Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 02 Oct 2014 15:22:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: From Elephants to Blue Whales, Sri Lanka Leads the Way on Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-from-elephants-to-blue-whales-sri-lanka-leads-the-way-on-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-elephants-to-blue-whales-sri-lanka-leads-the-way-on-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-from-elephants-to-blue-whales-sri-lanka-leads-the-way-on-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 15:22:03 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136968 By Dr. Palitha Kohona
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 2014 (IPS)

Sri Lanka will host the World Biodiversity Congress (WBC) Nov. 24-27. Given its long and active history of preserving biodiversity, it would be most appropriate for Sri Lanka to be the next host of this global event, which also marks the U.N.’s Decade on Biodiversity.

The world is confronting massive threats to its biological resources due to climate change, pollution, agricultural chemical usage and pest control, land degradation, deforestation, unbridled development, indiscriminate harvesting of wild stocks, uncontrolled slaughter, accumulating waste, in particular, slow degrading waste, etc.Protecting its biodiversity at a national level has been a key challenge and a series of measures have been taken to protect elephants, a prized national asset.

Sri Lanka, while sharing many of the problems of other countries, remains strongly committed to the environment. It is no surprise that it is a party to many of the major international agreements that address environmental issues, especially biodiversity.

Sri Lanka ratified the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1994. In 1979, it became a party to the 1973 Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (commonly known as the Bonn Convention) and the 1973 Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The decision adopted by CITES in 1989, in Lausanne, banning the trade in ivory is strictly adhered to by Sri Lanka.

These international agreements have been implemented in Sri Lanka through its own domestic efforts to protect its extensive biodiversity, which is considered to be a unique national asset. Sri Lanka boasts of many endemic species and diverse ecosystems in both its terrestrial and marine environments.

Sri Lanka’s uniquely diverse range of ecosystems range from the wet and semi-dry highlands to the low-lying coast. There are grasslands, wetlands, many types of forests, including wet-zone, dry-zone and mangrove forests, lagoons, and coral reefs.

Furthermore, Sri Lanka, a country of only 65,000 square kilometres, is home to a staggering number of species of animals – some of which are endemic.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

There are 91 known species of mammals, 171 species of reptiles and over 106 species of amphibians, 90 of which are endemic. Sri Lanka may be the only country in which you can see both the Earth’s largest land mammal (the elephant, close to 6,000 remain in the wild according to the last count) as well as its largest marine mammal (blue and humpback whales) within a few hours of each other.

From the Sri Lankan leopard to the delicate Ceylon Rose butterfly, Sri Lanka possesses a larger percentage of endemic species than almost any other country of similar or larger land mass and is listed as a global biodiversity hotspot by the IUCN.

Protecting its biodiversity at a national level has been a key challenge and a series of measures have been taken to protect elephants, a prized national asset, including through providing two refuges for orphaned calves and facilitating captive breeding.

The country boasts a long history of training elephants for religious, commercial and domestic purposes. Elephants play a key role in Peraheras (Buddhist religious processions) where they carry the sacred relics of the Buddha with great dignity.

The annual Kandy Perahera could feature over one hundred caparisoned elephants regally parading through the streets of the ancient city of Kandy by torchlight.

The most serious threat to Sri Lankan elephants is human. There are approximately 200 human-caused elephant deaths annually, mostly through gunshots fired by rural farmers acting in self-defence or in retaliation.

The Sri Lankan government has, over the years, enacted legislation that has criminalised the killing of elephants.

The government has also worked closely with conservationists and rural farmers to encourage crops that are not attractive to elephants but are marketable. Ecotourism is fast catching on and will be a major component of the tourism industry.

Sri Lanka is committed to the implementation of the action plans to conserve biological diversity. A National Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan (BCAP), prepared in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including the private sector, the IUCN and NGOs, has been adopted.

The BCAP identifies the key challenges facing Sri Lanka which include, deforestation in the wet zones, development of wetlands, overfishing, the destruction of mangroves and coral reefs, the over use of agricultural chemicals and the impact of agriculture on plant diversity.

The BCAP also includes multiple recommendations for action, some of which are quite specific.

For example, on plant diversity, the BCAP has recommended that the government, in partnership with the Bandaranaike Memorial Ayurvedic Research Institute, establish five medicinal plant reserves.

The national medicine system (ayurveda) relies extensively on native plant species. A government policy paper, Haritha Lanka (Green Lanka), seeks to accelerate the greening of Sri Lanka, including by increasing the forest cover to embrace 35 percent of the country.

Sri Lanka has also enacted detailed national legislation to protect its fauna and flora. Central to these efforts are the 2009 amendments to the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) and the 1937 Forest Ordinance (FO).

The FFPO established six categories of wildlife reserves in which wildlife is protected by curtailing human activities. These protected areas, reflected in the policy paper, Green Lanka, constitute around 25 percent of the total land mass of Sri Lanka. The government has proposed to enlarge this area to 35 percent of the national land mass.

The FFPO also includes protection for endangered species and requires a permit for the export of any wild animal, plant or their parts from the country.

The FO created a system of reserve forests. These forests, usually in biologically diverse zones, are protected from felling, trespassing by cattle and other similarly disruptive activities.

Sri Lanka has also enacted legislation to address other issues, including the conservation of coastal areas, the regulation of fisheries, the establishment of national heritage wilderness sites (the Sinharaja Forest, a UNESCO listed preserve, is a unique tropical rain forest), and control over invasive species of plants and animals. A major turtle reserve provides protection to a beach where turtles have come to lay eggs for centuries.

Sri Lanka has actively participated in the work of the U.N. Open Working Group developing the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Included among the 17 goals identified is a goal on biodiversity, which the country supported throughout the negotiations.

It also supported the goal on the oceans, which contains targets aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of ocean, sea and other marine resources. Sri Lanka is the co-chair of the UN Ad Hoc Working Group on Marine Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction.

Incidentally, the WBC in Colombo, November 2014, will also coincide with the whale watching season in Sri Lanka.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-from-elephants-to-blue-whales-sri-lanka-leads-the-way-on-biodiversity/feed/ 0
OPINION: On Reproductive Rights, Progress with Concernshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:29:45 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136954 Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

For most of human history, reproductive rights essentially meant men and women accepting the number, timing and spacing of their children, as well as possible childlessness. All this changed radically in the second half of the 20th century with the introduction of new medical technologies aimed at both preventing and assisting human reproduction.

Those technologies ushered in historic changes in reproductive rights and behaviour that continue to reverberate around the world, giving rise to increasingly complex theological, ethical and legal concerns that need to be addressed.New reproductive technologies have given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed.

Up until around the middle of the past century, reproductive rights were limited. The available birth control methods were rhythm, coitus interruptus (withdrawal), condoms and for some, the diaphragm.

Those methods in too many instances were unreliable and not considered user friendly. Also, while induced abortion has been practiced for ages, it was a drastic, dangerous and largely unlawful medical procedure.

In 1960, the oral contraceptive pill was introduced, dramatically transforming women’s reproductive rights and behaviour. In addition to the pill, modern methods of family planning, including the intra uterine device (IUD), injectables, implants, emergency contraceptive pills and sterilisation, have given women and men effective control over procreation.

Modern contraceptives have contributed to major changes in sexual behaviour and marriage. Women empowered with modern contraception can choose without the fear of pregnancy whether to have sexual relationships, enabling them to postpone childbearing or avoid it altogether.

And instead of marriage, cohabitation has become increasingly prevalent among many young couples, especially in industrialised countries.

The use of modern contraceptives also facilitated a rapid decline in family size worldwide. Between 1950 and the close of the 20th century, the world’s total fertility rate fell from five children per woman to nearly half that level.

Every major region of the world experienced fertility declines during that half century, with the greatest occurring in Asia and Latin America and the smallest in Africa.

With improved medical techniques, changing social norms and grassroots movements, induced abortion also became increasingly legalised globally. Although some remain strongly opposed to induced abortion, nearly all industrialised countries have passed laws ensuring a woman’s right to abortion.

Also at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 179 governments indicated their commitment to prevent unsafe abortion and in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be made safe.

Reproductive rights to terminate a pregnancy, however, have also led to excess female fetus abortions. Particularly widespread in China and India, their sex ratios at birth of 117 and 111 boys per 100 girls are blatantly higher than the typical sex ratio at birth of around 106.

Consequently, the numbers of young “surplus males” unable to find brides are more than 35 million in China and 25 million in India.

The introduction in 1970 of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – fertilisation in a laboratory by mixing sperm with eggs surgically removed from an ovary followed by uterine implantation – radically altered the basic evolutionary process of human reproduction.

IVF provides childless couples the right and means to have biological children. It is estimated that more than five million IVF babies have followed since the birth of the first “test-tube baby” in 1978.

However, IVF has also raised ethical concerns. In addition to creating a pregnancy through “artificial” means, IVF has become a massive commercial industry prone to serious abuses and exploitation of vulnerable couples in the desire to make profits from childbearing.

IVF also permits gestational surrogacy, which extends reproductive rights to same-sex couples. In contrast to traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate is the actual mother, gestational surrogacy allows the surrogate to be unrelated to the baby with the egg coming from the intended mother or donor.

While those who are childless have a right to have biological children, gestational surrogacy raises challenging ethical questions, such as the exploitation of poor women, as well as complex legal issues, especially when transactions cross international borders.

In 1997, the cloning – or propagation by self-replication rather than through sexual reproduction – of the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, was achieved. The birth of Dolly was a major reproductive development.

Following the cloning of Dolly, scores of other animals, including fish, mice, cows, horses, dogs and monkeys, have been successfully cloned. These developments suggest that in the near future some humans may wish to assert their reproductive rights to be cloned, again raising serious theological, ethical and legal questions.

Among the transhumanist reproductive technologies imagined in the more distant future, one that stands out is ectogenesis, or the development of a fetus outside the human womb in an artificial uterus.

While ectogenesis may expand the extent of fetal viability, free women from childbearing and expand reproductive rights, it poses serious, unexplored medical, ethical and legal issues.

During the past half-century remarkable technological progress has been made in human reproduction. As a result of this medical progress, women and men have acquired wide-ranging reproductive rights and technologies to determine the number, timing and spacing of their children and to overcome childlessness with biological offspring.

The new reproductive technologies, however, have also given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed. Anticipated future medical breakthroughs in human reproduction make it even more imperative for the international community of nations to address the growing challenges and concerns regarding reproductive technologies and rights.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/feed/ 1
OPINION: A Roadmap to Living – and Thriving – in Harmony with Naturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-roadmap-to-living-and-thriving-in-harmony-with-nature/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-roadmap-to-living-and-thriving-in-harmony-with-nature http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-roadmap-to-living-and-thriving-in-harmony-with-nature/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:30:39 +0000 Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136945 Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias
MONTREAL, Canada, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

In Nagoya, Japan, in 2010, the international community made a commitment to future generations by adopting the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 and 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

In doing this, governments recognised that biodiversity is not just a problem to be solved, but rather the source of solutions to 21st century challenges such as climate change, food and water security, health, disaster risk reduction, and poverty alleviation.  In taking this action, countries affirmatively recognised that biodiversity is essential for sustainable development and the foundation for human well-being.We now know that real change does not come from ‘silver bullet’ solutions, but from those strategies that simultaneously address the multiple underlying causes of biodiversity loss.

The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets are a framework for the world to achieve the vision of human beings living in harmony with nature.  If achieved, by the middle of the 21st century, we will enjoy economic and social well-being while conserving and sustainably using the biodiversity that sustains our healthy planet and delivers the benefits essential to us all.

This is within our reach. And if we succeed, we will ensure that by the end of this decade, the ecosystems of the world are resilient and continue to provide for our well-being and contribute to eradication of the poverty that holds back human aspirations.  The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are about taking action now for the benefit of our collective future.

We are now approaching the mid-way mark of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity.  Governments of the world will meet in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea in early October at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-12) where they will launch and review the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO4), the latest global assessment of the state of biodiversity. As they review GBO4, they will see how we are all doing in achieving this vision.

The good news is that countries and civil society are making progress, and concrete commitments to implement the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are being taken.  Our current efforts are taking us in the right direction.

However, achieving many targets will require substantial additional efforts.

Additional pressures are being placed on the life-support systems of our planet by a greater population, by climate change, land degradation, over exploitation of species and spread of alien invasive species as a consequence of economic decisions that neglect to fully take into account the value of environmental assets and of biodiversity.  Extra efforts will be needed to overcome these human-made challenges.

What kind of actions need to be taken?  We now know that real change does not come from ‘silver bullet’ solutions, but from those strategies that simultaneously address the multiple underlying causes of biodiversity loss – subsidies that lead to overexploitation, habitat loss, climate change, inefficiencies in agriculture among others – while addressing the direct pressures on our natural systems.

There is an increasing need to develop strategic and sustained actions to address both the underlying and immediate causes of biodiversity loss in a coordinated way.  There is a need to mainstream biodiversity into policies and actions well beyond the sectors that focus on conservation.

At the Pyeongchang meeting governments will need to make additional commitments to ensure that their actions are effective and achieve the desired results.  They will need to agree to mobilise sufficient financial and human resources in support of such actions – increasing significantly current efforts.

The actions that are needed to overcome the loss of biodiversity and the ongoing erosion of our natural life support systems are varied: integrating the values of biodiversity into national accounts and policy, changes in economic incentives, enforcing rules and regulations, the full and active participation of indigenous and local communities and stakeholders and engagement by the business sector. Partnerships at all levels will need to be agreed and vigorously pursued.

At COP-12, events such as a Business Forum and a Summit of Cities and Subnational Governments, and meetings of Biodiversity Champions, will help to build the networks and partnerships needed to realise this.

These actions for long-term work take time to lead to measureable outcomes.  Direct action is needed now to conserve the most threatened species and ecosystems.  So, we will need to continue our work in establishing protected areas and expanding networks for terrestrial and marine areas.  We will need to work with partners to save the most endangered species.  We will need an urgent push for the protection of coral reefs.

Our immediate and our long-term efforts can and must be strengthened by understanding the critical links between biodiversity and sustainable development. Measures required to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will also support the post-2015 development agenda, and the proposed Sustainable Development Goals currently under discussion at the United Nations General Assembly.

In this way achieving the Targets will assist in achieving the goals of greater food security, healthier populations and improved access to clean water and sustainable energy for all. Implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 means already implementing our strategy for sustainable development.

The theme of the High Level Segment of the Pyeongchang meeting reflects this. For two days in October, over 100 ministers and high level representatives will discuss “Biodiversity for sustainable development.”

In choosing this theme, the government of Korea has made it clear we must continue our efforts to not only achieve the mission of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, but the social, economic and environmental goals of sustainable development, and to achieve human well-being in harmony with nature.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-roadmap-to-living-and-thriving-in-harmony-with-nature/feed/ 0
U.S. to Create National Plan on Responsible Business Practiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:14:55 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136936 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

The United States will begin developing a national action plan on responsible business practices, following on several years of related advocacy from civil society.

The plan will detail how the United States will implement landmark U.N. guidelines outlining the responsibility of multinational businesses to respect human rights. While the United Nations has urged participating governments to draft concrete plans for putting into practice the guidelines, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, thus far only three countries have done so – Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding.” -- Human Rights Watch’s Arvind Ganesan

Yet on the sidelines of last week’s U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama for the first time announced that his administration would begin formulating such a plan.

“[W]e intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas,” the president stated. “We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries. But we think we can do better.”

Obama suggested that clarity around responsible business practices is good for all involved, including industry and local communities.

“Because when [companies] know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalise a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody,” the president said.

A White House fact sheet noted that the plan would aim to “promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption.” It also stated that the plan would be “consistent” with the U.N. Guiding Principles and similar guidelines from the OECD grouping of rich countries.

Additional details on the formulation process are not yet available, though observers expect a draft next year. For now, however, advocacy groups are applauding the president’s announcement as preliminary but significant.

“This could end up being a very important step, but now we’ll be looking to see how the U.S. articulates how it expects companies to respect rights at home and abroad,” Arvind Ganesan, the director of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“More importantly, we’ll be looking to see whether this process results in any teeth – mechanisms to ensure that companies act responsibly everywhere.”

Task of implementation

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously backed the Guiding Principles, which are meant to apply to all countries and companies operating both domestically and internationally.

Yet thus far, formal adherence to the Guiding Principles has been only stuttering. In late June, the council called on governments to step up the process of drafting national action plans.

The United States – which endorsed the June resolution – has been a key focus for many in this process, given the overwhelming size of its economy and the number of multinational companies that it hosts.

Further, U.S. companies have stood accused of a broad spectrum of rights abuse, from extractives companies poisoning local water supplies to private security companies killing unarmed civilians. Often, of course, such problems impact most directly on poor and marginalised communities in developing countries.

The Guiding Principles mandate that governments take on the responsibility to prevent rights abuses by corporations and other third parties. States are also required to provide judicial “remedy” for any such abuse.

This is powerful language, but it remains up to governments to decide how exactly to implement the guidelines. Here, watchdog groups are less optimistic.

While Ganesan welcomes the actions by the three European countries that have developed implementation plans, he has reservations as to how substantive they are.

“Few of them have any real strength,” he says. “While they ask their companies to adopt the Guiding Principles, none of them have put together any kind of mechanism aimed at ensuring that happens.”

In the context of the U.S. announcement, then, there is a sense of caution around whether the United States will be able to put in place rules that require action from corporations.

“We are thrilled to see the United States take on this important initiative,” Sara Blackwell, a legal and policy associate with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), said in a statement.

Yet Blackwell notes that her office will continue to advocate for a U.S. action plan that goes beyond concerns merely around transparency and corruption.

Rather, she says, any plan needs to include “clear action on important issues such as access to effective remedy for victims of business-related human rights harms and the incorporation of human rights considerations into the U.S. federal government’s enormous influence on the marketplace through its public procurement activities.”

Voluntary initiatives

ICAR has been at the forefront of civil society engagement around the call for the development of national action plans on responsible business practice, including by the United States.

In June, the group, along with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, published a toolkit to guide government officials intent on formulating such plans. Among other points, the toolkit urges the participation of all stakeholders, including those who have been “disempowered”.

In his announcement, President Obama appeared to suggest that the drafting of a U.S. plan would rest on participation from business entities, though it is not yet clear how companies will react. (Three major industry lobby groups contacted for comment by IPS failed to respond.)

At the outset, though, rights advocates are worried by the examples coming out Europe, where governments appear to be relying on voluntary rather than rule-based initiatives.

“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding,” Human Rights Watch’s Ganesan says.

“They’ll be happy to agree to accepting human rights in rhetorical or aspirational terms, but they will not want any rules that say they must take certain actions or, for instance, risk losing government contracts. Nonetheless, there is now a real opportunity for the U.S. government to mandate certain actions – though how the administration articulates that will be a critical test.”

Meanwhile, concerns around the potential laxity of the Guiding Principles have already led to a division among rights advocates as to whether a new international mechanism is needed. In a landmark decision at the end of June, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to begin negotiations towards a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

Yet this move remains highly controversial, even among supporters. Some are worried that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad, while others warn that the new push will divert attention from the Guiding Principles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/feed/ 1
Outgunned by Rich Polluters, Africa to Bring United Front to Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:43:34 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136933 Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

As climate change interest groups raise their voices across Africa to call for action at the COP20 climate meeting in December and the crucial COP21 in Paris in 2015, many worry that the continent may never have fair representation at the talks.

The African Group noted during a May meeting in Ethiopia that while negotiations remain difficult, they still hope to break some barriers through close collaboration and partnerships with different African groups involved in negotiations."Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon." -- lead negotiator Tomothé Kagombet

Within the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) group, a preparatory meeting is planned for next month with experts and delegates from the 10 member countries, according to Martin Tadoum, deputy secretary general of COMIFAC, “but the group can only end up sending one or two representatives to COP meetings.”

Meanwhile, the Pan-African Parliamentarians’ Network on Climate Change (PAPNCC) is hoping to educate lawmakers and African citizens on the problem to better take decisions about how to manage it.

“The African parliamentarians have a great role to influence government decisions on climate change and defend the calls of various groups on the continent,” Honorable Awudu Mbaya, Cameroonian Parliamentarian and president of PAPNCC, told IPS.

PAPNCC operates in 38 African countries, with its headquarters in Cameroon. Besides working with governments and decision-makers, it is also networking with youth groups and civil society groups in Africa to advance climate goals.

Innovative partnership models involving government, civil society groups, think tanks and academia could also enforce governments’ positions and build the capacity of negotiators.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has noted that bargaining by all parties is increasingly taking place outside the formal negotiating space, and Africa must thus be prepared to engage on these various platforms in order to remain in the loop.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa are designing various campaign strategies for COP 20 and COP 21. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a diverse coalition of more than 500 CSOs and networks, is using national platforms and focal persons to plan a PACJA week of activities in November.

“PACJA Week of Action is an Africa-wide annual initiative aimed at stimulating actions and reinforcing efforts to exercise the power of collective action ahead of COPs. The weeks will involve several activities like staging pickets, rallies, marches, and other forms of action in schools, communities, workplaces, and public spaces,” Robert Muthami Kithuku, a programme support officer at PACJA headquarters in Kenya, told IPS.

Others, like the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and the African Youth Alliance, are coming up with similar strategies to provide a platform for coordinated youth engagement and participation in climate discussions and the post-2015 development agenda at the national, regional and international levels.

“We plan to send letters to negotiators, circulating statements, using the social media, using both electronic and print media and also holding public forums. Slogans to enhance the campaign are also being adopted,” Kithuku said.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change seems to have ushered in a new wave of south-south collaboration in the continent. The PAPNCC Cameroon chapter has teamed up with PACJA to advocate for greater commitments on climate change through tree-planting events in four Cameroonian communities. It is also holding discussions with regional parliamentarians on how climate change can better be incorporated in local legislation.

In June, mayors of the Central African sub-region gathered in Cameroon to plan their first participation in major climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris. Under the banner The International Association of Francophone Mayors of Central Africa on Towns and Climate Change (AIMF), the mayors are seeking ways to adapt their cities to the effects of climate change and to win development opportunities through mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.

During a workshop of African Group of Negotiators in May 2014, it was recognised that climate change negotiations offer opportunities for Africa to strengthen its adaptive capacity and to move towards low-carbon economic development. Despite a lack of financial resources, Africa has a comparative advantage in terms of natural resources like forests, hydro and solar power potential.

At the May meeting, Ethiopia’s minister of Environment and Forests, Belete Tafere, urged the lead negotiators in attendance to be ambitious and focused in order to press the top emitters to make binding commitments to reduce emissions. He also advised the negotiators to prioritise mitigation as a strategy to demonstrate the continent’s contribution to a global solution.

But negotiations are still difficult. Africa has fewer resources to send delegates to COPs, coupled with a relatively low level of expertise to understand technical issues in the negotiations.

“Africa is just a representative in negotiations and has very little capacity to influence decisions,” Tomothé Kagombet, one of Cameroon’s lead negotiators, told IPS.

“Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon, and this is the case with all other African countries.”

He said that while developed countries swap delegates and experts in and out of the talks, the Africans are also obliged remain at the negotiating table for long periods without taking a break.

“At the country levels, there are no preparatory meetings that can help in capacity building and in enforcing countries’ positions,” he said.

As a strategy to improve the capacity of delegates, COMIFAC recruits consultants during negotiations to brief representatives from the 10 member countries on various technical issues in various forums.

“To reduce the problem of numbers, the new strategy is that each country is designated to represent the group in one aspect under negotiation. For example, Chad could follow discussions on adaptation, Cameroon on mitigation, DRC on finance,” COMIFAC’s Tadoum told IPS.

With a complex international climate framework that has evolved over many years, with new mitigation concepts and intricacies in REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and more than 60 different international funds, the challenges for African experts to grasp these technicalities are enormous, Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environment and Development told IPS (CED). CED is a subregional NGO based in Cameroon.

“There is no country budget set aside for climate change that can help in capacity building and send more delegates to COPs. The UNFCCC sponsors one or two representatives from developing countries but the whole of Africa might not measure up with the delegates from one developed nation,” said Cameroon’s negotiator, Tomothé Kagombet.

The lead African negotiators are now crafting partnerships with with young African lawyers in the negotiations process and compiling a historical narrative of Africa’s participation and decisions relevant to the continent as made by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC process, from Kyoto in 1997 to Paris in 2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/feed/ 0
Arms Trade Treaty Gains Momentum with 50th Ratificationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 10:17:50 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136910 State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

With state support moving at an unprecedented pace, the Arms Trade Treaty will enter into force on Dec. 24, 2014, only 18 months after it was opened for signature.

Eight states – Argentina, the Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Saint Lucia, Portugal, Senegal and Uruguay – ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at a special event at the United Nations this past Thursday, Sep. 25, pushing the number of states parties up to 53.

As per article 22 of the treaty, the ATT comes into force as a part of international law 90 days after the 50th instrument of ratification is deposited.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy." -- Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
According to a statement by the Control Arms coalition, “The ATT is one of the fastest arms agreements to move toward entry into force.”

The speed at which the treaty received 50 ratifications “shows tremendous momentum for the ATT and a lot of significant political commitment and will,” said Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

“The challenge now is to translate the political will into action, both in terms of ensuring that States Parties are able to fulfil – and are fulfilling – their obligations under the Treaty,” Holtom told IPS in an email.

So what are the requirements under the ATT?

ATT states parties are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict.

Article 6(3) of the treaty forbids states from authorising transfers if they have the knowledge that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Article 7 prohibits transfers if there is an overriding risk of the weapons being used to undermine peace and security or commit a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law.

In addition, states parties are required to take a number of measures to prevent diversion of weapons to the illicit market and produce annual reports of their imports and exports of conventional arms.

The treaty applies to eight categories of conventional arms, ranging from battle tanks to small arms and light weapons.

The successful entry into force of the ATT will be a big win for arms control campaigners and NGOs, who have been fighting for the regulation of the arms trade for more than a decade.

When Control Arms launched a global campaign in 2003, “Mali, Costa Rica and Cambodia were the only three governments who would publically say that they supported talk of the idea of an arms trade treaty,” Anna MacDonald, director of the Control Arms secretariat, told IPS.

NGO supporters of the treaty often brought up the fact that the global trade in bananas was more regulated than the trade in weapons.

The organisations in the Control Arms coalition supported the ATT process through “a mix of campaigning, advocacy, pressure on governments” and “proving technical expertise on what actually could be done, how a treaty could look, [and] what provisions needed to be in it,” MacDonald said.

All of the legwork has paid off, as the treaty will become operational far earlier than many expected.

Today’s 53rd ratification is just the start. So far, 121 countries have signed the treaty, and 154 voted in favour of its adoption in April 2013 in the General Assembly.

“There’s no reason why we would not expect all of those who voted in favour to sign and ultimately to ratify the treaty,” said MacDonald.

Sceptics contend that the worst human rights abusers will not agree to the treaty. For example, Syria was one of three states that voted against the ATT’s adoption in the General Assembly.

However, MacDonald believes that once enough countries join the ATT, the holdouts will face an enormous amount of political pressure to comply as well.

With a sufficient number of states parties, the ATT will “establish a new global standard for arms transfers, which makes it politically very difficult for even countries that have not signed it to ignore its provisions,” she told IPS.

MacDonald cited the Ottawa Convention, which banned anti-personnel landmines, as an example.

Many of the world’s biggest landmine users and exporters have not joined the Ottawa convention, but the use of landmines has fallen anyway because of the political stigma that developed.

Much work remains to be done in the months before Dec. 24 and in the upcoming years as the ATT system evolves.

States will need to create or update transfer control systems and enforcement mechanisms for regulating exports, imports and brokering as well as minimising diversion, according to Holtom.

“There are a lot of issues to be discussed before the Conference of States Parties and it will take several years before we can really see an impact,” he told IPS. “But we need to now make sure that the ATT can be put into effect and States and other key stakeholders work together towards achieving its object and purpose.”

The first conference of states parties will take place in Mexico in 2015.

Participating countries must provide their first report on arms exports and imports by May 31, 2015 and a report on measures that they have taken to implement the treaty by late 2015, Holtom said.

No matter the challenges to come, the simple fact that arms trade control is on the agenda is quite historic.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy,” said Holtom.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon claimed, “Today we can look ahead with satisfaction to the date of this historic new Treaty’s entry into force.”

“Now we must work for its efficient implementation and seek its universalisation so that the regulation of armaments – as expressed in the Charter of the United Nations – can become a reality once and for all,” he said in a statement delivered by U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/feed/ 2
Iraq Looking for an ‘Independent’ Sunni Defense Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:54:06 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136909 By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said this past week that the government was looking for an independent Sunni Muslim to fill the post of defense minister in an effort to improve chances of reunifying the country and defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Massoum, in his first extended comments to a U.S. audience since his recent selection as president of Iraq, also said Sept. 26 that Iraqi Kurds – while they might still hold a referendum on independence – would not secede from Iraq at a  time of such major peril.

“Today there is no possibility to announce such a state,” Massoum, a Kurd and former prime minister of the Kurdish region, told a packed room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“Forming a Kurdish state is a project, and a project like that has to take into account” the views of regional and other countries and the extraordinary circumstances of the current terrorist menace to Iraq.

Kurdish threats to hold a referendum and declare independence were widely seen as leverage to force the resignation of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki,also under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, Iraqi Sunnis and Iran, stepped down to allow a less  polarizing member of his Shi’ite Dawa party – Haider al-Abadi – to take the top job.

Abadi, however, has been unable so far to get parliament to approve his choices for the sensitive posts of defense and interior ministers. Queried about this, Massoum said, “There seems to be some understanding that the minister of defense should be Sunni and there is a search for an independent Sunni.”

As for interior minister, Massoum said, they were looking for an “independent Shiite” to take the post.

For the time being, Abadi is holding the portfolios, but unlike his predecessor, who retained them, has clearly stated that he does not want to assume those responsibilities for long. Massoum said a decision was likely after the coming Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha.

The Iraqi president also said there was progress on a new arrangement for sharing Iraq’s oil revenues, a major source of internal grievances under Maliki. A decision has been made that each of the regions will have representation on a higher oil and gas council, Massoum said. He also expressed confidence in Iraq’s new oil minister, Adel Abdel-Mahdi.

Asked whether Iraq would split into three countries – as Vice President Joe Biden once recommended – Massoum said there might be an eventual move toward a more confederal system but “partitioning Iraq … into three independent states is a bit far-fetched, especially in the current situation.”

Massoum began his remarks with a fascinating explanation of how IS – which he called ISIS, for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams – came into being. He said the group began “as a marriage” between nationalist military officers and religious extremists that took place when they were in prison together while the U.S. still occupied Iraq.

The notion of combining Iraq with the Levant – made up of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – is actually an old Arab nationalist concept, Massoum said.

As for the religious aspects of the movement, Massoum traced that to the so-called Hashishin – users of hashish. This Shiite group, formed in the late 11th century, challenged the then-Sunni rulers of the day, used suicide attacks and were said to be under the influence of drugs. The English word “assassin” derives from the term.

“Many times these terrorist practices [were used] in the name of a religion or a sect,” Massoum said.

He praised the United States for coming to the aid of Iraqis and Kurds against IS and also expressed support for the recent bombing of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria. But Massoum sidestepped repeated questions about whether such strikes would inadvertently bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Hitting ISIS in Syria should not mean this is to support the regime or as a beginning to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad,” Massoum said. “That’s why the attacks are limited.”

Asked about Iraqi relations with Iran and whether the Iraqis and Kurds were serving as go-betweens for the United States and Iran in mutual efforts to degrade IS, Massoum noted Iraq’s historic relations with its neighbour and that Iraq also had common interests with the United States.

“We don’t look at America with Iranian eyes and we don’t look at Iran with American eyes,” Massoum said. He evaded questions about Iran’s military role in Iraq, saying that while he had heard reports that Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani had visited the Kurdish region, requests for a meeting were not fulfilled.

As for Iranian military advisers who were said to have helped liberate the town of Amerli and relieve the siege of Mt. Sinjar, Massoum said, there were “many  experts” who had come to help the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Massoum attributed the collapse of the Iraqi army at Mosul to poor leadership, corruption and decades of setbacks starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. This was followed a decade later by his invasion of Kuwait and subsequent refusal to cooperate with the international community.

“These blows all had an impact on the psychology of the commanders and soldiers,” Massoum said. Iraqi armed forces have gone “from failure to failure.”

The president confirmed that under the new Iraqi government, each governorate will have its own national guard made up of local people. This concept – which may be partly funded by the Saudis and other rich Gulf Arabs – is an attempt to replicate the success of the so-called sons of Iraq by motivating Sunni tribesmen to confront IS as they previously did al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Asked what would happen to Shi’ite militias – which have committed abuses against Sunnis and helped alienate that population from Baghdad – Massum said the militias would eventually have to be shut down but only after the IS threat had been eliminated. He did not indicate how long that might take.

Massum was also asked about reported IS plots against U.S. and French subway systems. Abadi earlier this week made reference to such plots, but U.S. officials said they had no such intelligence.

Iraqi officials accompanying Massoum, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said Abadi had been misinterpreted and was referring only to the types of attacks IS might mount in the West. Massoum warned, however, that “sleeper cells” in the West as well as in Iraq might be planning terrorist attacks.

Asked about Turkey – which has been reticent about aiding Iraq against IS – Massoum, who met at the U.N. this week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he expected more help now that 49 Turkish hostages in Mosul have been freed.

Massoum also urged Turkey to do a better job vetting young men who arrive there from Europe and America, and prevent them from reaching border areas and slipping into IS-controlled areas in Syria.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/feed/ 1
Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/feed/ 0
OPINION: How Obama Should Counter ISIShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 10:52:48 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136896

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of ‘A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World’.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

President Obama’s speech at the United Nations on Sep. 23 offered a rhetorically eloquent roadmap on how to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

He called on Muslim youth to reject the extremist ideology of ISIL (as ISIS is also known) and al-Qa’ida and work towards a more promising future.  President Obama repeated the mantra, which we heard from President George Bush before him, that “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam.”

There is no argument but that the Islamic State must be defeated.  But is the counter-terrorism roadmap, which President Obama set out in his U.N. speech, sufficient to defeat the extremist ideology of ISIS, Boko Haram, or al-Qa’ida?  Despite U.S. and Western efforts to degrade, decapitate, dismember and defeat these deadly and blood-thirsty groups for almost two decades, radical groups continue to sprout in Sunni Muslim societies."As the United States looks beyond today’s air campaign over Syria and Iraq, U.S. policymakers should realise that ISIS is more than a bunch of jihadists roaming the desert and terrorising innocent civilians. It is an ideology, a vision, a sophisticated social media operation and an army with functioning command and control"

The President also urged the Arab Muslim world to reject sectarian proxy wars, promote human rights and empower their people, including women, to help move their societies forward. He again stated that the situation in Gaza and the West Bank is unsustainable and urged the international community to strive for the implementation of the two-state solution.

The President did not address Muslim youth in Western societies who could be susceptible to recruitment by ISIS, al-Qa’ida, or other terrorist organisations.

Arab publics will likely see glaring contradictions and inconsistencies in the President’s speech between his captivating rhetoric and actual policies. They most likely would view much of what he said, especially his global counter-terrorism strategy against the Islamic State, as another version of America’s war on Islam.  Arabs will also see much hypocrisy in the President’s speech on the issue of human rights and civil society.

Although fighting a perceived common enemy, it is a sad spectacle to see the United States, a champion of human rights, liberty and justice, cosy up to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, serial violators of human rights and infamous practitioners of repression. It is even more hypocritical when Arab citizens realise that some of these so-called partners have often spread an ideology not much different from what ISIS preaches.

These three regimes in particular have emasculated their civil society and engaged in illegal imprisonment, sham trials and groundless convictions.  They have banned political parties, both Islamic and secular, silenced civil society institutions and prohibited peaceful protests.

The President praised the role of free press, yet Al-Jazeera journalists are languishing in Egyptian jails without any justification whatsoever. The regime continues to hold thousands of political prisoners without indictments or trials.

In addressing the youth in Muslim countries, the President told them: “Where a genuine civil society is allowed to flourish, then you can dramatically expand the alternatives to terror.”

What implications should Arab Muslim youth draw from the President’s invocation of the virtues of civil society when they see that genuine civil society is not “allowed to flourish” in their societies? Do Arab Muslim youth see real “alternatives to terror” when their regimes deny them the most basic human rights and freedoms?

The Sisi regime in Egypt has illegally destroyed the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have used the spectre of ugly sectarianism to destroy the opposition.  They openly and viciously engage in sectarian conflicts even though the President stated that religious sectarianism underpins regional instability.

In his U.N. speech, Field Marshall Sisi hoped the United States would tolerate his atrocious human rights record in the name of fighting ISIS.

Human Rights Watch and other distinguished experts sent a letter to President Obama asking him to raise the egregious human rights violations in Egypt when he met with Sisi in New York.  He should not give Sisi and other Arab autocrats a pass when it comes to their repression and human rights violations just because they joined the U.S.-engineered “coalition of the willing” against ISIS.

Regardless of how the air campaign against the Islamic State goes, U.S. policymakers will have to begin a serious review of a different Middle East than the one President Barak Obama inherited when he took office.  Many of the articles that have been written about ISIS have warned about the outcome of this war once the dust settles.

Critics correctly wondered whether opinion writers and experts could go beyond “warning” and suggest a course of policy that could be debated and possibly implemented. If the United States “breaks” the Arab world by forming an anti-ISIS ephemeral coalition of Sunni Arab autocrats, Washington will have to “own” what it had broken.

A road map is imperative if a serious conversation is to commence about the future of the Arab Middle East – but not one deeply steeped in counter-terrorism.  The Sunni coalition is a picture-perfect graphic for the evening news, especially in the West, but how should the United States deal with individual Sunni states in the coalition after the bombings stop and ISIS melts into the population?

As the United States looks beyond today’s air campaign over Syria and Iraq, U.S. policymakers should realise that ISIS is more than a bunch of jihadists roaming the desert and terrorising innocent civilians.  It is an ideology, a vision, a sophisticated social media operation and an army with functioning command and control.

Above all, ISIS represents a view of Islam that is not dissimilar to other strict Sunni interpretations of the Muslim faith that could be found across many Muslim countries, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. In fact, this narrow-minded, intolerant view of Islam is at the heart of the Wahhabi-Salafi Hanbali doctrine, which Saudi teachers and preachers have spread across the Muslim world for decades.

Nor is this phenomenon unique in the ideological history of Sunni millenarian thinking.  From Ibn Taymiyya in the 13th century to Bin Ladin and Zawahiri in the past two decades, different Sunni groups have emerged on the Islamic landscape preaching ISIS-like ideological variations on the theme of resurrecting the “Caliphate” and re-establishing “Dar al-Islam.”

Although the historical lines separating Muslim regions (“Dar al-Islam” or “Abode of Peace”) from non-Muslim regions (“Dar al-Harb” or “Abode of War”) have almost disappeared in recent decades, ISIS, much like al-Qa’ida, is calling for re-erecting those lines.  Many Salafis in Saudi Arabia are in tune with such thinking.

This is a regressive, backward view, which cannot possibly exist today.  Millions of Muslims have emigrated to non-Muslim societies and integrated into those societies.

If President Obama plans to dedicate the remainder of his term in office to fighting and defeating the Islamic State, he cannot do it by military means alone.  He should:

1.  Tell Al Saud to stop preaching its intolerant doctrine of Islam in Saudi Arabia and revise its textbooks to reflect a new thinking. Saudi and other Muslim scholars should instruct their youth that “jihad” applies to the soul, not to the battlefield.

2.  Tell Sisi to stop his massive human rights violations in Egypt and allow his youth – men and women – the freedom to pursue their economic and political future without state control.  Sisi should also empty his jails of the thousands of political prisoners and invite the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the political process.

3.  Tell Al Khalifa to end its sectarian war in Bahrain against the Shia majority and invite opposition parties – secular and Islamic – including al-Wifaq, to participate in the upcoming elections freely and without harassment.  Opposition parties should also participate in redrawing the electoral districts before the Nov. 22 elections, which King Hamad has just announced.  International observers should be invited to monitor those elections.

4.  Tell the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel that the situation in Gaza and the Occupied Territories is untenable.  Prime Minister Netanyahu should stop building new settlements and work with the Palestinian National Government for a settlement of the conflict. If President Obama concludes, like many scholars in the region, that the two-state solution is no longer workable, he should communicate his view to Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas and strongly encourage them to explore other modalities for the two peoples to live together between the River and the Sea.

If President Obama does not pursue these tangible policies and use his political capital in this endeavour, his U.N. speech will soon be forgotten.  Decapitating and degrading ISIS is possible, but unless Arab regimes move away from autocracy and invest in their peoples’ future, other terrorist groups will emerge.

Over the years, President Obama has delivered memorable speeches on Muslim world engagement, but unless he pushes for new policies in the region, the Arab Middle East will likely implode. Washington would be left holding the bag.  This is not the legacy the President would want to leave behind.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis/feed/ 0
Washington Snubs Bolivia on Drug Policy Reform, Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:31:36 +0000 Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136893 In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

By Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Once again, Washington claims Bolivia has not met its obligations under international narcotics agreements. For the seventh year in a row, the U.S. president has notified Congress that the Andean country “failed demonstrably” in its counter-narcotics efforts over the last 12 months. Blacklisting Bolivia means the withholding of U.S. aid from one of South America’s poorest countries.

The story has hardly made the news in the United States, and that is worrisome. While many countries in the hemisphere call for drug policy reform and are willing to entertain new strategies in that vein, it remains business-as-usual in the United States.

In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.
The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), meanwhile, seems to think that Bolivia is doing a great job, lauding the government’s efforts to tackle coca production (coca is used to make cocaine) and cocaine processing for the past three years.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) is also heaping praise on Bolivia, calling Bolivia’s innovative new approach to coca control an example of a “best practice” in drug policy.

According to the UNODC, Bolivia has decreased the amount of land dedicated to coca plants by about 26 percent from 2010-2013. Approximately 56,800 acres are currently under production

U.S. opposition

Bolivia has achieved demonstrable successes without—and perhaps because of—a complete lack of support from the United States: the Drug Enforcement Administration left in 2009 and all U.S. aid for drug control efforts ended in 2013.

Bearing in mind that U.S. drug policy in the Andes has always emphasised “supply-side” reduction like coca crop eradication, the decision is of course a political one. It reflects U.S. frustration that Bolivia isn’t bending to Washington’s will. Interestingly, most Bolivian-made cocaine ends up in Europe and Brazil—not the United States.

At the same time, Peru and Colombia, both U.S. favorites given their willingness to fall in line with U.S. drug policy mandates, were not included in the list of failures. To be sure, those countries have recently decreased coca crop acreage as well; in some years by a lot more than Bolivia has. Still, they had respectively about 66,200 and 61,700 acres more coca under cultivation than Bolivia in 2013, according to the UNODC’s June 2014 findings. Peru currently produces the most cocaine of any country in the world.

Bolivians have been consuming the coca plant for over 4,000 years as a tea, food, and medicine, and for religious and cultural practices. Coca, the cheapest input in the cocaine commodity chain, cannot be considered equivalent to cocaine, since over 20 chemicals are needed to convert the harmless leaf into the powdery party drug and its less glamorous cousin, crack.

Still, coca is listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (the defining piece of international drug control legislation).

When Evo Morales became president of Bolivia he worked to modify the Convention, and in 2013 eventually wrested from the U.N. the right to allow limited coca production and traditional consumption within Bolivia’s borders. In the process, all Latin American countries except Mexico (which supported the U.S.-led objection) supported Morales’ mission.

The Bolivian model

The basics of Bolivia’s approach to reining in coca cultivation are fairly simple. Licensed coca growers can legally cultivate a limited amount of coca (1,600 square metres) to ensure some basic income, and they police their neighbours to ensure that fellow growers stay within the legal limits. Government forces step in to eradicate coca only when a grower or coca grower’s union refuses to cooperate.

This grassroots control is possible because of the strength of agricultural unions in Bolivia’s coca growing regions and because of growers’ solidarity with President Morales, himself a coca grower.

Another incentive is that reducing supply drives up coca leaf prices, which means that producers can earn more money for their families. As one longtime grower and coca union leader from the Chapare growing region put it: “It’s less work and I make more money.” This income stability, combined with targeted aid from the Bolivian government, means that many coca growers are able to make a living wage and diversify their livelihood strategies—investing in shops, other legal crops, and education.

It also helps that the violence and intimidation at the hands of the previously U.S.-backed Bolivian military has come to an end. People remember what is was like, and many still suffer injuries sustained during different eradication campaigns. One coca grower, for example, had her jaw broken so badly by a soldier as she marched for the right to grow coca that she cannot be fitted for dentures to replace her missing teeth. She emphasized that life is so much better now because it’s less stressful. People do not want to see a return to forced eradication campaigns.

No one is pretending that Bolivia’s coca control approach means the end of cocaine production.  Some portion of coca leaf production—by some estimates, about 22,200-plus acres worth—is still ending up in clandestine, rudimentary labs where it is processed into cocaine paste.

Furthermore, because it is squeezed between Peru, a major cocaine exporter, and Brazil, a growing importer, Bolivia has found it increasingly difficult to control cocaine flows. As a result, despite increased narcotics seizures by Bolivian security forces under Morales’ government, drug trade activities within Bolivia’s borders by some accounts have actually increased over the last few years.

Nevertheless, and for better or worse, the country’s new method of coca control yields results and undeniably satisfies the U.S. supply-side approach, yet Washington maintains its hardline stance against the county. In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/feed/ 0
Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/feed/ 0
Obama Blasts Brutality and Bullying, but Not by Israelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:04:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136882 Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, he was outspoken in his criticism of Russia for bullying Ukraine, Syria for its brutality towards its own people, and terrorists of all political stripes for the death and destruction plaguing Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

But as the New York Times rightly pointed out, Obama made only a “fleeting” reference to Israel and Palestine in his 40-minute speech to the world body.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS much of what Obama said about the “brutality” of the Assad regime in Syria and his criticism of “a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another” applies directly to Israel.

"What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate." -- Vijay Prashad, author of 'Arab Spring, Libyan Winter'
But he simply paid lip service to “the principle” that two states would make the region and the world more just without any indication of what the U.S. might do – or stop doing, she added.

Addressing the U.S. president directly, Hijab said: “Mr. Obama, the world would be a lot more just, if the U.S. just stopped footing the bill for Israel’s gross violations of human rights and international law.”

In his speech, replete with political double standards and hypocrisy, Obama avoided mentioning the killings and devastation caused by Israel with its relentless bombings and air strikes in Gaza – deploying weapons provided mostly by the United States.

“Russian aggression in Europe”, he said, “recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition” (reality check: Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied territories).

“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness” (reality check: the brutality of Israel in Gaza in 2014 and the killings of over 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians).

Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world, he added.

Obama also told delegates there is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another (reality check: Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War and its determination to hold onto the spoils of war despite Security Council resolutions to the contrary.)

Obama said: “America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might — that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones, and that people should be able to choose their own future” (reality check: a U.S.-armed Israel, which used its prodigious military strength to prove might is right).

And these are simple truths, but they must be defended, he added.

Obama also said America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of its commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them (reality check: Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons and the U.S.’ refusal or reluctance to push for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.).

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS it is interesting that Obama wants to insulate the Israel-Palestine conflict from the recent crises in the Middle East.

“Is that possible?” he asked.

“Has Israeli occupation of Palestine not been one of the main points of radicalisation of young people in the region?” asked Prashad, referring to Obama’s concern over the rise in radicalism among youth, specifically in the Middle East.

“What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate,” said Prashad, author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter’.

He said there remains, even in psycho-socially battered Gaza, a consensus for a political solution. This the President should have mentioned, he added.

At the conclusion of his speech, Obama said the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable.

“We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”

“So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world will be more just and more safe with two states living side by side, in peace and security,” he added.

Prashad told IPS Obama addressed the rightward turn in Israeli society, and spoke to this toxic social agenda that is against peace and against negotiations.

This second part, which he did say, is very important.

“But it is lessened by the lack of the first point: that the Palestinians remain reasonable despite the war that batters them and the crises around them.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/feed/ 2
‘Therapeutic Abortion’ Could Soon Be Legal in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:26:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136835 Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Chile, one of the most conservative countries in Latin America, is getting ready for an unprecedented debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion, which is expected to be approved this year.

In Chile, more than 300,000 illegal abortions are practiced annually – a scourge that is both cause and effect of many other social problems.

“Abortion in Chile is like the drug trade – surrounded by illegality and precariousness,” 27-year-old Alicia, who had an abortion five years ago, told IPS.

Latin America – stronghold of illegal abortion

In Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua abortion is punishable by prison under any circumstance, although in Honduras the medical code of ethics allows it if the mother’s life is at risk.

One illustration that stiff penalties do not reduce abortions but only make them unsafe is the Dominican Republic, where the constitution has guaranteed the right to life from conception since 2010. But 90,000 abortions are year are practiced in that country, which means one out of every four pregnancies is interrupted.

In the rest of the countries in the region – with the exception of Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City – only therapeutic abortion is allowed. Nevertheless, there are 31 abortions for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age, higher than the global average.

In Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is at risk. In Ecuador and Panama it is also legal in case of rape.

Guatemala exemplifies the effects of clandestine abortions. Of the 65,000 women who undergo an abortion in that country every year, 21,500 are hospitalised as a result. In Argentina and Bolivia the decision is made by a judge. In Argentina abortion is only legal in case of rape or risk to a mother’s life, and in Bolivia in cases of incest as well.

It is estimated that there is one abortion for every two pregnancies that end in birth in Argentina.

In Colombia abortion is legal for the abovementioned reasons as well as severe birth defects, as it is in Brazil – but only in cases where the fetus shows abnormal brain development.

Abortion on demand is only legal in Cuba and Uruguay – in the latter as of 2012, and since then the number of abortions has gone down.

In addition, abortion on demand has been legal in the Mexican capital since 2007. But that triggered a counter-reform in the country, and 17 of the 31 states have now banned abortion under any circumstances.

“A friend told me about a gynecologist, I went to see him and he told me the date, time and place to meet him,” Alicia said. “My mom came with me. A van picked me up on a random street corner in the city and I had no idea where we were going. I still remember my mother’s face, the anxiety of not knowing if I would come back, and in what condition.

“In a house a doctor and a woman, I don’t know if she was a midwife or a nurse, were waiting for me. They doped me up. When I woke up it was done. They put me in the van and took me back to my mother. We never talked about it again,” she said sadly.

The legalisation of abortion is one of the Chilean state’s big debts to women, Carolina Carrera, the president of Corporación Humanas, told IPS.

“Chile’s highly punitive legislation is a violation of the human rights of women because this level of penalisation means that women who abort do so in unsafe conditions, with physical and psychological risks,” she added.

In addition, smuggling has increased of Misoprostol, also known as RU486 or medication abortion. The medicine is sold at exorbitantly high prices, without clear medical indications, she added.

Claudia, 24, had to go to a house on one of the hills in the port city of Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, to buy the drug to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy.

“It was a dangerous place,” she said. “I had to pay more than 600 dollars. I looked around and thought: and if something happens to me, who do I call? An ambulance, the police? No, I’d be put in prison!”

In Latin America, where the Catholic Church still has an enormous influence, abortion is illegal everywhere except Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City. However, most countries allow therapeutic abortion in circumstances suggested by the United Nations: rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

Chile is one of only seven countries in the world that ban abortion under any circumstance. Four others are in Latin America – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – and two are in Europe – Malta and the Vatican.

Therapeutic abortion was legal in Chile from 1931 to 1989, when it was banned by the government of late dictator General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). None of the democratic administrations that have governed the country since then have touched the issue until now.

Since then, women who undergo an abortion have faced a possible prison sentence of up to five years.

“The frequency of abortion has remained steady in the last 10 years in Chile,” Dr. Ramiro Molina with the Centre on Reproductive Medicine and Integral Development of the Adolescent at the University of Chile told IPS. “The number of cases has not gone down, nor have there been major changes in the ages: the highest rates of abortion are still found among women between the ages of 25 and 34.”

He said there are only records of some 33,500 women a year who are treated for abortion-related complications – a figure he described as “very misleading” because it only takes into account those who go to a public health centre for emergency treatment.

Molina explained that the real total is estimated by multiplying that number by 10, which would indicate that 335,000 women a year undergo illegal abortions in Chile.

In the Latin American countries with the strictest legislation, abortions are practiced in conditions that pose a high risk to women, making it a public health problem as well as a reflection of inequality.

“Abortion is a socioeconomic indicator of poverty,” Molina said.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 21.6 million unsafe abortions took place worldwide in 2008. The estimated annual total in Latin America is 4.4 million, 95 percent of which are clandestine. And 12 percent of maternal deaths in the region are the result of unsafe abortion.

Molina, one of the region’s leading experts in his field, said that while progress has been made in the last two decades, it has been very slow because “a religious-based philosophical vision” continues to prevail and stands in the way of further advances.

In Chile, the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet, in office since March, is preparing to launch a debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion in case of rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

She has stated on several occasions that abortion will be decriminalised this year in Chile.

During her first term (2006-2010), Bachelet authorised the free distribution of Levonorgestrel, better known as the morning after pill, by government health centres to all girls and women over the age of 14 who requested it. But its actual distribution still depends on the ideology of mayors, who are responsible for public health centres in their jurisdictions.

The morning after pill came too late for Francisco and Daniela. When she enrolled in the university, “we got pregnant,” she told IPS. The couple thought about it long and hard, but they lived with her parents and Francisco only worked part-time.

“I felt like it was cutting her life short, her dreams, her prospects,” said Francisco, who somehow managed to scrape together the 600 dollars for the abortion.

Now, at the age of 35, they have a little girl. But they remember it as a traumatic incident, “because it was clandestine, unsafe and unjust.”

Although the legalisation of therapeutic abortion was one of Bachelet’s campaign pledges, abortion remains a taboo subject in Chile. Many are afraid of the political consequences in this country of 17.8 million people, where more than 65 percent of the population is Catholic.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/feed/ 0
Climate Summit: Much Talk, A Bit of Walkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:43:28 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136855 Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a member of civil society from the Marshall Islands, received a standing ovation at the opening of the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 for her poem addressed to her daughter. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a member of civil society from the Marshall Islands, received a standing ovation at the opening of the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 for her poem addressed to her daughter. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Speaking to more than 120 heads of state at the U.N. Climate Summit, actor and newly appointed U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio made clear the long-ranging impact of the attendees’ decisions.

“You will make history,” he said, “or you will be vilified by it.”All eyes were on China and the United States, respectively the number one and number two carbon emitting countries in the world.

Tuesday’s climate summit was not a part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiation framework. Instead, it was a special event convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to catalyse public opinion and increase political will for a binding climate agreement to be negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015.

“This mixture of governmental, business, cities, states [and] civil society engagement is certainly unprecedented and it offers a chance to open the climate change discussion at a heads of state level as never before,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI), in a statement before the summit.

The secretary-general opened the summit by exhorting leaders to make substantial commitments to mitigate climate change.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our age,” he said. “We must work together to mobilise markets” and “commit to a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015.”

In three simultaneous sessions, world leaders announced national action and ambition plans to combat climate change. These announcements included pledges to cut emissions, donate money to the Green Climate Fund, halt deforestation and undertake efforts to put a price on carbon.

Representatives from small island states lamented that their countries would be underwater in only a few decades, while African leaders pointed out the growing number of climate refugees.

All eyes were on China and the United States, respectively the number one and number two carbon emitting countries in the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that all future U.S. investments in international development would consider climate resiliency as an important factor. He also said that the U.S. would meet its target of reducing carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

“We recognise our role in creating this problem. We embrace our responsibility to combat it,” Obama said. “We will do our part and we will help developing nations to do theirs.”

“But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend the climate summit, but instead sent Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

While some were disappointed at Xi’s absence, the fact that such a high-ranking Chinese official would speak of the necessity of climate change mitigation was cause for optimism.

In a reaction statement, WRI’s Jennifer Morgan said that “China’s remarks at the Climate Summit go further than ever before. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s announcement to strive to peak emissions ‘as early as possible’ is a welcome signal for the cooperative action we need for the Paris Agreement.”

China alone accounts for one quarter of worldwide carbon emissions annually.

Narendra Modi, newly elected prime minister of India, also declined to attend the climate summit. India is the world’s third largest emitter of carbon.

Midway through the day, the secretary-general was insistent that real progress was being made.

“This summit is not about talk,” he said. “The climate summit is producing actions that make a difference.”

One of the most concrete things that nations can do to combat climate change is to make pledges to the Green Climate Fund.

The Green Climate Fund is a UNFCCC mechanism designed to transfer money from developed countries to developing countries, to build climate resilience.

During the summit French President François Hollande pledged one billion dollars to the Climate Fund over the next few years. Several other countries, including Norway and Switzerland, also promised to contribute smaller amounts. Germany pledged one billion dollars to the fund several months ago.

Still, these efforts do not nearly close the climate resilience gap between rich and poor states.

Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced a common frustration in his statement on behalf of the G77 and China, a group of developing countries.

“Developing countries continue to suffer the most from the adverse impacts of climate change… even though they are historically the least responsible for climate change,” he said.

Morales criticised developed countries for failing to uphold their commitments, and said that developing countries would only be able to fulfil their commitments to reducing carbon without substantial financial assistance from developed countries.

It’s easy “to get caught in the zero-sum game” when talking about steps to mitigate climate change, David Waskow, head of WRI’s International Climate Initiative, told IPS. However, “one of the things that was heard frequently today from the podium was the recognition that climate action and economic growth and development can go hand in hand.”

Historical responsibility is a concern, he said, but it should not stop poor countries from recognising that “there are paths forward on climate action that can in fact be beneficial for development.”

Waskow pointed out that renewable energy will soon be just as cheap as fossil fuels in many countries, and could provide significant development benefits in rural areas far from the main electricity grid.

In addition to the climate summit’s main speeches, numerous side events took place, including thematic debates on the economic case for action and on climate science. A special session entitled “Voices from the Climate Front Lines” highlighted the experiences of children, youth, women and indigenous peoples in building resilience to climate change.

Meanwhile, popular support for action against climate change is gaining energy.

Around 100 climate-related events are taking place in New York between Sep. 22 and 28 as part of the Climate Week NYC campaign.

Two days before the summit, around 400,000 climate supporters joined the People’s Climate March in New York, several times the expected number.

Buses carried in marchers from across the United States. Solidarity marches and events occurred in 166 countries.

Ban, Leonardo DiCaprio, climate change activist and ex-U.S. President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio all participated in New York’s march.

Despite the strong turnout, many climate supporters fear that the hype surrounding the summit and the 2015 Paris conference will amount to nothing more than it did in 2009, when hopes of a climate agreement in Copenhagen fizzled.

When asked whether enough had changed since 2009 to result in a successful climate treaty, Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA, told IPS “I think there’s been enough [change] to get something through. I don’t think there’s been enough to get through something as ambitious as we need.”

For the 2015 Paris agreement to succeed, negotiators will need a “clear, focused and strong draft agreement” by the end of the U.N.’s climate change conference (COP20) in Lima this December, said COP20 president and Peruvian environmental minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal in a press call.

Major economies will need to come forward by March 2015 with their proposed contributions to the Paris framework.

In his remarks at the climate summit, Al Gore put forward his take on what was necessary for a successful climate treaty.

“All we need is political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk/feed/ 0
Obama Mandates Climate Resilience in All U.S. Development Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:32:59 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136839 U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the U.N. Climate Summit 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the U.N. Climate Summit 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

All international development assistance and investments from the United States will now be required to take into account the potential impacts of climate change, according to a new rule signed Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

When designing development programmes of any type, federal agencies will need to factor in climate resilience, referring to the ability of a host country or community to anticipate and prepare for global warming-related changes. Those agencies will likewise be required to encourage similar planning by multilateral development institutions.“Climate resilience is of critical importance to the 500 million smallholder farmers that provide the majority of food in developing countries.” -- Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium

“The president is setting the right course with his executive order,” Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programmes at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, said in a statement. “We can’t pursue development around the world without recognising the risks that climate change poses every day.”

President Obama announced the new directive at the opening of a United Nations summit on climate that brought together some 120 heads of state to discuss new commitments. There, the president also announced a suite of new “tools” and initiatives aimed at assisting developing countries prepare for the impacts of a changing climate, particularly around the sharing of scientific and weather data.

“Today, I’m directing our federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into our international development programmes and investments,” the president said U.N. headquarters in New York.

“And I’m announcing a new effort to deploy the unique scientific and technological capabilities of the United States, from climate data to early-warning systems … to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters, and better plan for long-term threats like steadily rising seas.”

The president did not announce a new U.S. carbon emissions-reduction target during Tuesday’s highly anticipated address. However, he did pledge that such a target would be made public by early next year.

Safeguarding progress

Acknowledging that those countries that bear the least responsibility for climate change “often stand to lose the most”, Obama noted that U.S. assistance for climate-related adaptation efforts has expanded eightfold since 2009.

In an executive order detailing the new mandates, also signed Tuesday, Obama warns that failure to take into account the potential impacts of climate change could “roll back decades of progress in reducing poverty and improving economic growth in vulnerable countries” and weaken the overall effectiveness of U.S. development assistance.

“Development investments in areas as diverse as eradicating malaria, building hydropower facilities, improving agricultural yields, and developing transportation systems will not be effective in the long term if they do not account for impacts such as shifting ranges of disease-carrying mosquitoes, changing water availability, or rising sea levels,” a White House fact sheet notes.

The new mandate could mean, for instance, ensuring that a new road built with U.S. assistance is engineered and sited to withstand strengthened flooding, or that a planned school is moved out of the way of forecasted rising sea waters. It could also mean increased aid focus on agricultural seeds and techniques able to withstand weather extremes, as well as data to allow for better planning by farmers.

“Climate resilience is of critical importance to the 500 million smallholder farmers that provide the majority of food in developing countries,” Frank Rijsberman, the CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, a global organisation that promotes agricultural research to advance food security, told IPS.

“It is an important step for the U.S. to announce that it will mainstream climate resilience in all its development investments – as did a number of other countries and multilateral organisations at the summit.”

A new working group, led by the heads of the U.S. Treasury and USAID, the country’s main foreign aid agency, will now come up with guidelines for integrating these considerations into federal strategies.

But U.S. development agencies are already expressing excitement about the new requirements. An official with USAID told IPS that “it is essential that, as the world’s leading development agency, USAID continue to set a high bar for building resilience into all efforts to end extreme poverty and build flourishing societies.”

An official with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance agency, likewise called the executive order “incredibly significant”.

“OPIC is eager to take part in this administration-wide action that underscores the seriousness of the challenge the whole world faces from a changing climate,” Charles Stadtlander, an OPIC spokesperson, told IPS. “If one thing is clear, it’s more cost-effective to act now than to wait until after it’s too late.”

Low-emissions development

In recent years, OPIC has been increasingly lauded by environmentalists and development groups for its overseas investments in renewable energies. Last year, Stadtlander says, those commitments topped 1.2 billion dollars, marking more than a 50-fold increase since 2007.

For some, it is expanding such efforts, and the U.S. government’s still-nascent focus on overseas alternative and low-carbon energy sources, that remains of paramount importance.

Importantly, the new executive order requires that federal agencies “continue seeking opportunities to help international partners promote sustainable low-emissions development”. It also orders the U.S. National Security Council, within a year, to bring together federal agencies to “explore further mitigation opportunities” in U.S. development activities, and to come up with recommendations for additional action.

“An important element of this order is the mandate to continue seeking avenues for mitigation and low-carbon development,” Justin Guay, a Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“Already important initiatives like OPIC’s Africa Clean Energy Finance programme are building a pipeline, and new loan guarantees and the private investment they’ll leverage can take that pipeline to scale.”

Guay points to a new U.S. government project, announced this summer, called Beyond the Grid, aimed at expanding renewable energies in Africa. Strengthening that initiative would now offer a key opportunity to put the executive order’s mitigation mandate into action, Guay notes.

Meanwhile, others are expressing concerns over the impact in developing countries of new resilience assistance from the West.

For instance, while President Obama and others on Tuesday inaugurated a new Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, aimed at addressing food security in the context of a changing climate, some farmers in developing countries worry the initiative will increase their dependence on foreign interventions.

“Climate smart agriculture will lead to further consolidation of land … creating dependency on so-called new technologies,” La Via Campesina, a global group of smallholders, said Tuesday, “while ignoring traditional tried-and-true adaptive farming techniques and stewardship of seed varieties.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects/feed/ 0
Climate-Smart Agriculture is Corporate Green-Washing, Warn NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:01:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136836 Critics say the agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies that have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon-intensive and depend on external inputs. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

Critics say the agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies that have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon-intensive and depend on external inputs. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

On the sidelines of the U.N.’s heavily hyped Climate Summit, the newly-launched Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture announced plans to protect some 500 million farmers worldwide from climate change and “help achieve sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes.”

But the announcement by the Global Alliance, which includes more than 20 governments, 30 organisations and corporations, including Fortune 500 companies McDonald’s and Kelloggs, was greeted with apprehension by a coalition of over 100 civil society organisations (CSOs)."These companies will do all they can to maintain their market dominance and prevent genuine agroecology agriculture from gaining ground in countries." -- Meenakshi Raman of Third World Network

It is a backhanded gesture, warned the coalition, which “rejected” the announcement as “a deceptive and deeply contradictory initiative.”

“The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture will not deliver the solutions that we so urgently need. Instead, climate-smart agriculture provides a dangerous platform for corporations to implement the very activities we oppose,” the coalition said.

“By endorsing the activities of the planet’s worst climate offenders in agribusiness and industrial agriculture, the Alliance will undermine the very objectives that it claims to aim for.”

The 107 CSOs include ActionAid International, Friends of the Earth International, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements, the South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, the Third World Network, the Bolivian Platform on Climate Change, Biofuel Watch and the National Network on Right to Food.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who gave his blessing to the Global Alliance, said: “I am glad to see action that will increase agricultural productivity, build resilience for farmers and reduce carbon emissions.”

These efforts, he said, will improve food and nutrition security for billions of people.

With demand for food set to increase 60 per cent by 2050, agricultural practices are transforming to meet the challenge of food security for the world’s 9.0 billion people while reducing emissions, he asserted.

But the coalition said: “Although some organisations have constructively engaged in good faith for several months with the Global Alliance to express serious concerns, these concerns have been ignored.”

Instead, the Alliance “is clearly being structured to serve big business interests, not to address the climate crisis,” the coalition said.

The coalition also pointed out that companies with activities resulting in dire social impacts on farmers and communities, such as those driving land grabbing or promoting genetically modified (GM) seeds, already claim they are climate-smart.

Yara (the world’s largest fertiliser manufacturer), Syngenta (GM seeds), McDonald’s, and Walmart are all at the climate-smart table,
it added. “Climate-smart agriculture will serve as a new promotional space for the planet’s worst social and environmental offenders in agriculture.

“The proposed Global Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture seems to be yet another strategy by powerful players to prop up industrial agriculture, which undermines the basic human right to food. It is nothing new, nothing innovative, and not what we need,” the coalition declared.

Meenakshi Raman, coordinator of the Climate Change Programme at the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS the world seed, agrochemical and biotechnology markets are dominated by a few mega companies.

She said these companies have a vested interest in maintaining monoculture farming systems which are carbon intensive and depend on external inputs.

“These companies will do all they can to maintain their market dominance and prevent genuine agroecology agriculture from gaining ground in countries,” she said.

It is vital that such oligopoly practices are disallowed and regulated, said Raman. “Hence the need for radical overhaul of the current unfair systems in place with real reform at the international level.”

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said the world’s foremost agriculture experts have determined that preventing climate change from damaging food production and destabilising some of the world’s most volatile regions will require reaching out to at least half a billion farmers, fishers, pastoralists, livestock keepers and foresters.

The goal is to help them learn farming techniques and obtain farming technologies that will allow them to adapt to more stressful production conditions and also reduce their own contributions to climate change, said CGIAR.

These researchers are already working with farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to refine new climate-oriented technologies and techniques via what are essentially outdoor laboratories for innovations called climate-smart villages.

The villages’ approach to crafting climate change solutions is proving extremely popular with all involved, and now the Indian state of Maharashtra (population 112.3 million) plans to set up 1,000 climate smart villages, CGIAR said.

Asked for specifics, Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), told IPS countries in the tropics will be particularly impacted, especially those that are already under-developed because such countries don’t have the resources to adapt and respond to extreme weather conditions.

These include many countries in the Sahel region, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, plus countries in Latin America.

Asked if these countries are succeeding in coping with the impending crisis, he said there are good cases of isolated successes, but in general they are not coping.

For example, one success is in Niger where five million trees have been planted, that help both adaptation and mitigation, but an enormous number of other activities are needed, he added.

Raman told IPS there are many rules in the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) agriculture agreement that threaten small-scale agriculture and agroecology farming systems in the developing world.

She said developed countries are allowed to provide billions of dollars in subsidies to their agricultural producers whose products are then exported and dumped on developing countries, whose farming systems are then displaced or threatened with artificially cheap products.

Many developing countries, she pointed out, were also forced to remove the protection they had or have for their domestic agriculture, either through the WTO, the World Bank policies under structural adjustment and free trade agreements.

“These policies do not allow developing country governments to protect small farmers and their domestic agriculture,” she said.

Such rules and policies are unfair and unethical and should not be allowed as they undermine small farmers and agroecology systems,
Raman declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-smart-agriculture-is-corporate-green-washing-warn-ngos/feed/ 2
Urban Population to Reach 3.9 Billion by Year Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:29:16 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136810 Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums belies the official story that the country is well on its way to providing universal access to safe, clean drinking water. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums belies the official story that the country is well on its way to providing universal access to safe, clean drinking water. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Gloria Schiavi
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

People living in cities already outnumber those in rural areas and the trend does not appear to be reversing, according to UN-Habitat, the Nairobi-based agency for human settlements, which has warned that planning is crucial to achieve sustainable urban growth.

“In the hierarchy of the ideas, first comes the urban design and then all other things,” Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, told IPS while he was in New York for a preparatory meeting of Habitat III, the world conference on sustainable urban development that will take place in 2016."In the past urbanisation was a slow-cooking dish rather than a fast food thing." -- Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat

“Urbanisation, plotting, building – in this order,” he said, explaining that in many cities the order is reversed and it is difficult to solve the problems afterwards.

According to the U.N. Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), urban population grew from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014 and is expected to surpass six billion by 2045. Today there are 28 mega-cities worldwide and by 2030 at least 10 million people will live in 41 mega-cities.

A U.N. report shows that urban settlements are facing unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges, and spontaneous urbanisation often results in slums.

Although the proportion of the urban population living in slums has decreased over the years, and one of the Millennium Development Goals achieved its aim of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers, the absolute number has continued to grow, due in part to the fast pace of urbanisation.

The same report estimates that the number of urban residents living in slum conditions was 863 million in 2012, compared to 760 million in 2000.

“In the past urbanisation was a slow-cooking dish rather than a fast food thing,” Clos said.

“We have seen it in multiple cases that spontaneous urbanisation doesn’t take care for the public space and its relationship with the buildable plots, which is the essence of the art of building cities,” he added.

The former mayor of Barcelona for two mandates, Clos thinks that a vision is needed to build cities. And when he says building cities, he does not mean building buildings, but building healthy, sustainable communities.

Relinda Sosa is the president of National Confederation of Women Organised for Life and Integrated Development in Peru, an association with 120,000 grassroots members who work on issues directly affecting their own communities to make them more inclusive, safe and resilient. They run a number of public kitchens to ensure food security, map the city to identify issues that may create problems, and work on disaster prevention.

“Due to the configuration of the society, women are the ones who spend most time with the families and in the community, therefore they know it better than men who often only sleep in the area and then go to work far away,” Sosa told IPS.

“Despite their position, though, and due to the macho culture that exists in Latin America, women are often invisible,” she added. “This is why we are working to ensure they are involved in the planning process, because of the data and knowledge they have.”

The link between the public and elected leaders is crucial, and Sosa’s organisation tries to bring them together through the participation of grassroots women.

Carmen Griffiths, a leader of GROOTS Jamaica, an organisation that is part of the same network as Sosa’s, told IPS, “When access to basic services is lacking, women are the ones who have to face these situations first.

“We look at settlements patterns in the cities, we talk about densification in the city, people living in the periphery, in informal settlements, in housing that is not regular, have no water, no sanitation in some cases, without proper electricity. We talk about what causes violence to women in the city,” Griffiths added.

As the chief of UN-Habitat told IPS, it is crucial to protect public space, possibly at a ratio of 50 percent to the buildable plots, as well as public ownership of building plans. The local government has to ensure that services exist in the public space, something that does not happen in a slum situation, where there is no regulation or investment by the public.

Griffiths meets every month with the women in her organisation: they share their issues and needs and ensure they are raised with local authorities.

“Sometimes it happens that you find good politicians, some other times they just want a vote and don’t interface with the people at all,” she added.

Griffiths also sits on the advisory board of UN-Habitat, to voice the needs of her people at the global level and then bring the knowledge back to the communities, she explained.

These battles are bringing some results, especially in the urban environment. Sosa said that women are slowly achieving wider participation, while in rural areas the mindset is still very conservative.

About the relationship between urban and rural areas, Maruxa Cardama, executive project coordinator at Communitas, Coalition for Sustainable Cities & Regions, told IPS that an inclusive plan is needed.

Cities are dependent on the natural resources that rural areas provide, including agriculture, so urban planning should not stop where high rise buildings end, she explained, adding that this would also ensure rural areas are provided with the necessary services and are not isolated.

Although they will not be finalised until 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently include a standalone goal dedicated to making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end/feed/ 1
World Bank Reports Major Global Support for Carbon Pricinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 00:28:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136817 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-three countries and 22 lower-level governments offered formal support Monday for a global price on carbon dioxide emissions, including China, Russia and the European Union.

Together, these countries account for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Bank, which unveiled a major new push towards global carbon pricing. Other backers include South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and the Philippines.“If governments put good policies and carbon pricing in place, investors can help finance the transition to a low carbon economy.” -- Stephanie Pfeifer

The World Bank also announced that more than a thousand corporations and investors have recently signed several high-level statements on the issue, urging policymakers to take substantive steps towards a global price on carbon emissions.

The data comes as more than 100 government leaders are in New York this week for a United Nations-sponsored summit where governments and the private sector are to announce new climate-related commitments. Around that event, a record 310,000-plus demonstrators took to the streets in New York on Sunday, urging action.

“Today we see real momentum,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said Monday. “Governments representing almost half of the world’s population and 52 percent of global GDP have thrown their weight behind a price on carbon as a necessary, if insufficient, solution to climate change and a step on the path to low carbon growth.”

While there are several ways to impose a financial cost on carbon – including a tax, a trading system and others – proponents say any of these would bring multiple benefits. They would create economic incentives to both reduce emissions and boost the development of renewable energies, while resulting revenues could be used to finance adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Still, carbon prices have also been blamed for raising costs on day-to-day items, including food. Poorly structured carbon taxes could thus impact most immediately on the poor.

The new support builds on a public statement of backing for carbon pricing that the World Bank published in June. At that time, 40 national and more than 20 sub-national carbon taxes or trading schemes had been set up, accounting for a bit more than a fifth of global emissions.

On Monday, Kim also announced a new public- and private-sector grouping, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, that will begin meeting to “advance carbon pricing solutions” in advance of widely anticipated negotiations next year in Paris. There, the global community is expected to agree on a new framework for responding to climate change.

“Carbon pricing if expanded to this scale and then globally has the potential to bring down emissions in a way that supports clean energy and low-carbon growth while giving businesses the flexibility to innovate and find the most efficient choices,” the World Bank noted in a feature story on the new initiatives Monday. “This is a wake-up moment.”

Investor energy

Of course, government representatives have been meeting to discuss options around combating climate change for decades, and there is near universal agreement today that actions taken thus far have not been commensurate with the threat.

Further, market-based schemes such as carbon pricing would only offer a partial solution. Yet even so, the World Bank’s new list of supporters doesn’t include some of the most important players, including the United States and India.

The current phase in the climate discussion is nonetheless distinctive for the new corporate support for some sort of global action around climate change, particularly for a broad price on carbon. Just in the past few days, a series of major calls to action have been made by multinational companies and some of the world’s largest institutional investors.

“Support for carbon pricing among the investor community is greater than it’s ever been,” Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), told IPS.

“Climate change puts the investments and savings of million of people at risk. Investors support ambitious action on climate change and a strong carbon price to reduce these risks and to unlock capital for low carbon investments.”

The London-based IIGCC was involved in developing a major statement from global investors on climate change. The most recent version, released last week, included nearly 350 signatories representing some 24 trillion dollars in assets, and called for carbon pricing, greater support for renewable energy and efficiency, and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

“Investors are willing and able to invest in low carbon energy,” Pfeifer says. “If governments put good policies and carbon pricing in place, investors can help finance the transition to a low carbon economy.”

Environment and economy

The newly stepped-up interest around climate change on the part of corporate executives and investors underscores a strengthening understanding of climate issues as posing threats beyond the environmental. Increasingly, corporations are being forced to explain to their shareholders how climate change and related regulation could impact on their underlying finances – and how prepared they are for that eventuality.

Last week, a widely discussed study found that many of the world’s largest companies, including the oil giant ExxonMobil and financial services firm Goldman Sachs, are already incorporating internal carbon prices into their financial planning and risk management. “[M]ajor corporations not only recognize climate-related regulatory risks and opportunities, but also are proactively planning for them and are outpacing their governments in thinking ahead,” the report found.

Some proponents say this engagement by the private sector could now provide key energy ahead of the Paris climate negotiations next year.

“These are vast and marked changes, and very different from any other time I can remember. The level of interest on the part of the private sector is radically different than it was even five years ago,” Mindy Lubber, the president of Ceres, a U.S. coalition of investors and others focused on sustainability, told IPS.

“It goes without saying that financial and corporate leaders calling for action does change the debate. It moves the discussion from one of the environment versus the economy to one about both.”

Still, some are concerned that the new focus on the private sector’s role in addressing climate change, including at this week’s U.N. summit, is inverting the proper role of government and state regulation.

“We’re increasingly seeing the private sector telling government how companies can be supported on energy and climate issues,” Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“That’s a perversion, with public sector energy going into supporting the private sector. Instead, the public sector has to set goals and a framework for how we all need to act, both individuals and the private sector.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-unveils-major-global-support-for-carbon-pricing/feed/ 0
U.N. High-Level Summits Ignore World’s Political Criseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 23:56:57 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136814 A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

A wide view of the General Assembly Hall as Sam Kahamba Kutesa (shown on screens), President of the sixty-ninth session of the Assembly, addresses the first plenary meeting of the session on Sep. 16, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

As the 69th session of the General Assembly took off with the usual political pageantry, the United Nations will be hosting as many as seven “high-level meetings”, “summits” and “special sessions” compressed into a single week – the largest number in living memory.

The agenda includes a world conference on indigenous peoples; a special session on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; a climate summit; and a Security Council meeting of world leaders on counter-terrorism presided over by U.S. President Barack Obama."We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis." -- James Paul

Additionally, there will be a summit meeting on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa; a high-level event on the U.N.’s Global Education First Initiative’s (GEFI); and a summit meeting of business leaders sponsored by the U.N.’s Global Compact.

All of this in a tightly-packed five-day political extravaganza ending Friday, which also includes an address by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama at the GEFI meeting.

At a press conference last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the upcoming events in superlatives.

“This is going to be one of the largest, biggest gatherings of world leaders, particularly when it comes to climate change,” he said.

Still, neither the General Assembly nor the Security Council has seen fit to summon a special session or a summit meeting of world leaders on the widespread crises that have resulted in hundreds of thousands killed and millions reduced to the status of refugees: in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Perhaps the easy way out was to focus merely on counter-terrorism instead of directly engaging Iraq or Syria.

The primary reason for avoiding these crises is the sharp division of opinion among the 193 member states in the General Assembly and a virtual Cold War confrontation between veto-wielding Russia and the United States in the 15-member Security Council, with China supporting the Russians.

James Paul, a former founding executive director of the New York based Global Policy Forum, told IPS: “The U.N.’s unprecedented number of global policy events in the coming days reflects the parlous state of the planet and the fear among those at the top that things are coming apart.”

He said terrorism, the climate crisis, Ebola outbreak, population pushing towards nine billion – these are signs the globalised society once so proudly announced is coming unstuck.

“Lurking in the background are other dangers: the persistent economic crisis, the problems of governability, and the rising tide of migration that are destabilising political regimes everywhere,” said Paul, who has been monitoring and writing extensively on the politics and policy-making at the United Nations since 1993.

Despite some star-studded attendees at the General Assembly sessions this year, there are a couple of high-profile world leaders who will be conspicuous by their absence.

Those skipping the sessions include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who plans to address the General Assembly, is skipping the Climate Summit.

Asked about the non-starters, the secretary-general said: “But, in any event, we have other means of communications, ways and means of having their leadership demonstrated in the United Nations.”

And so it’s extremely difficult to have at one day at one time at one place 120 heads of state in government, he said, in an attempt to justify the absentee leaders.

“In that case,” said a Wall Street Journal editorial rather sarcastically, “why not do a conference call?” of all world leaders.

The editorial also pointed out “the Chinese economy has been the number one global producer of carbon dioxide since 2008, but President Xi Jinping won’t be gracing the U.N. with his presence.”

Paul told IPS since the problems facing the international community are global in scope, everyone realises they must be addressed globally, hence the turn towards the United Nations.

“But the powerful countries are uncomfortable with the U.N. even as they seek to impose their own global solutions,” he said.

So there is the paradox of global crises and global conversations, without effective global governance. Democracy is definitely off the table, said Paul, whose honours include the World Hunger Media Award and a “Peacemaker” award by Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“We will see this on full display in the coming days: gatherings that are symptomatic but that make little progress, gatherings that may drive forward the very policies that are fueling the crisis,” he said.

Above all, he said, the business leaders of the Global Compact, will be gathering to “bluewash” their companies and to declare their commitment to a better world while promoting a neoliberal society of weak governance and the invisible hand.

“They will be waltzing in dreamland. Please pour another champagne,” Paul declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-high-level-summits-ignore-worlds-political-crises/feed/ 0
ISIS Complicates Iran’s Nuclear Focus at UNGAhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:05:24 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136811 Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s foreign minister arrived in New York last week with his sights set on a final deal on Iran’s nuclear programme. But a pressing regional conflict is hanging heavily over the already strained negotiations as Iran and world powers resume talks on the sidelines of this week’s U.N. General Assembly.

A Sep. 21 report by Reuters that Iran was seeking a “give and take” strategy in the talks by using the support it could provide in battling the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) as leverage challenged prior U.S. and Iranian insistence that the talks are solely nuclear-focused.

But a senior Iranian official involved in the negotiations told IPS that Iran was not discussing Iraq during talks with the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany).“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement.” -- Nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai

“We have enough on our plate with the nuclear issue,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity via a Sep. 21 email.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius supported the Iranian official’s comment to IPS during a televised conference held in New York today by the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR).

“The Iranians did not ask us to have a melange [bring ISIS into the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme]…these were different questions,” he said.

Mixed Signals

Whether or not the crisis posed by ISIS has become an issue in the nuclear negotiations, Iran appears to be exploring various avenues to combat the Sunni extremist group’s advance through parts of Syria and Iraq.

Although Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally maintained cold relations—the Shia and Sunni countries both seek regional dominance—the threat posed by ISIS could bring them closer together.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called a Sep. 21 hour-long meeting with his Saudi counterpart in New York a “new chapter in relations,” according to the state news agency, IRNA.

“We can reach agreement on ways for countering this very sensitive crisis,” he said.

But Iranian and U.S. officials have publicly oscillated over the extent to which Iran could work with other powers in battling ISIS.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei strongly denied a Sep. 5 BBC Persian report that he had approved military cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.

For its part, the United States excluded Iran from an U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris.

Four days later, Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran had a “role” to play in “decimating and discrediting” the group at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq.

All the while, Iranian officials have discussed ISIS with their U.S. counterparts on the sidelines of the nuclear talks—though both deny military coordination—and provided material and logistical support to some of the same parties battling ISIS in Iraq.

While Zarif ridiculed the U.S.-led group during a Sep. 17 CFR conference as a “coalition of repenters” for allegedly aiding and abetting ISIS’s rise, he also said Iran would continue supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS.

“We don’t hesitate in providing support to our friends, to deal with this menace,” he said.

“The U.S. is not desperate for Iran’s help” and cooperating with Tehran could “complicate the nuclear negotiations and be a political headache for the Obama administration,” Alireza Nader, a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation’s U.S. headquarters, told IPS.

“While some level of tacit U.S.-Iran understanding in Iraq cannot be entirely ruled out, the Iranian government should not over-estimate its leverage on the nuclear issue,” said Nader.

Dismantlement vs. Suspension

While both sides have said a final deal by the Nov. 24 deadline for the negotiations is possible, the talks appear stymied by certain sticking points, especially the future of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach an industrial scale by 2021, but the U.S. wants Iran to scale back its current programme.

“The status quo is not doable for any of us,” said a senior U.S. official during on the condition of anonymity Sep. 18.

But Zarif argued last week that instead of achieving policy goals, U.S.-led sanctions on Iran have resulted in a “net outcome” of more Iranian centrifuges.

“If at the time of the imposition of sanctions, we had less than a couple of hundred centrifuges, now we have about 20,000,” said Zarif on Sep. 17.

While the U.S. has agreed to some enrichment in Iran, the Israeli government has been pushing for complete dismantlement, which Iran says is impossible.

Iran has invested too much in its nuclear programme to dismantle it, according to nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai.

“Iran will have to give up certain things to reach a deal, and already has under [last year’s interim deal the Joint Plan of Action], but when you start talking about dismantlement, people react,” she said. “It’s a bit of a red line.”

Until now, the negotiating parties have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the details of their talks, which helped stave off domestic criticism. But that trend appears to have been broken.

A “face-saving” proposal reported Sep. 19 by the New York Times would allow Iran to suspend rather than dismantle its centrifugal operations, but has been publicly opposed by U.S. and Iranian politicians not involved in the talks.

A group of 31 Republican senators warned against the U.S. “offering troubling nuclear concessions to Iran” to rapidly reach a deal in a Sep. 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Back in Tehran several members of the Iranian parliament rejected the proposal, according to a report Monday in the hard-line Fars News Agency.

“If such a proposal is formally presented by American officials, it indicates their childish outlook on the negotiations or stupid assumptions of the Iranian side,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a deputy to the speaker of parliament.

A group of conservative MPs also held a conference today in Tehran against U.S.-Iran rapproachment. The participants said a potential meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama in New York would be an “inappropriate act.”

Rouhani met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who wished Rouhani success in his diplomatic initiatives, before the president departed for New York last night.

Rouhani will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 25.

Tabatabai told IPS that while Iran may not be desperate for a deal, both sides want a final agreement and reports of creative solutions to the standoff demonstrate “the political will is there.”

“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/feed/ 2