. has refused entry visas for various reasons. There are also hundreds of other cases of violation of the agreement in other ways,” said Paul, who has kept close track of the politics of the United Nations for nearly two decades.

In response to the U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Palestine leader Yassir Arafat in 1988, he said, the General Assembly had to move its meeting to Geneva at huge expense and inconvenience.

“That case made headlines, but most do not,” said Paul.

Take, for example, the U.S. refusal to grant an entry visa to a senior Argentine diplomat who had been accredited to participate with the Brazilian team on the U.N. Security Council in 2010.

“Washington took this step presumably because it wanted to block regional coordination on the Council – a totally illegitimate reason,” Paul said, adding there was no argument the person involved represented a security threat.

“So I think we can say that Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss,” he added.

Quigley told IPS he saw no exception for security, terrorism and foreign policy in the Headquarters Agreement.

The resolutions by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to bar the Iranian envoy, are irrelevant, he said.

“What matters is the text of the Headquarters Agreement. If domestic legislation was adopted that purported to reserve rights to the U.S. that are not expressed in the Headquarters Agreement, the domestic legislation does not allow the U.S. to evade its obligations,” said Quigley.

“As I read the legislation adopted by Congress, it gives grounds for denial of a visa, but it is still up to the president to decide the grounds exist, so it is not Congress that is denying a visa to a particular person.”

The president should properly regard the Headquarters Agreement as his guide, added Quigley.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

Quigley said, “I can see that there might be some validity to the view that the U.S. and Iran should work this out, but at this point the U.S. has denied and does not seem inclined to reconsider.”

That being the case, it is the U.N. that is the injured party under the Headquarters Agreement. It should not be up to Iran to take the initiative to take action on the matter, he argued.

Paul told IPS some diplomats face restrictions as to where they can live and where in the U.S. they can travel.

There have been many complaints about U.S. banking restrictions having serious negative consequences for delegations, who sometimes cannot pay their bills as a result.

Finally, of course, there is the scandal of spying on U.N. staff and on delegations.

“When you put all this together, you have a stark picture of disregard for the norms of diplomacy and the letter of international agreements. It is a sad story,” he added.

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IPCC Climate Report Calls for “Major Institutional Change” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ipcc-climate-report-calls-major-institutional-change/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 23:41:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133668 Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions. The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental […]

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Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

Mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Greenhouse gas emissions rose more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than anytime during the previous three decades, the world’s top climate scientists say, despite a simultaneous strengthening of national legislation around the world aimed at reducing these emissions.

The conclusions come in the third and final instalment in a series of updates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.-overseen body. The new update warns that “only major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed” two degrees Celsius by the end of the century, an internationally agreed upon threshold."The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels." -- Oscar Reyes

The full report, which focuses on mitigation, is to be made public on Tuesday. But a widely watched summary for policymakers was released Sunday in Berlin, the site of a week of reportedly hectic negotiations between government representatives.

“We expect the full report to say that it is still possible to limit warming to two degrees Celsius, but that we’re not currently on a path to doing so,” Kelly Levin, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank here, told IPS.

“Others have found that we’re not on that pathway even if countries were to deliver on past pledges, and some countries aren’t on track to do so. A key message is that we need substantially more effort on mitigation, and that this is a critical decade for action.”

The previous IPCC report, released last month, assessed the impacts of climate change, which it said were already being felt in nearly every country around the world. The new one looks at what to do about it.

“This is a strong call for international action, particularly around the notion that this is a problem of the global commons,” Levin says.

“Every individual country needs to participate in the solution to climate change, yet this is complicated by the fact that countries have very different capabilities to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. We can now expect lots of conversation about the extent to which greater cooperation and collective action is perceived to be fair.”

Substantial investments

The full report, the work of 235 authors, represents the current scientific consensus around climate change and the potential response. Yet the policymakers’ summary is seen as a far more political document, mediating between the scientific findings and the varying constraints and motivations felt by national governments on the issue.

The latest report is likely to be particularly polarising. The three updates, constituting the IPCC’s fifth assessment, will be merged into a unified report in October, which in turn will form the basis for negotiations next year to agree on a new global response to climate change, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

While previous IPCC updates focused on the science behind climate change and its potential impacts, mitigation goes most directly to the heart of what can make the UNFCCC negotiations contentious: how to pay for the expensive changes required to move into a new, low-carbon paradigm.

In order to keep average global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius, the new report, examining some 1,200 potential scenarios, finds that global emissions will need to be brought down by anywhere from 40 to 70 percent within the next 35 years. Thereafter, they will need to be further reduced to near zero by the end of the century.

“Many different pathways lead to a future within the boundaries set by the two degrees Celsius goal,” Ottmar Edenhofer, one of the co-chairs of the working group that put out the new report, said Sunday. “All of these require substantial investments.”

The report does not put a specific number on those investments. It does, however, note that they would have a relatively minor impact on overall economic growth, with “ambitious mitigation” efforts reducing consumption growth by just 0.06 percent.

Yet they caution that “substantial reductions in emissions would require large changes in investment patterns.”

The IPCC estimates that investment in conventional fossil fuel technologies for the electricity sector – the most polluting – will likely decline by around 20 percent over the next two decades. At the same time, funding for “low cost” power supply – including renewables but also nuclear, natural gas and “carbon capture” technologies – will increase by 100 percent.

“The report makes clear that if we’re going to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to get out of investing in fossil fuels. Yet the way the IPCC addresses this is problematic, and is a reflection of existing power dynamics,” Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank here, told IPS.

“While it’s positive that they point out that renewables are achievable at scale, they also talk about gas as a potential transition fuel. Yet many models say that doing so actually discourages investment in renewables. There are also problems with the tremendous costs of many of the technological fixes they’re putting forward.”

Equity and income

The policymakers’ summary is a consensus document, meaning that all 195 member countries have signed off on its findings. Yet it appears that last week’s negotiations in Berlin were arduous, particularly as countries position themselves ahead of the final UNFCCC negotiations next year.

Debate over how the financial onus for mitigation and adaptation costs will be parcelled out has played out in particular between middle-income and rich countries. While the latter are primarily responsible for the high greenhouse gas emissions of the past, today this is no longer the case.

Even as previous IPCC reports have categorised countries as simply “developing” or “developed” (similar to the UNFCCC approach), some rich countries have wanted to more fully differentiate the middle-income countries and their responsibility for current emissions. Apparently in response, the new IPCC report now characterises country economies on a four-part scale.

Yet some influential developing countries have pushed back on this. In a formal note of “substantial reservation” seen by IPS, the Saudi Arabian delegation warns that using “income-based country groupings” is overly vague, given that countries can shift between groups “regardless of their actual per capita emissions”.

Nine other countries, including Egypt, India, Malaysia, Qatar, Venezuela and others, reportedly signed on to the Saudi note of dissent.

Bolivia wrote a separate dissent that likewise disputes income-based classification. But it also decries the IPCC’s lack of focus on “non-market-based approaches to address international cooperation in climate change through the provision of finance and transfer of technology from developed to developing countries.”

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Emerging Nations Opt for Arms Spending Over Development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:02:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133658 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise […]

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The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise in military expenditures by emerging non-Western and developing nations who are, ironically, the strongest candidates for development aid."Four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined." -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Asked whether there are any future prospects of reversing this trend, Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS, “At present, there is little or no prospect of a large-scale transfer of resources from military spending to spending on human and economic development.”

Of the top 15 military spenders in 2013, eight were non-Western nations: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The Western countries in the top 15 were the United States, France, UK, Germany, Italy and Australia, plus Japan. Canada, a former high spender, dropped out of the list in 2013.

The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated, said Perlo-Freeman.

“While in some cases it is the natural result of economic growth or a response to genuine security needs, in other cases it represents a squandering of natural resource revenues, the dominance of autocratic regimes, or emerging regional arms races,” he added.

World military expenditure totalled 1.75 trillion dollars in 2013, a fall of 1.9 percent in real terms since 2012, according to SIPRI.

The fall in the global total comes from decreases in Western countries, led by the United States.

But military spending in the rest of the world increased by 1.8 percent.

Bemoaning the rise in arms spending, the secretary-general said last year the world spends more on the military in one month than it does on development all year.

“And four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined,” he noted.

The bottom line: the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded, said Ban. Bloated military budgets, he said, promote proliferation, derail arms control, doom disarmament and detract from social and economic development.

Last week, a U.N. expert came out strongly against rising arms expenditures on the occasion of the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

The U.N.’s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, called upon all governments “to proactively inform the public about military expenditures and to justify them.

“Every democracy must involve civil society in the process of establishing budgets, and all sectors of society must be consulted to determine what the real priorities of the population are,” he said in a statement released here.

Lobbies, including military contractors and other representatives of the military-industrial complex, must not be allowed to hijack these priorities to the detriment of the population’s real needs, he added.

According to SIPRI, the fall in U.S. spending in 2013, by 7.8 percent, is the result of the end of the war in Iraq, the beginning of the drawdown from Afghanistan, and the effects of automatic budget cuts passed by the U.S. Congress in 2011.

Meanwhile, austerity policies continued to determine trends in Western and Central Europe and in other Western countries.

Perlo-Freeman told IPS the worst conflict in the world today, in Syria, which has killed over 150,000 people, is still less severe than the worst conflicts of even 15 years ago, such as the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which led to the deaths of millions.

There are certainly tensions in many parts of the world, most notably between Russia and Ukraine at the moment, but inter-state armed conflict is still extremely rare, he added.

“I think the increases in military spending in many parts of the world can rather be traced to a continuing belief in the centrality of military power to conceptions of national security and national greatness,” he said.

He said the United States has set a very clear example in this regard, most especially under the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009), but even now the notion that U.S. global military supremacy is a national necessity is effectively unchallenged in the political mainstream.

Other major powers, especially Russia and China, do not view this U.S. dominance in their neighbourhoods with equanimity, or accept their subordinate position in the system.

While neither can challenge the U.S.’s global role, each has been seeking to increase their own military power sufficiently to be able to exert regional influence and not be subject to U.S. dominance, he noted.

This pattern is repeated at lower levels, amongst middle powers such as India.

“Even in much more peaceful regions, Brazil, which has always sought a higher status in the international system, regards having a strong, modern military as an essential part of this,” Perlo-Freeman said.

However, Brazil’s spending has leveled off in recent years, as its economy has not been as strong as in the past and as it has other pressing social priorities that compete with military spending.

There are other important factors as well – one is simply economic growth, which tends to lift military spending along with other areas of spending, said Perlo-Freeman.

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“Sanitation for All” a Rapidly Receding Goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:10:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133616 World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate. The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could […]

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An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate.

The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be the world’s largest ever to take place on the issue."Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine." -- Darren Saywell

Water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, constitute a key development metric, yet sanitation in particular has seen some of the poorest improvements in recent years.

Participants at Friday’s summit included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as well as dozens of government ministers and civil society leaders.

“Today 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” the World Bank’s Kim said Friday. “This results in 400 million missed school days, and girls and women are more likely to drop out because they lack toilets in schools or are at risk of assault.”

Kim said that this worldwide lack of access results in some 260 billion dollars in annual economic losses – costs that are significant on a country-to-country basis.

In Niger, Kim said, these losses account for around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. In India the figure is even higher – around 6.4 percent of GDP.

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s mandate is to protect the rights of children and make sure they achieve their full potential. WASH is critical to what we hope for children to achieve, as well as to their health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, associate director of programmes for UNICEF, told IPS.

“Every day, 1400 children die from diarrhoea due to poor WASH. In addition, 165 million children suffer from stunted growth, and WASH is a contributory factor because clean water is needed to absorb nutrients properly.”

Over 40 countries came to the meeting to share their commitments to improving WASH.

“Many countries have already shown that progress can be made,” Wijesekera said. “Ethiopia, for example, halved those without access to water from 92 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2012, and equitably across the country.”

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Good investment

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water halved the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. Yet the goal to improve access to quality sanitation facilities was one of the worst performing MDGs.

In order to get sanitation on track, a global partnership was created called Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), made up of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

“Sanitation as a subject is a complicated process … You have different providers and actors involved at the delivery of the service,” Darren Saywell, the SWA vice-chair, told IPS.

“NGOs are good with convening communities and community action plans. The private sector is needed to respond and provide supply of goods when demand is created. Government needs to help regulate and move the different leaders in the creation of markets.”

In addition, sanitation and hygiene are not topics that can gain easy political traction.

“It is not seen as something to garner much political support,” Saywell says. “Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine.”

Saywell says that an important part of SWA’s work is to demonstrate that investing in WASH is a good economic return.

“Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of roughly five dollars,” he says. “That’s sexy!”

Sustainable investments

Friday’s summit covered three main issues: discussing the WASH agenda for post-2015 (when the current MDGs expire), tackling inequality in WASH, and determining how these actions will be sustainable.

“We would like the sector to the set the course for achieving universal access by 2030,” Henry Northover, the global head of policy at WaterAid, a key NGO participant, told IPS.

Although the meeting did not set the post-2015 global development goals for WASH, it was meant to call public attention to the importance of these related goals and ways of achieving them.

“Donors and developing country governments need to stop seeing sanitation as an outcome of development, but rather as an indispensable driver of poverty reduction,” Northover said.

WaterAid recently published a report on inequality in WASH access, Bridging the Divide. The study looks at the imbalances in aid targeting and notes that, for instance, Jordan receives 850 dollars per person per year for WASH while Madagascar, which has considerably worse conditions, receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year.

The report says this imbalance in aid targeting is due to “geographical or strategic interests, historical links with former colonies, and domestic policy reasons”. Northover added to this list, noting that “donors are reluctant to invest in fragile states.”

“In India, despite spectacular levels of growth over the past 10 years, we have seen barely any progress in the poorest areas in terms of gaining access to sanitation,” he continued. “Regarding inequality, we are talking both in terms of wealth and gender: the task falls to women and girls to fetch water, they cannot publicly defecate, and have security risks.”

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

“Shift the money to the poorer countries, and then, so what?” John Sauer, of the non-profit Water for People, asked IPS. “The challenge is then the capacity to spend that money and absorb it into district governments, the ones with the legal purview to make sure the water and sanitation issues get addressed.”

Friday’s meeting also shared plans on how to use existing resources better, once investments are made.

“If there is one water pump, it will break down pretty quickly,” WaterAid’s Northover said. “This often requires some level of institutional capability for financial management.”

Countries also described their commitments to make sanitation sustainable. The Dutch government, for instance, introduced a clause in some of its WASH agreements that any related foreign assistance must function for at least a decade. East Asian countries like Vietnam and Mongolia are creating investment packages that also help to rehabilitate and maintain existing WASH systems.

“This is probably one of the biggest meetings on WASH possibly ever, and what we mustn’t forget is that the 40 or 50 countries coming are making a commitment to do very tangible things that are measurable, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS. “That bodes well for achieving longer-term goals of achieving universal access and equality.”

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Peacekeepers Greenlighted for CAR, but Mission Will Take Months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:56:17 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133585 Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half. The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and […]

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Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half.

The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and 2,000 police to restore order and prevent further sectarian violence that has left thousands dead and displaced roughly a quarter of the population.“The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure. In Bangui there are only two hotels." -- spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping

The Council in December mandated a joint AU-French force that thus far has proven unable to clamp down on violence against the Muslim communities, particularly outside of the capital Bangui, where peacekeepers have been light on the ground.

The Council’s morning session was preceded by reports of anti-balaka attacks in the central town of Dekoa, 300 kms north of Bangui, that left some 13 dead.

Despite Thursday’s vote, rights groups point out it will be a full six months before the mission, known as MINUSCA, is operational.

“There are tens of thousands of vulnerable Central Africans who need protection and assistance right now,” said Mark Yarnell, senior advocate at Refugees International.

“Clearly, a U.N. peacekeeping operation, once fully deployed, can contribute to peace and stability over the long term. But this mission will not address the atrocities, displacement, and dire humanitarian needs on the ground today.”

A “re-hatting” of many of the 5,000 AU troops would take place on Sep. 15, the official start date of MINUSCA’s peacekeeping operations. It is unclear, given a paucity of peacekeepers in several other countries, how long it will take the mission to reach full capacity.

“You will not even be getting to 10,000 troops by September given the global shortage,” Yarnell told IPS. “There is no guarantee they will arrive by that date.”

A spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping told IPS the landlocked country is a particularly difficult location to build the infrastructure for a mission from scratch.

“We can send engineers to assist and we’ll ship some equipment and cargo to Cameroon, the nearest port,” he said. “The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure.  In Bangui there are only two hotels – we will need to construct our bases, starting with sanitary facilities and offices.”

The transition will come nearly two years after the Séléka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels from CAR’s neglected northwest and Chad, announced their alliance and took up arms against the government of former president François Bozizé.

In March of 2013, the rebels captured Bangui and for nearly a year presided over a state of anarchy, pilfering what was left of the state infrastructure and targeting Christians with impunity.

Christian anti-balaka self-defence militias with unclear ties to the former regime formed to combat the rebels. Following the arrival of French and African Union troops in December, the militias began gaining the upper hand.

In January, under international pressure, former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned the presidency and ex-Seleka forces began pulling back from the capital, creating a power vacuum and leaving Muslim communities under threat from the vengeful Christian majority.

Peacekeepers were slow to recognise the anti-balaka as a new and larger threat, even as militias repeatedly carried out massacres in Muslim enclaves. The result, according to the U.N., has been the “ethnic-religious cleansing” of the West of CAR.

In a report, Amnesty International called the exodus of Muslims from CAR “a tragedy of historic proportions.”

“Not only does the current pattern of ethnic cleansing do tremendous damage to the Central African Republic itself, it sets a terrible precedent for other countries in the region, many of which are already struggling with their own sectarian and inter-ethnic conflicts,” the report said.

In response to a Central African government request, the resolution gives MINUSCA the emergency capacity to supplement the state’s meagre police force by authorising peacekeepers to make arrests and carry out basic law and order functions.

The first of an expected 1,000 EU peacekeepers arrived this week and are expected to spell French troops that have guarded a makeshift camp for displaced persons at Bangui’s aiport. Until MINUSCA is fully functional, EU advisors are meant to assist local authorities in rebuilding the criminal justice system. Several recent arrests of anti-balaka leaders have seen them flee or be released only hours later.

The Security Council had an opportunity to mandate a peacekeeping mission as far back as November, but due to logistical and financial concerns gave the AU time to demonstrate its capacity at peacekeeping on the continent.

Though observers have highlighted the efforts of troops from Rwanda and Burundi, Chadian peacekeepers were implicated in atrocities of their own, including the deaths of over 30 civilians in a market on Mar. 29. The Chadians were allegedly attempting to evacuate residents from one of Bangui’s few remaining Muslim enclaves when they opened fire.

Chad has since withdrawn its battalion from the AU mission, forcing African leaders to search for a further 850 troops.

The CAR vote comes as Rwanda commemorates its own 100 days genocide that began 20 years ago this week.

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Developing Nations Seek U.N. Retaliation on Bank Cancellations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/developing-nations-seek-u-n-retaliation-bank-cancellations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-seek-u-n-retaliation-bank-cancellations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/developing-nations-seek-u-n-retaliation-bank-cancellations/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:07:29 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133573 The 132-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations, has urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, “as soon as possible…alternative options for banking services” in New York City following the mass cancellation of bank accounts of U.N. missions and foreign diplomats. The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The 132-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations, has urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, “as soon as possible…alternative options for banking services” in New York City following the mass cancellation of bank accounts of U.N. missions and foreign diplomats.

The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, is an “agreed text” which has the blessings of all 132 countries, plus China.

Responding to a demand by member states for reciprocal retaliation, the G77 requests the secretary-general to review the “U.N. Secretariat’s financial relations with the JP Morgan Chase Bank and consider alternatives to such financial institutions and to report thereon, along with the information requested.”

Chase bank handles billions of dollars in the accounts maintained by the United Nations and its agencies in New York city. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Chase bank handles billions of dollars in the accounts maintained by the United Nations and its agencies in New York City. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Currently, the bank handles billions of dollars in the accounts maintained by the United Nations and its agencies in New York City.

The Group expresses “deep concern” over the decisions made by several banking institutions, including JP Morgan Chase, in closing bank accounts of mostly developing countries, and diplomats accredited to the United Nations and their relatives.

The resolution, which is subject to amendments, cites the 1947 U.S.- U.N. headquarters agreement that “guarantees the rights, obligations and the fulfillment of responsibilities by member states towards the United Nations, under the United Nations Charter and international law.”

Additionally, it cites the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as a regulatory framework for states and international organisations, in particular the working relationship between the United Nations and the City of New York.

Citing the two agreements, the G77 is calling for all “necessary measures to ensure permanent missions accredited to the United Nations and their staff are granted equal, fair and non-discriminatory treatment by the banking system.”

Asked for an official response, U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told IPS: “We would not comment on a draft resolution.”

At a closed-door meeting of the G77 last month, speaker after speaker lambasted banks in the city for selectively cutting off the banking system from the diplomatic community, describing the action as “outrageous”.

Their anger was directed mostly at JP Morgan Chase (formerly Chemical bank) which was once considered part of the U.N. family – and a preferred bank by most diplomats – and at one time was housed in the secretariat building.

The G77 is expected to hold consultations with member states outside the Group, specifically Western nations, before tabling the resolution with the 193-member General Assembly later this month.

If any proposed amendments are aimed at weakening the resolution, the G77 will go for a vote in the Assembly with its agreed text, a G77 diplomat told IPS Thursday.

But with the Group having more than two-thirds majority in the Assembly, the resolution is expected to be adopted either with or without the support of Western nations.

If adopted by a majority vote, the secretary-general is expected to abide by the resolution and respond to its demands.

The draft resolution also requests the secretary-general to review and report to the General Assembly, within 120 days of its adoption, “of any obstacles or impediments observed in the accounts of permanent missions or their staff at the JP Morgan Chase Bank in the City of New York, and the impact these impediments have on the adequate functioning of their offices.”

And to this end, the G77 invites all members to provide the secretary-general with relevant information that will facilitate the elaboration of such report.

In an appeal to the United States, the G77 has also underscored the importance of the host country taking the necessary measures to ensure that personal data and information of persons affected by the closure of accounts is kept confidential by banking institutions, and requests the secretary-general to work with the host country in that regard and to report to the General Assembly within 90 days.

The closure of accounts was triggered by a request from the U.S. treasury, which wanted all banks to meticulously report every single transaction of some 70 “blacklisted” U.N. diplomatic missions, and individual diplomats – perhaps as part of a monitoring system to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing.

But the banks have said such an elaborate exercise is administratively expensive and cumbersome.

And as a convenient alternative, they have closed down, or are in the process of closing down, all accounts, shutting off banks from the diplomatic community in New York.

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OP-ED: The World Bank’s Waste of Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-banks-waste-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:31:23 +0000 Janet Redman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133566 The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have […]

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By Janet Redman
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense.

Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.The programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme — like carbon trading — to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting their greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The U.N. established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM.

First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM, and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a U.N.-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013.

cdm graphThere was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations, and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the Bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in “least developed” (LDCs) and African countries by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments” — in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

The Bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits; and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one programme — the readiness fund — to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers.

The initiative has a second programme — the carbon fund — to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The Bank says it is prioritising support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar, and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management.

Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A better approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational, and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind, and small-scale hydropower projects.

The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children, and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean.

It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money, and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Janet Redman is the director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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When Medicines Don’t Work Anymore http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/medicines-dont-work-anymore/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=medicines-dont-work-anymore http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/medicines-dont-work-anymore/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 12:01:49 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133564 In this column, Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, warns that humanity is looking at a future in which antibiotics will no longer work, unless an effective global action plan is launched to address the crisis.

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In this column, Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, warns that humanity is looking at a future in which antibiotics will no longer work, unless an effective global action plan is launched to address the crisis.

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The growing crisis of antibiotic resistance is catching the attention of policy-makers, but not at a fast enough rate to tackle it. More diseases are affected by resistance, meaning the bacteria cannot be killed even if different drugs are used on some patients, who then succumb.

We are staring at a future in which antibiotics don’t work, and many of us or our children will not be saved from TB, cholera, deadly forms of dysentery, and germs contracted during surgery.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will discuss, at its annual assembly of health ministers in May, a resolution on microbial resistance, including a global action plan. There have been such resolutions before but little action.

This year may be different, because powerful countries like the United Kingdom are now convinced that years of inaction have cause the problem to fester, until it has grown to mind-boggling proportions.

The UK-based Chatham House (together with the Geneva Graduate Institute) held two meetings on the issue, in October and last month, both presided over by the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies.

This remarkable woman has taken on antibiotic resistance as a professional and personal campaign. In a recent book, “The Drugs Don’t Work”, she revealed that for her annual health report in 2012, she had decided to focus on infectious diseases.

“I am not easily rattled, but what I learnt scared me, not just as a doctor, but as a mother, a wife and a friend. Our findings were simple: We are losing the battle against infectious diseases. Bacteria are fighting back and are becoming resistant to modern medicine. In short, the drugs don’t work.”

Davies told the meetings that antibiotics add on average 20 years to our lives and that for over 70 years they have enabled us to survive life-threatening infections and operations.

“The truth is, we have been abusing them as patients, as doctors, as travellers, and in our food,” she says in her book.

“No new class of antibacterial has been discovered for 26 years and the bugs are fighting back. In a few decades, we may start dying from the most commonplace of operations and ailments that can today be treated easily.”

At the two Chatham House meetings, which I attended, different aspects of the crisis and possible actions were discussed. In one of the sessions, I made a summary of the actions needed, including:

- More scientific research on how resistance is caused and spread, including the emergence of antibiotic-resistance genes as in the NDM-1 enzyme, whose speciality is to accelerate and spread resistance within and among bacteria.

- Surveys in every country to determine the prevalence of resistance to antibiotics in bacteria causing various diseases.

- Health guidelines and regulations in every country to guide doctors on when (and when not) to prescribe antibiotics, and on instructing patients how to properly use them.

- Regulations for drug companies on ethical marketing of their medicines, and on avoiding sales promotion to doctors or the public, that leads to over-use.

- Educating the public on using antibiotics properly, including when they should not be used.

- A ban on the use of antibiotics in animals and animal feed for the purpose of inducing growth of the animals (for commercial profit), and restrictions on the use in animals to the treatment of ailments.

- Promoting the development of new antibiotics and in ways (including financing) that do not make the new drugs the exclusive property of drug companies.

- Ensuring that ordinary and poor people in developing countries also have access to the new medicines, which would otherwise be very expensive, and thus only the very rich can afford to use them.

On the first point, a new and alarming development has been the discovery of a gene, known as NDM-1, that has the ability to alter bacteria and make them highly resistant to all known drugs.

In 2010, only two types of bacteria were found to be hosting the NDM-1 gene – E Coli and Klebsiella pneumonia.

It was found that the gene can easily jump from one type of bacteria to another. In May 2011, scientists from Cardiff University who had first reported on NDM-1′s existence found that the NDM-1 gene has been jumping among various species of bacteria at a “superfast speed” and that it “has a special quality to jump between species without much of a problem”.

While the gene was found only in E Coli when it was initially detected in 2006, now the scientists had found NDM-1 in more than 20 different species of bacteria. NDM-1 can move at an unprecedented speed, making more and more species of bacteria drug-resistant.

Also in May 2011, there was an outbreak of a deadly disease caused by a new strain of the E Coli bacteria that killed more than 20 people and affected another 2,000 in Germany.

Although the “normal” E Coli usually produces mild sickness in the stomach, the new strain of E Coli 0104 causes bloody diarrhoea and severe stomach cramps, and in more serious cases damages blood cells and the kidneys. A major problem is that the bacterium is resistant to antibiotics.

Tuberculosis is a disease making a comeback. In 2011, the WHO found there were half a million new cases of TB in the world that were multi-drug resistant (known as MDR-TB), meaning that they could not be treated using most medicines.

And about nine percent of multi-drug resistant TB cases also have resistance to two other classes of drugs and are known as extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB). Patients having XDR-TB cannot be treated successfully.

Research has also found that in Southeast Asia, strains of malaria are also becoming resistant to treatment.

In 2012, WHO Director General Margaret Chan warned that every antibiotic ever developed was at risk of becoming useless.

“A post-antibiotic era means in effect an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The World Health Assembly in May is an opportunity not to be missed, to finally launch a global action plan to address this crisis.
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Indigenous Leaders Targeted in Battle to Protect Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:45:22 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133548 Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies. Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a […]

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The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies.

Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber-tapper killed in 1988 for fighting to save the Amazon.“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry." -- Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in BC, Canada

The gathering also recognised leaders who are continuing that legacy today.

“His struggle, to which he gave his life, did not end with his death – on the contrary,” John Knox, the United Nations independent expert on human rights and the environment, said at the conference. “But it continues to claim the lives of others who fight for human rights and environmental protection.”

A 2012 report by Global Witness, a watchdog and activist group, estimates that over 711 people – activists, journalists and community members – had been killed defending their land-based rights over the previous decade.

Those gathered at this weekend’s conference discussed not only those have been killed, injured or jailed. They also shared some success stories.

“In 2002, there was an Argentinean oil company trying to drill in our area. Some of our people opposed this, and they were thrown in jail,” Franco Viteri, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, told IPS.

“However, we fought their imprisonment and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in our favour. Thus, our town was able to reclaim the land and keep the oil company out.”

Motivated by oil exploration-related devastation in the north, Ecuadorian communities in the south are continuing to fight to defend their territory. Viteri says some communities have now been successful in doing so for a quarter-century.

But he cautions that this fight is not over, particularly as the Ecuadorian government flip-flops on its own policy stance.

“The discourse of [President Rafael] Correa is very environmentalist, but in a practical way it is totally false,” he says. “The government is taking the oil because they receive money from China, which needs oil.”

China has significantly increased its focus on Latin America in recent years. According to a briefing paper by Amazon Watch, a nonprofit that works to protect the rainforest and rights of its indigenous inhabitants, “in 2013 China bought nearly 90% of Ecuador’s oil and provided an estimated 61% of its external financing.”

The little dance

Many others at the conference had likewise already seen negative impacts due to extractives exploration and development in their community.

“We have oil and gas, mines, we have forestry, we have agriculture, and we have hydroelectric dams,” Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia, Canada, told IPS.

“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry … The rates of cancer in our community are skyrocketing and we wonder why. But no one wants to look at this, because it might mean that what [extractives companies] are doing is affecting us and the animals.”

Logan described the work of protecting the community as a “little dance”: first they bring the government to court when they do not implement previous agreements, then they have to ensure that the government actually implements what the court orders.

Others discussed possible solutions to stop the destruction of ecosystems, and what is at stake for the communities living in them. The link between local land conflicts and global climate change consistently reappeared throughout many of the discussions.

“My community is made up of small-scale farmers and pastoralists who depend on cattle to live. For them, a cow is everything and to have the land to graze is everything,” said Godfrey Massay, an activist leader from the Land Rights Institute in Tanzania.

“These people are constantly threatened by large-scale investors who try to take away their land. But they are far more threatened by climate change, which is also affecting their livelihood.”

Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch described the case of the contentious Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which is currently under construction. Local communities oppose the dam because those upstream would be flooded and those downstream would suddenly find their river’s waters severely reduced.

“People are fighting battles on local levels, but they are also emblematic of global trends and they are also related to a lot of the climate things going on,” Miller told IPS. “[Hydroelectric] dams, for example, are sold as clean energy, but they generate a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.”

According to Miller, one value of large gatherings such as this weekend’s conference is allowing participants to see the similarities between experiences and struggles around the world, despite often different cultural, political and environmental contexts.

“In each case there are things that are very specific to them,” Miller said. “But I think we are also going to see some trends in terms of governments and other actors cracking down and trying to limit the political space, the ability for these folks to be effective in their work and to have a broader impact on policy.”

Yet activists like Viteri, from Ecuador, remain determined to protect their land.

“We care for the forest as a living thing because it gives us everything – life, shade, food, water, agriculture,” Viteri said. “It also makes us rich, even if it is a different kind of richness. This is why we fight.”

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U.N. Non-Committal over U.S. Visa Refusal to Iranian Envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 21:44:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133526 When New York City was picked as the location for the United Nations many moons ago, the politically-important decision was followed by the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which obligated Washington to facilitate – not hinder – the smooth functioning of the world body. But over the years, there have been clear violations of this agreement, […]

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) greets Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, prior to a ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Beside Mr. Rouhani is Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) greets Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, prior to a ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Beside Mr. Rouhani is Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

When New York City was picked as the location for the United Nations many moons ago, the politically-important decision was followed by the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which obligated Washington to facilitate – not hinder – the smooth functioning of the world body.

But over the years, there have been clear violations of this agreement, as evidenced in the refusal of a visa to Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat to address the U.N. General Assembly back in 1988, and the current mass cancellations of bank accounts of over 70 U.N. missions and their diplomatic staff in New York."Iran is a founding member of the U.N. - regardless of political inclination." -- former ASG Samir Sanbar

And on Monday the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to urge the administration of President Barack Obama to refuse a visa to Iran’s newly appointed U.N. ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, on the grounds he was involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

The ambassador-in-waiting says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is currently visiting Africa, has implicitly refused to weigh in on the dispute, judging by the sentiments expressed by his deputy spokesperson.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS it is essentially a bilateral dispute between the United States and Iran.

“Let’s see what develops and if we need to pronounce ourselves on that somewhere down the line, we’d look at what we need to say,” he said last week.

“I don’t think we are going to get ahead of the game and try to speculate what might happen based on current circumstances,” Haq added.

Asked whether the United States, as host country, can block any U.N. envoys taking office, he told reporters Tuesday he has no comments since it is being handled bilaterally.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general (ASG) who served in various capacities under five different secretaries-general, told IPS the Iranian case reflects confusion between bilateral politics and international diplomacy.

“While relations between two member states are subject mainly to dual reciprocal relations, membership of the international community would have wider inclusive guidelines including, for example, the 1947 U.N. Headquarters Agreement with the host country,” he added.

“With all due support for the Palestinian cause, a basic difference between Chairman Arafat’s visa-refusal is that while the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had the status of an Observer, Iran is a founding member of the U.N. – regardless of political inclination,” said Sanbar, a former head of the U.N.’s Department of Public Information.

Just after the Senate vote, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted as saying that Washington had raised “serious concerns” with Iran about the envoy’s appointment.

She added, “But we do take our obligations as host nation for the United Nations very seriously.”

Asked if any ambassadors accredited to the United Nations had been refused visas, Haq told reporters that was a fairly long historical question.

“I think the U.N. Library has a lot of the resources that you need in terms of something that goes back through the entire history of the United Nations,” he said.

It would be difficult to find at this stage, he said, adding, “What I can tell you is there have been times when there have been differing problems about credentials, which have been resolved in different ways, but each case is basically unique.”

In his address to the 1988 General Assembly session in Geneva, perhaps the only one of its kind, Arafat took a swipe at Washington when he prefaced his statement by saying “it never occurred to me that my second meeting with this honourable Assembly, since 1974, would take place in the hospitable city of Geneva”.

That visa refusal took place under the administration of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

Last month, an African ambassador who had his bank accounts arbitrarily cancelled told delegates it is time to seriously consider relocating the U.N. headquarters away from the United States because of the increasingly unfriendly environment to U.N. diplomats in New York City.

Sanbar told IPS when the General Assembly temporarily moved to Geneva to hear Arafat, the most senior U.S./U.N.Secretariat official at the time, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed, who was politically a Republican like President Reagan, took a position of principled courage by going to oversee the politically-charged meeting.

He also said it will be interesting to note the stand taken by the current Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former U.S. ambassador in Lebanon and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs who, as a U.N. official had already visited Tehran twice.

“By nature of its work, the U.N. is an Organisation of Peace. Any step towards reconciliation will be better than attempts at confrontation,” he said.

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Criminal Court a U.S.-Israeli “Red Line” for Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:52:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133495 When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war. But he held back one of […]

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Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war.

But he held back one of his key bargaining chips that Israel and the United States fear most: becoming a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) to punish war crimes and genocide – and where Israelis could be docked.

Asked whether it was a wise move, Darryl Li, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, told IPS, “I would call it a clever move, not necessarily a wise one.”

There’s no question avoidance of ICC was deliberate, that’s clearly a U.S.-Israeli “red line,” he said. So it makes sense as a way to prolong negotiations.

A Flurry of Treaty Signing by Abbas

The United Nations said last week it had received 13 of the 15 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties deposited with the world body.

They include: the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Also included were the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Meanwhile, accession letters for the following two conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of Aug. 12, 1949 and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch.

“But since the current framework for negotiations won’t yield just outcomes due to the Palestinians’ lack of leverage, I wouldn’t call it ‘wise’,” he declared.

And in a blog post for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) last week, Li underlined the political double standards: “Israel demands that Washington release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard while the Palestinians are blamed for voluntarily shouldering obligations to respect human rights and the laws of war.”

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights.”

He said the U.S. administration should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.

In a statement released Monday, HRW said Palestine’s adoption of human rights and laws-of-war treaties would not cause any change in Israel’s international legal obligations.

The U.S. government should support rather than oppose Palestinian actions to join international treaties that promote respect for human rights.

HRW also said that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last week testified before Congress that in response to the new Palestinian actions, the solemn commitment by the U.S. to stand with Israel “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena.”

She said Washington is absolutely adamant that Palestine should not join the ICC because it poses a profound threat to Israel and would be devastating to the peace process.

The rights group pointed out the ratification of The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions would strengthen the obligations of Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict.

Armed groups in Gaza, which operate outside the authority or effective control of the Palestinian leadership that signed the treaties, have committed war crimes by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centres, HRW said.

HRW also said Washington appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

Li said the choice of agreements signed indicated a desire to ruffle feathers but go no further.

Notably, Abbas did not sign the Rome Convention of the ICC, which would have exposed Israeli officials to the possibility, however remote, of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, Abbas also declined to set into motion membership applications to any of the U.N.’s various specialised agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Such a move would have triggered provisions under U.S. law that automatically cut U.S. funding to those bodies, as occurred when Palestine joined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2011, Li wrote in his blog post.

Meanwhile, the group known as The Elders, which include former world political leaders, said in a statement Monday that the Palestinian move is consistent with the U.N. non-member observer state status obtained by Palestine in November 2012.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and deputy chair of The Elders, said, “As a U.N. non-member observer state, Palestine is entitled to join international bodies. We welcome President Abbas’ decision to sign the Geneva Conventions and other important international human rights treaties.”

This move opens the way to more inclusive and accountable government in the West Bank and Gaza, she added.

It has the potential to strengthen respect for human rights and provide ordinary Palestinians with essential legal protections against discrimination or abuses by their own government, Brundtland noted.

“In global terms, it will also increase their ability to enjoy, in practice, the protection of their basic rights granted to them by international law,” she said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also a member of The Elders, said the decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to peace talks.

“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, as we approach the 29 April deadline set by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry.”

More than ever, he said, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

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Mercury Still Poisoning Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-still-loose-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:08:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133493 Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry. After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in […]

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Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry.

After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in the metal shot up in the region.

“Mexico’s exports have tripled in the last few years,” Ibrahima Sow, an environmental specialist in the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Climate Change and Chemicals Team, told Tierramérica. “And activities like the extraction of gold from recycled electronic goods are on the rise.”

The global treaty on mercury was adopted in October 2013. It includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing mines, control measures for air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

But of the 97 countries around the world that have signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury – including 18 from Latin America and the Caribbean – only one, the United States, has ratified it, and 49 more must do so in order for it to go into effect.

Minamata is the Japanese city that gave its name to the illness caused by severe mercury poisoning. The disease, a neurological syndrome, was first identified there in the 1950s.

It was eventually discovered that it was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from a chemical plant run by the Chisso Corporation. The local populace suffered from mercury poisoning after eating fish and shellfish containing a build-up of this neurotoxic, carcinogenic chemical.

The contamination occurred between 1932 and 1968. As of 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised; at least 100 of them died as a result of the disease.

In Latin America, mercury is used in artisanal gold mining and hospital equipment. And emissions are produced by the extraction, refining, transport and combustion of hydrocarbons; thermoelectric plants; and steelworks.

It is also smuggled in a number of countries.

“It is hard to quantify the illegal imports,” Colombia’s deputy minister of the environment and sustainable development, Pablo Vieira, told Tierramérica. “Everyone knows that artisanal and small-scale mining uses smuggled mercury, mainly coming in from Peru and Ecuador, although hard data is not available.”

According to Colombia’s authorities, the mercury is smuggled through the jungle in the country’s remote border zones.

Mercury Watch, an international alliance which keeps a global database, estimated Latin America’s mercury emissions at 526 tonnes in 2010, with Colombia in the lead, accounting for 180 tonnes.

In an assessment published in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that mercury emissions caused by human activities reached 1,960 tonnes in 2010, with artisanal mining as the main source (727 tonnes), followed by the burning of coal, principally from power generation and industrial use.

Artisanal gold mining is practised in at least a dozen Latin American countries, largely in the Andean region and the Amazon rainforest, but in Central America as well, UNEP reports.

Some 500,000 small-scale gold miners drive the legal or illegal demand for mercury.

Mexico and Peru have mercury deposits, but there is no formal primary mercury mining in the region. The extraction is secondary, because the mercury tends to be mixed with other minerals, or comes from the recycling of mercury already extracted and used for other purposes.

The biggest producers are Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, while the main consumers and legal importers are Peru, Colombia and Panama.

In 2012 Mexico, Argentina and Colombia headed the regional list of exporters of mercury and products containing the metal, according to Mercury Watch.

Mercury is naturally present in certain rocks, and can be found in the air, soil and water as a result of industrial emissions.

Bacteria and other microorganisms convert mercury to methylmercury, which can accumulate in different animal species, especially fish.

Mining industry laws in Bolivia, Costa Rica and Honduras ban the use of mercury.

And last year Colombia passed a law that would phase out mercury in mining over the next five years and in industry over the next 10 years.

Since November 2013, the Peruvian Congress has also been debating a draft law to eliminate mercury in mining and replace it in industrial activities.

According to UNEP, there were a total of 11 chlor-alkali plants operating with mercury technology in seven countries in the region in 2012. But several of the factories plan to adopt mercury-free technologies by 2020.

“The mercury content in products, the replacement of mercury, and the temporary storage and final disposal of mercury waste are significant aspects of mercury management,” Raquel Lejtreger, undersecretary in Uruguay’s ministry of housing, territorial planning and environment, told Tierramérica.

Uruguay imports products that contain mercury. But a mercury cell chlor-alkali plant operating in the South American country plans to convert to mercury-free technology, although financing to do so is needed.

GEF has provided funds to Uruguay and other countries in the region for the negotiation of the global treaty on mercury and for the adoption of alternative, mercury-free technologies. But there is still a long way to go.

This story was originally published Apr. 5 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Hard-Hit CDM Carbon Market Seeks New Buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 21:21:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133457 Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2. The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for […]

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WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2.

The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for verifying carbon emissions reduction projects in developing countries."At some point the developed countries will wake up and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions." -- Dr. Hugh Sealy

According to Dr. Hugh Sealy, chairman of the Executive Board of the CDM, it has generated 396 billion dollars in financial flows from developed to developing countries.

“We are fairly proud of that. Very few development banks can say they have had that kind of investment,” Dr. Sealy told IPS.

The CDM, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), validates and subsequently certifies the effectiveness of projects in reducing carbon emissions.

Such certification can then be used as a basis for obtaining Carbon Emission Reduction (CER) credits that are sold to developed countries seeking to meet emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

The big problem for local entrepreneurs is that the market for CER credits has collapsed in recent years.

In the Caribbean, many of the emissions reductions projects tend to be in the area of windfarming, said Dr. Sealy, since wind technology is proven and banks understand the risks.

The Caribbean’s North-East trade winds make it a very viable one as well. Guyana also has a bagasse project for generating steam and electricity.

In the Caribbean, there are 18 CDM projects, but only one, the Wigton Windfarm project in Jamaica, has made an application for CER certification. Dr. Sealy said that Wigton, which was registered as a CDM project in 2006, reduced carbon emissions by more than 52,000 tonnes per year in its first phase, and then by 40,000 tonnes per year in its second phase.

The challenge facing the Wigton project, as with all CDM projects currently, is the steep decline in the value of CER credits over the past couple of years. Four years ago, Dr. Sealy said, the credits were worth about 104 each dollars. Now they are worth about 50 cents.

He said the actual value the Jamaican company obtains for its CERs “will depend on the contract between it and the buyer.”

Dr. Sealy said the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties agreed at a recent meeting to the sale of CERs to entities that do not have obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, in an effort to widen the market for CERs. Under this new arrangement, “anybody, whether private or government, if they are going to voluntarily cancel the CER credits” can buy them as their contribution to the fight against climate change, he said.

The Brazilian government bought 40,000 CER credits to “green” the Rio+ 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and has done the same for the upcoming World Cup Football championship in that country.

Microsoft has done something similar under a different UNFCCC scheme for reducing emissions, known as REDD+, by buying an unspecified number of carbon credits from Madagascar generated by a rainforest conservation project in that country, according to a report by environmental news website Mongabay.com.

According to the report, attributed to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Microsoft bought the credits as part of its carbon neutrality programme.

Dr. Sealy attributes the steep decline in CER values to the downturn in the developed countries’ economies since 2008 that led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and thus to a decline in the need for carbon offsets. At the same time, the target set by developed countries for carbon emissions reductions was too low in the first place, he said.

“The EU is saying it will aim for 20-30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. Science is saying we must peak emissions by 2020” in order to reach the target of less than two degrees global warming, Dr. Sealy said.

“At some point the developed countries will wake up to that and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

In the meantime, however, he said, the carbon reduction projects in the region are still bringing the Caribbean many benefits. He pointed out that the increase in renewable energy projects means the energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters.

Landfill gas mitigation projects in the region are bringing health and environmental benefits, and projects such as one in Haiti for improved cooking stoves are resulting in less soot and less smoke that saves lives.

The UNFCCC’s Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) in Grenada is working to create awareness in the region of current opportunities available to the region through CDM, said Karla Solis-Garcia, the RCC’s team leader.

So far, she told IPS, the RCC has provided support “to at least 60 CDM stakeholders with renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass), energy efficiency (improved cooking stoves, and efficient buildings) and landfill gas technology projects.

The RCC in Grenada is active in 16 Caribbean countries.

Solis-Garcia said the solid waste management sector and electricity sector were particular focuses of the RCC.

The solid waste sector was of particular interest since “Caribbean states share common challenges on how to deal with waste, considering especially the geographical limitations,” she said. “The waste challenge also represents an opportunity for investors, as emission reductions from landfill gas – methane gas – are significant.”

Regarding electricity, she said, the key issues are “the significant dependency on fossil fuels to generate electricity, the increase of electricity demand, and the potential for renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and wave/tidal.”

Dr. Sealy said that the region was in a good place with regard to deriving benefit from CDM projects, since it is accepted that failure to deal with climate change means that many islands will cease to exist.

For that reason, he said, countries with obligations under the Kyoto protocol “are quite willing to assist the small islands in any reasonable way they can.” Caribbean islands can, therefore, negotiate for a good price on CER credits, he said, especially if these are from renewable energy projects.

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Getting into CAR, When so Many Want to Get Out http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-many-want-get http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:05:02 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133429 In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers. “For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been […]

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Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers.

“For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been very volatile and violent…Last year there were nine humanitarian workers who lost their lives,” Judith Léveillée, deputy representative for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in the CAR, told IPS from Bangui.“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts.” -- Benoit Matsha-Carpentier of IFRC

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and this is my seventh mission,” she said.

The conflict in the CAR began in 2012 when Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks against the government. During the following two years, the conflict has grown along sectarian lines, with Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias taking up arms against Séléka groups. While Muslim civilians represent a majority of the targeted population, Christians have also been threatened.

“There are situations where we physically cannot access the people we need to reach because the forces that are fighting are making it hard for us to get to them,” Steve Taravella, spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), told IPS.

“Roads are blocked, convoys are redirected, food supplies are looted and people are being otherwise attacked,” he said.

In recent months, due to both the increase of international forces and the mass flight of the Muslim population, the U.N. has reported a calming of hostilities in the capital.

Nevertheless, the extreme and often random violence in the CAR poses a complex network of security challenges for aid workers trying to reach the approximately 2.2 million people in need to humanitarian assistance.

“At one point, the only road that goes from Cameroon to Bangui, the one we use as a corridor for food, was completely closed because the drivers from Cameroon, who were mainly Muslim, didn’t want to cross the border. [For weeks] they were too scared,” Fabienne Pompey, the regional communications officer for the WFP based in the CAR, told IPS.

“Now the road is open to transport the food from the border, but we use a military escort from [the African Union peacekeeping mission] MISCA.”

“Insecurity and banditry is on the rise, and this is of course a very big problem for humanitarian organisations…Its difficult to drive on the roads, and its complicated to have vehicles in your own compound because there is a risk that they will be stolen,” Marie-Servane Desjonqueres, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in central and south Africa, told IPS.

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

International presence

The creation of a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid in the CAR and an increase of international troops were both key elements of U.N. Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon’s six-point recommendation of Feb. 20.

Nevertheless, security remains an issue and aid workers continue to be targeted and attacked by armed groups, the U.N. reported Thursday.

Currently, the only international military forces in the CAR are roughly 2,000 French troops, under the Sangaris mission, and approximately 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, under the MISCA mission.

Following the UNSG’s request, the European Union pledged nearly 1,000 to lend further support, but this force has yet to materialise.

For UNICEF and the WFP, the use of armed escorts allows for access into areas of the country with serious security concerns.

“We do regularly act with [escorts from] the Sangaris or MISCA operations…but that is in the case of a last resort,” explained Léveillée. “It’s very important that we keep our neutrality. We don’t necessarily want to be associated with armed escorts.”

On Mar. 3, the UNSG proposed a 12,000-person U.N. peacekeeping mission in the CAR. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), which must approve all peacekeeping missions before their implementation, is expected to vote on the resolution during the second week of April, with a perspective implementation in September, current UNSC president and Nigerian ambassador, Joy Ogwu, told reporters Wednesday.

Negotiating access

While some organisations, like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) do not use armed escorts, negotiating with the parties to the conflict is a universally used tactic to gain access to people who would be otherwise inaccessible.

“We do not have armed personnel for security, we rely on the respect of the parties to the conflict,” Sylvain Groulx, head of the MSF mission based in Bangui, told IPS. “A lot of our operation includes outreach and dialogue.”

“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts,” Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, spokesperson for the IFRC, told IPS. “This is actually one of our principles.”

“There are ongoing discussions, whether at high level with the government or at the volunteer level…with whoever is in front of them, to make sure [aid workers] have safe access to those who are in need.”

Beyond the larger international organisation, the IFRC has a network of national, country-specific societies, which help facilitate support on a more local level. This IFRC national society in the CAR has had a major impact in helping both the IFRC and other humanitarian organisations that may be experiencing restrictions get aid to the Central African population.

“If it’s too dangerous to have us on the ground, then we [distribute] using a local partner,” Desjonqueres explained. “Our main partner in CAR is the Central African Republic Red Cross. They have a very strong network all over the country, a lot of volunteers all over the place.”

Changing the perspective

Broadening respect for humanitarian access is an important factor in the ability for aid workers to support the suffering population in the CAR.

“One of our mandates is to disseminate the respect for international humanitarian law,” Desjonqueres continued. “For many years, we have been conducting sessions…to talk about those basic rules of humanity that need to be respected during times of war, and that includes safe passage for humanitarian workers.

“We are distributing food to the people in need, our criteria is people in need,” stressed Pompey. “It is very important to repeat this every time so that the parties involved in the conflict let us go.”

For the crisis in the CAR, which has killed thousands and displaced more than 600,000 people, getting aid to those in need is an immediate objective, but it is not a long-term solution.

“The best option would be a political settlement [to the conflict],” Pompey told IPS, “something inside the country to help make peace.”

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U.N. Aims at Treaty to Protect Marine Biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-aims-treaty-protect-marine-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aims-treaty-protect-marine-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-aims-treaty-protect-marine-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 21:03:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133406 At a political level, when the United Nations speaks of a “high seas alliance”, it is probably a coalition of countries battling modern piracy in the Indian Ocean. But at the environmental level, the High Seas Alliance (HSA) is a partnership of more than 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), plus the International Union for the Conservation […]

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Yellow fish swarm Australia's Ningaloo reef. Around 80 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. Credit: Angelo DeSantis/cc by 2.0

Yellow fish swarm Australia's Ningaloo reef. Around 80 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted. Credit: Angelo DeSantis/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

At a political level, when the United Nations speaks of a “high seas alliance”, it is probably a coalition of countries battling modern piracy in the Indian Ocean.

But at the environmental level, the High Seas Alliance (HSA) is a partnership of more than 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), fighting for the preservation of marine biodiversity.

As a U.N. working group discusses a proposed “international mechanism” for the protection of oceans, the HSA says high seas and the international seabed area, which make up about 45 percent of the surface of the planet, “are brimming with biodiveristy and vital resources.”

But they are under increasing pressure from threats such as overfishing, habitat destruction and the impacts of climate change.

The HSA has expressed its strong support for negotiations to develop a new agreement to establish a legal regime to safeguard biodiversity in the high seas.

Fisheries at the Tipping Point

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), cited by Greenpeace International, around 80 percent of the world's fisheries are fully exploited, over exploited or significantly depleted.

Some species have already been fished to commercial extinction; many more are on the verge.

And according to the World Bank, the lost economic benefits due to overfishing are estimated to be in the order of 50 billion dollars annually.

The value of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) on the other hand is currently estimated to amount to 10-23.5 billion dollars per year.

The deep ocean seafloor has also become the new frontier for major corporations with mining technology, promising lucrative returns, but not counting the impacts of such a destructive activity on other sectors, ecosystem services and coastal communities.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace says, the impacts of climate change are causing dead zones in the ocean, increasing temperatures and causing acidification.

Any such treaty or convention will be a new implementing agreement under the 1994 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Working Group, which is expected to conclude its four-day meeting Friday, says it is at a critical juncture of its work, and discussions are expected to continue into the future.

“The next three meetings present a clear opportunity to try and overcome remaining differences and to crystallise the areas of convergence into concrete action,” U.N. Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares said in his opening remarks Monday.

Sofia Tsenikli, senior advisor on Oceans Policy at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “Our oceans are in peril and in need of urgent protection.”

Faced with multiple threats, including climate change, ocean acidification and overfishing, the oceans can only provide livelihoods in the future if governments establish a global network of ocean sanctuaries today, she added.

“It’s simply scandalous that still less than one percent of the high seas is protected,” Tsenikli said.

She said governments must listen to the call by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and act urgently to protect marine life in the oceans by setting up a U.N. high seas biodiversity agreement.

On Monday, Ban said, “If we are to fully benefit from the oceans, we must reverse the degradation of the marine environment due to pollution, overexploitation and acidification.”

He urged all nations to work towards that end, including by joining and implementing the existing UNCLOS.

As of last year, 165 of the 193 member states have joined UNCLOS.

Friedrich Wulf, international biodiversity campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe, told IPS, “I can say the open sea is an area of dispute and is a major obstacle for designating the 40 percent protected areas target” – called for by the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – “and that this area is not feasible under this convention.”

“The issue has now been moved to the rather old UNCLOS but was quite heavily debated and I am not sure UNCLOS covers it well,” he said.

“So I think a new effort to have a U.N. regulation is very helpful. I don’t think it will be possible to reach Aichi target 6 on marine biodiversity without it, as there is a legislative gap in the open sea,” he added.

Aichi targets were adopted at a conference in Aichi, Japan, back in 2010.

Target 6 reads: By 2020, all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

At the June 2012 Rio+20 conference on the environment in Brazil, member states made a commitment to address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction on an urgent basis.

“Healthy, productive and resilient oceans, rich in marine biodiversity, have a significant role to play in sustainable development as they contribute to the health, food security and livelihoods of millions of people around the world,” the meeting concluded.

The Working Group says it will present its recommendations on the scope, parametres and feasibility of the instrument to the General Assembly to enable it to make a decision before the end of its 69th session, in September 2015.

The meetings are being co-chaired by the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, Ambassador Palitha T. B. Kohona, and the Legal Adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Liesbeth Lijnzaad.

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Donors Repeatedly Postpone Major Aid Effectiveness Report http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/donors-repeatedly-postpone-major-aid-effectiveness-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donors-repeatedly-postpone-major-aid-effectiveness-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/donors-repeatedly-postpone-major-aid-effectiveness-report/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 22:53:26 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133360 Major foreign assistance donors have once again delayed the release of a report meant to measure transparency, accountability and cooperation of aid effectiveness. The repeated delay of the voluntary U.N.-guided report, which was originally slated for release in January but was bumped for at least a second time last week, has prompted some aid groups […]

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Demanding a right to health at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan in 2011. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Demanding a right to health at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan in 2011. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

Major foreign assistance donors have once again delayed the release of a report meant to measure transparency, accountability and cooperation of aid effectiveness.

The repeated delay of the voluntary U.N.-guided report, which was originally slated for release in January but was bumped for at least a second time last week, has prompted some aid groups to question donor countries’ commitment to aid transparency. The report would be the first of its kind."If your donors aren’t going to disclose where they’re going to build, how does a farmer know to grow a crop for export or for domestic consumption?” -- Gregory Adams

“If you don’t let state business leaders know where you’re going to build a new road then business owners can’t plan their investment,” Gregory Adams, the director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America, an anti-poverty group, told IPS.

“We see this play out in the development sphere. If your donors aren’t going to disclose where they’re going to build, how does a farmer know to grow a crop for export or for domestic consumption?”

The push for this novel report emerged in 2011, when government officials, industry representatives and civil society members met in Busan, South Korea, at a conference hosted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of wealthy countries.

The conference spurred donor governments, along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to the create a new body, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC), which emphasises the “ownership” of aid recipients over development strategies alongside strengthened transparency and accountability for aid programming.

The global monitoring framework on aid effectiveness would assess and track progress on the agreements made in Busan, and was slated for release in early 2014, but it has been postponed several times.

The Busan principles call for the ownership of development projects by developing countries themselves, a results-oriented approach, inclusive partnerships with aid beneficiaries, and mutual accountability and transparency. They emphasise collaboration and partnerships with aid beneficiaries to give them a greater input into the design of development strategies while allowing them to ensure that aid money is used on actual, effective development projects.

“It’s a fundamental question of who drives development. At Oxfam, we believe that … aid doesn’t cause development, people cause development,” Adams said.

“Aid no more cures poverty than a shovel digs a ditch or a hammer builds a house. You actually need people who drive that, and if you deny people who drive your development basic information about what you’re doing, you’re not only missing opportunities but also frustrating the people you’re trying to help lead their own development.”

The report was originally slated for release before an upcoming GPEDC meeting on Apr. 15 in Mexico City, so that donors could assess progress made on the Busan agreement while developing new strategies for their implementation.

While it is unclear why the report’s public release has been repeatedly delayed, some analysts see a political motive. It appears the report’s findings will highlight the lack of progress made in implementing the Busan reforms.

Little progress

Oxfam and other watchdog groups have raised concerns regarding the report’s delay and, more generally, the implementation of the Busan principles from both developed and developing countries.

“The early findings of the GDEPC monitoring evidence show that overall little progress has been made, though they are being sold as ‘glass half full’,” Oxfam America wrote last week in a blog post. “For a number of indicators, it is too early to tell.”

“But of particular concern are the indicators that measure aspects of country ownership … Unlike previous reporting on aid effectiveness, data on how individual governments have performed will not be made available in the full monitoring report, with the exception of the transparency indicator.”

Hannah Ryder, a team leader at the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), also notes that while the report measures 10 indicators, the individual success of each country is only ranked on one indicator – transparency. She says this is purely for political reasons, suggesting that some donors are unwilling to publicly disclose their performance on most indicators.

“UNDP and OECD are organisations that are not independent of the countries and organisations submitting the data,” Ryder wrote last week in a DFID blog entry. “And this is why ranking is too political for them.”

Ryder continued: “The key reason why transparency is able to be ranked in the report is that there is already an independently published report on transparency that has become well-known and well-respected … But for the other nine indicators and issues raised in [the] forthcoming report, no such credible, independent rankings exist yet.”

She refers to the Aid Transparency Index, published by the global watchdog group Publish What You Fund. The index also relies on a reporting framework that stems from the commitments donors made during the Busan conference.

While Oxfam’s Adams said that transparency and aid disclosure is a relatively new concept for development organisations, he stressed its importance.

“When that data is out there, it permits people to do two things,” he said. “One, they can think in a more sophisticated way about how they themselves can invest to best take advantage of these development investments. And secondly, it allows them to demand accountability for what’s being promised.”

Adams pointed to Malawi, where donor transparency in recent years has yielded tangible medical benefits for local communities.

“Additional information on where pharmaceuticals were being distributed allowed communities to better understand where those pharmaceuticals were stocked,” he said. “So it meant service delivery was able to improve.”

The increased emphasis on funding transparency and an inclusive, results-driven approach to aid comes at a time when all donor countries, including the United States, are undergoing tightened fiscal constraints.

“I think [monitoring and evaluation] has been bubbling around for a while now, but over the last two years it’s really coalesced into this specific focus as we’ve seen downward pressures on the budget,” Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst at the Centre for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“I think it can be directly tied to budget austerity and the shift away from new programming. The emphasis has shifted to how we are using our resources and how we are making the most of what we actually have.”

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OP-ED: Europe’s Commitment to Africa’s Children is Still Needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:29:26 +0000 Philippe Cori http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133342 
Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the EU and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children.

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UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Philippe Cori
BRUSSELS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

As African and European leaders meet in Brussels this week under the theme of “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace”, it is clear Africa’s greatest natural resource, its children, must be centre stage. 

Between 2010 and 2025, the child population of sub-Saharan Africa will rise by 130 million, making it the youngest continent in the world. By 2050, one in every three births and almost one in every three children under 18 will be in Africa.

Yet for this youth dividend to be the driver of Africa’s prosperity, it is critical that all of the continent’s children have the right foundations to be able to participate as well as benefit.

This means equitable access to basic quality social services in health and education, especially early childhood care as well as access to safe water, sanitation, good nutrition and protection from abuse, violence and exploitation.

A lot of the focus is now on how business can be a critical driver in the continent’s transformation.  And there is no doubt that new economic investment is yielding results, stimulating growth and new opportunities.

But it is also clear for Africa to ultimately benefit from these economic investments, it still needs a development focused partnership that builds the foundation of a strong, fair and equitable society for its youngest citizens.

In many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Along with the new investments in infrastructure, the rapid changes in access to mobile technology and an increase in economic growth, the good news is more children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

As Europe’s own experience demonstrates, investments in early childhood care, good nutrition, a quality public health system and safety nets to protect the most vulnerable,  are the foundations that lead to stable, inclusive and prosperous societies.

Over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the European Union and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children. The success can be measured in concrete results, including a drop in child mortality by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012 and an increase in primary school enrolment among others.

We also know there is much more to be done. At least one in three children under five in Africa are stunted and over half of the world’s out-of-school children live in Africa (33 million).

Preventable disease like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea still account for 40 percent of all under five deaths. Hundreds of millions remain without access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Poverty pushes families to migrate, affecting children directly: whether they are left behind, migrating with parents or alone, they are increasingly exposed to vulnerabilities, including child trafficking — its darkest facet.

And we also know that economic growth, trade and business alone cannot translate Africa’s youth dividend into the dynamic asset it could and should be. Investments in human security, strong public institutions and equitable access to basic social services will remain vital to stability and our shared global prosperity.

Europe’s commitment to Africa’s children, especially the poorest, is still needed. Not just because it makes good business sense as it can help make sure there is a financial return on economic investments.

Not just because it will lead to less chances of conflict, insecurity and displacement. Not just because it makes sense for our shared humanity and our shared global future. But ultimately because Europe is and can make a difference by giving every Africa child the opportunity to reach their potential, to determine their own future and write their own story.

Philippe Cori is the director of UNICEF’s EU Partnership Office in Brussels which is managing UNICEF’s relations and partnership with the European Institutions with a view to influence and contribute to EU policies particularly in key areas such as nutrition, health, education, protection, gender, disability, poverty eradication and humanitarian assistance. This partnership aims at mobilising and leveraging quality resources for the realisation of children’s rights everywhere and especially the most disadvantaged.

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IPCC Climate Report Warns of “Growing Adaptation Deficit” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ipcc-climate-report-warns-growing-adaptation-deficit/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 22:53:56 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133328 The latest update of the world’s scientific consensus on climate change finds not only that impacts are already being felt on every continent, but also that adaptation investments are dangerously lagging. These investments constitute both a key demand by developing countries and a key pledge by the West. Nonetheless, the latest report by the Intergovernmental […]

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Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

The latest update of the world’s scientific consensus on climate change finds not only that impacts are already being felt on every continent, but also that adaptation investments are dangerously lagging.

These investments constitute both a key demand by developing countries and a key pledge by the West. Nonetheless, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on Monday in Japan, warns that these shortfalls are growing.

“Global adaptation cost estimates are substantially greater than current adaptation funding and investment, particularly in developing countries, suggesting a funding gap and a growing adaptation deficit,” the report states."We’re taking far too long to discuss these issues, and meanwhile a lot of poor people are becoming more and more vulnerable.” -- Pramod Aggarwal

“Comparison of the global cost estimates with the current level of adaptation funding shows the projected global needs to be orders of magnitude greater than current investment levels particularly in developing countries.”

Further, the report underscores that adaptation shortfalls, as with the broader impacts of climate change, would most significantly affect communities that are discriminated against, particularly in developing economies.

“The report makes very clear what a large adaptation deficit there is while also recognising that, though there’s been a lot of progress on vulnerability, people who are marginalised tend to be the most vulnerable,” Heather McGray, director of vulnerability and adaptation at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS.

“This plays out in the debate between developing and developed countries, covering the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and fisherfolk, small farmers dependent on climate-sensitive environments, as well as children and the elderly, those with constrained mobility or higher health risks. More thorough and nuanced treatment of these issues is certainly a step forward.”

Medium agreement

The IPCC, which is overseen by the United Nations, has been publishing climate-related assessments since the early 1990s. The new report is the work of nearly 2,500 authors and reviewers, and constitutes part of the IPCC’s fifth such assessment.

The report is actually made of three sections, with the one released Monday, the second, focusing on impacts and adaptation. It differs from previous iterations in its far robust understanding of the current state of climate change, describing its ramifications as widespread and consequential.

Yet it also warns the world is “ill-prepared” for these changes, and places far more focus than in the past on adaptation. In part, this is because global mitigation efforts have thus far been relatively ineffectual, thus requiring planning for significant impact at least in the near term.

Risk evaluation is a first step towards a climate change adaptation plan. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Risk evaluation is a first step towards a climate change adaptation plan. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“The global community seems to be spending a lot of time on issues around mitigation issues, whereas many developing countries need significant investment in adaptation. We’re taking far too long to discuss these issues, and meanwhile a lot of poor people are becoming more and more vulnerable,” Pramod Aggarwal, an IPCC author and reviewer, told IPS.

“Governments [in developing countries] have been sensitised on this for some time, and where possible most are already taking action. But it’s been clear for some time that significant international support is also needed.”

For the moment, however, the IPCC report suggests little agreement on that assistance.

IPCC reports are consensus documents, and hence require meticulousness over both scientific evidence and concurrence around that evidence. For this reason, important points in the report include reference to a corresponding strength of agreement.

Yet such concord appears to have broken down over the amount of funding required for comprehensive global adaptation initiatives. The quoted material at the beginning of this story, on the adaptation-related “funding gap”, comes with the onerous warnings “limited evidence” and “medium agreement”.

Putting actual dollar figures on the issue of adaptation appears to have been particularly contentious. “The most recent global adaptation cost estimates suggest a range from $70 billion to $100 billion per year globally by 2050,” the report notes, “but there is little confidence in these numbers.”

Source: CCFAS

Source: CCFAS

Further, even these estimates and their caveats were removed completely from the widely read summary for global policymakers. This is almost certain to strengthen a fight at the next global climate summit, in September.

In 2009, leaders of developed countries pledged to make available 100 billion dollars a year for adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries by 2020. The United Nations flagship programme to facilitate this pledge, the Green Climate Fund, recently opened its new headquarters in South Korea.

Yet by all accounts, the initiative remains painfully slow in getting off the ground, and some analysts worry that momentum could soon wane. A series of procedural hurdles remains in coming months, including agreement on the particularly contentious role of private versus public funding.

Early warning

The new report suggests that agriculture and food security-related issues will likely see some of the most immediate and monumental impacts of a changing climate. Technical interventions thus hold out the opportunity to help the farmers that constitute the backbone of rural societies across the globe, as well as the societies that depend on them for food production.

“We really need to speed up our adaptation at the local scale, particularly with increased investments in climate monitoring,” Aggarwal, the agriculture expert who reviewed the IPCC report’s chapter on food security, told IPS.

“The IPCC emphasises that climate extremes will be the order of the day, so early-warning systems are critical so that entire farming communities can know what to expect and take action. That, however, requires a lot of infrastructure and capital investment.”

Aggarwal says that while certain governments have begun to start taking significant action on issues of adaptation, poorer countries have not been able to do so. (He contributed to a related analysis that will be released on Thursday by CGIAR, a global agriculture consortium.)

Yet echoing the debate over the type of funding that will fuel the Green Climate Fund, some groups are increasingly worried about the approach that will be adopted in reacting to the needs of agriculture in a changing climate.

The IPCC report “is a wake up call for governments to invest in agricultural systems that are effective and sustainable far into the future,” Emilie Johann, a policy officer with CIDSE, a global Catholic anti-poverty network, said Monday.

“So far, solutions pushed at the international level … will do more to increase company profits than provide lasting and achievable solutions for the small-scale farmers and their communities who produce the vast majority of the world’s food.”

The third part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report is to be released next month, focusing on pollution. A final synthesis of each of these three sections will be released in October.

The post IPCC Climate Report Warns of “Growing Adaptation Deficit” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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