Inter Press Service » Headlines http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:08:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Step Up Efforts Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-step-up-efforts-against-hunger/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:08:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136744

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed themselves to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by only seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The latest State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) report for 2014 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates that 805 million people – one in nine people worldwide – remain chronically hungry: 789 million are in developing countries where this share has declined from 23.4 to 13.5 percent.

By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015.

Some 25 countries have made more impressive progress, achieving the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of hungry. However, the number of hungry people in the world has only declined by one-fifth from the billion estimated for 1990-92.

Major effort needed

The proportion of undernourished people – those regularly not able to consume enough food for an active and healthy life – has decreased from 23.4 percent in 1990–1992 to 13.5 percent in 2012–2014. This is significant because a large and growing number of countries show that achieving and sustaining rapid progress in reducing hunger is feasible.

However, the MDG target of halving the chronically undernourished people’s share of the world’s population by the end of 2015 cannot be met at the current rate of progress. Meeting the target is still possible, however, with a sufficient, immediate additional effort to accelerate progress, especially in countries which have showed little progress so far.

Progress uneven

“By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015”
Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 14 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases. While sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the chronically hungry, almost one in four, South Asia has the highest number, with over half a billion undernourished.

Marked differences in reducing undernourishment have persisted across regions. There have been significant reductions in both the estimated share and number of undernourished in most countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean – where the MDG target of halving the hunger rate has been reached, or nearly reached.

West Asia has seen a rise in the share of the hungry compared with 1990–1992, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

In several countries, underweight and stunting persist in children, even when undernourishment is low and most people have access to sufficient food. Such nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Food security and nutrition

Hunger is conventionally measured in terms of the prevalence of undernourishment, the FAO estimate of chronic inadequacy of dietary energy. While such a measure is useful for estimating hunger, it needs to be complemented by more measures to capture other dimensions of food security.

SOFI’s suite of indicators measures different dimensions of food security. Information thus generated can guide priority policy actions. For example, in countries where low undernourishment coexists with high malnutrition, specially-designed nutrition-enhancing interventions may be crucial to address early childhood stunting.

With the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals likely to seek to overcome hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, FAO has recently developed and tested a new Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) in over 150 countries to measure the severity of reported food insecurity.

Lessons

Improvements in nutrition generally require complementary policies, including improving health conditions, hygiene, water supply and education. More sophisticated and creative approaches to coordination and governance are needed, with more, and more effective, resources to end hunger and malnutrition in our lifetimes.

With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment continuing and likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome without universalising social protection to all in need, but also to provide the means for future livelihoods and resilience.

The forthcoming Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome on November 19-21 is expected to articulate coherent bases for accelerated progress to overcome undernutrition as well as for greater international cooperation and support for enhanced and more integrated national nutrition efforts.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Geographical Divide in Maternal Health for Syrian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 15:17:22 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136741 A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
DOHUK, Iraq, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the largest refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, young Syrian mothers and pregnant women are considered relatively lucky.

The number of registered Syrian refugees surpassed 3 million in late August, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (over 1.1 million), Turkey (over 800,000), and Jordan (over 600,000). In all of the above, serious concerns have been expressed about the availability of healthcare services for expectant mothers.

In Lebanon, for example – which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, 76 percent of whom are women and children – the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) last year had to reduce its coverage of delivery costs for mothers to 75 percent instead of 100 percent, due to funding shortfalls.Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare

The Domiz camp in the northern Dohuk province houses over 100,000 mostly Syrian Kurds, but is in a geographical area with a 189 percent coverage rate of humanitarian aid funding requests in 2014. The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (SHARP) has received only 33 percent of the same.

Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare.

This does not necessarily equate with quality healthcare, however. Halat Yousef, a young mother that IPS spoke to in Domiz, said that she had been told after a previous birth in Syria that she would need a caesarean section for any subsequent births.

On her arrival at the Dohuk public hospital, she was instead refused a bed, told to come back in a week and that she would have to give birth normally. They also told her she had hepatitis.

Fortunately, she said, her husband realised the seriousness of the situation and took her to the capital, where they immediately performed a C-section and found that she was instead negative for hepatitis. IPS met her as she was leaving healthcare facilities set up in the camp, holding her healthy 10-day-old infant.

Until recently, many mothers would also simply give birth in their tents. On August 4, Médicins San Frontiéres (MSF) opened a maternity unit in the camp that offers ante-natal check-ups, birthing services headed by MSF-trained midwives and post-natal vaccinations provided by staff who are also refugees.

Information on breastfeeding and family planning advice is also provided, according to MSF’s medical team leader in the camp, Dr Adrian Guadarrama.

MSF estimates that 2,100 infants are born in the camp every year, and others to refugees living outside of it.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has long been providing safe delivery kits to healthcare providers. It also works to prevent unwanted pregnancies and provides contraceptives to those requesting them, thereby ensuring that pregnancies are planned, wanted and safer.

The clean delivery kits contain a bar of soap, a clear plastic sheet for the woman to lie on, a razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a sterilised umbilical cord tie, a cloth (to keep the mother and baby warm) and latex gloves.

UNFPA humanitarian coordinator Wael Hatahet told IPS that so far the programmes in Iraqi Kurdistan for Syrian refugees had received enough funding to cover the necessary services, and this was why ‘’the situation is no longer an emergency one for Syrians here’’.

Hatahet said that he gives a good deal of credit to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which – despite having seen a major cut in public funds from the central government as part of a prolonged tug-of-war between the two – continues to support Syrian refugees coming primarily from the fellow Kurdish regions across the border.

Many residents expressed dissatisfaction to IPS about what they considered ‘’privileged treatment’’ given to Syrian refugees while the massive influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that have arrived in the region over the past few months – after the Islamic State (IS) extremist group took over vast swathes of Iraqi territory in June – are seen to be suffering a great deal more.

Even Hatahet, who is of Syrian origins himself, noted that he had seen ‘’Iraqi IDPs wearing the same set of clothes for the past 15 days’’.

‘’We obviously try to support with garments and dignity kits,’’ he said, ‘’but it’s really, really sad.’’

However, he also noted that ‘’almost all the IDP operations are supported by the Saudi Fund [for Development]’’ totalling some 500 million dollars and announced in summer, ‘’which was strictly for IDPs and not refugees.’’

Hatahet expressed concerns that a broader shift in focus to Iraqi IDPs might result in a loss of the gains made in this geographical area of the Syrian refugee crisis, urging the international community to remember that ‘’we have 100,000 refugees scattered within the host community’’ and not just in the camps.

The Turkish office of UNFPA told IPS that, in its area of operations, ‘’it is estimated that about 1.3 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey, of which only one-fifth of them are staying in camps due to limited space. 75 percent of the refugees are women and children under 18 years old.’’

It pointed out that ‘’women and girls of reproductive age under conditions of war and displacement are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, early and forced marriage, high-risk pregnancies, unsafe abortions, risky deliveries, lack of family planning services and commodities and sexually transmitted diseases.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Rare Zambian Tree Faces Exploitation Because of Legal Loopholehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:32:16 +0000 Piliro Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136735 The South Luangwa National Park in North Eastern Zambia. This is one of the areas where the Mukula tree grows. Credit: Alex Berger/CC by 2.0

By Piliro Phiri
RUFUNSA, Zambia, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

Steven Nyambose used to sell charcoal for a living until he discovered that the trees could be more lucrative in another way – through cutting them down and selling the logs to international buyers.

“We used to see this [Mukula] tree and think of it being just like any other, not knowing that it is a gold mine on its own. And now that the buyers are plenty, we have changed the business focus from the usual charcoal burning and hunting to the lucrative business of cutting and selling the Mukula logs,” Nyambose, a resident of Rufunsa, which lies about 200 kilometres east of Zambia’s capital Lusaka, told IPS.

But there is a downside to Nyambose’s business – it is illegal.“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber." -- government forestry officer

Zambia has seen a rise in the demand for its timber, mainly for export. Unfortunately, much of the exploitation of the timber, especially the rare Mukula species, otherwise known by its biological classification, Pterocarpus chrysothrix, is illegal in this southern African nation.

But the trade is flourishing because of a lack of clarity in legislation that protects Zambia’s forests.

Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973 states that one cannot harvest major forest products like trees without a licence. But the act allows local communities to harvest forest produce for domestic use and not export.

The  loophole is apparently being exploited as local communities are contracted to cut the trees by timber dealers who are supplying international consumers, among them the Chinese and Americans.

The Mukula tree is in high demand among the international business communities who are using it in the production of gunstocks and other artefacts.

Locals are paid between five and 10 dollars per log.

“The charcoal business is not only a health risk but it is also not lucrative because of the high number of people in the same business. Trading in Mukula is more profitable because its market is not local like it is with charcoal, we target the Chinese nationals because they seem to be more interested in the logs,”  Nyambose explained.

The popularity of the tree lies in the fact that it has three usable layers, while other trees only have a usable heart or inner layer.

The Mukula tree’s heart wood is used for making rifle butts; the second layer is used in the timber industry for furniture, while the outer part is used for medicinal purposes.

The sudden soaring demand  from the international market for the tree has probably been triggered after the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Mozambique intensified security around the harvesting of the tree.

“We have our bosses who contract us to cut the Mukula trees. These bosses are sometimes our fellow Zambians who are more establish in the timber business or even the foreign businessmen,” Nyambose said.

The tree, which takes more than 90 years to mature, is widely spread in all provinces of Zambia apart from the Copperbelt, North Western and Western provinces.

For a long time, no attention was paid to monitoring how the timber industry operated and how the country’s precious resource was exported. However, illegal loggers and transporters are increasingly being caught.

Recently, cases of trucks laden with logs of the Mukula tree were impounded in different locations across Zambia.

Last month, in Chipata, in the Eastern province, police intercepted a truck laden with Mukula trees enroute to neighbouring Malawi. Over 1,000 Mukula logs, suspected to have been illegally cut in Vubwi District in Eastern province, were being transported to Malawi without clearance.

And in April, a Lands, Natural Resources, and Environmental Protection team impounded a truck laden with Mukula logs in Rufunsa.

According to a government forestry officer based in Lusaka, who spoke to IPS on the condition of anonymity, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

He did point out that there was a significant loophole in Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973.

“The Forest Act number 39 of 1973, Chapter 199, is not effective as it allows harvesting any tree apart from species that bear fruits and those involved in the conservation of water near or around a water table.

“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber,” the expert said.

But Lands and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister Mwansa Kapeya said the government intensified patrols and operations in areas where the illegal cutting down of the Mukula tree was rife.

He warned foreign nationals involved in the cutting and exporting of the Mukula tree that they risked going to jail and could be deported from Zambia.

“We are not just watching, we are reviewing policies on forestry and would also put in place a national strategy to address the levels of deforestation and illegal timber business,” Kapeya told reporters recently.

The government forestry officer pointed out that the root of combating the tree’s exploitation lies not in policies but in their implementation.

“Look at the Forestry Department for example; it is present in all the provinces and districts but the tools and equipment required to ensure sustainable forest protection and management including law enforcement are not available.

“We have suitable legislation but if practical application is not available then the policy or Act may not be effective.”

But according to Zambia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researcher Davison Gumbo, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation like the Forests Act of 1973 and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

“The major point is policy enforcement,” Gumbo agreed.

“When there is no enforcement by government, people do as they see fit. With a higher level of enforcement, government would realise more revenues from the Mukula tree,” he told IPS.

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New Fund to Build on “Unprecedented Convergence” Around Land Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:53:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136732 Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Starting next year, a new grant-making initiative will aim to fill what organisers say has been a longstanding gap in international coordination and funding around the recognition of community land rights.

The project could provide major financial and technical support to indigenous groups and forest communities struggling to solidify their claims to traditional lands. Proponents say substantive action around land tenure would reduce growing levels of conflict around extractives projects and land development, and provide a potent new tool in the fight against global climate change.“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value. But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The new body, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, is being spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition, though the fund will be an independent institution. The Swedish government is expected to formally announce the project’s initial funding, some 15 million dollars, at next week’s U.N. climate summit in New York.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a prerequisite for much needed sustainable investments.”

As Gornitzka indicates, recent research has found that lands under strong community oversight experience far lower rates of deforestation than those controlled by either government or private sector entities. In turn, intact forests can have a huge dampening effect on spiking emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is a potential that supporters think they can now use to foster broader action on longstanding concerns around land tenure.

Governments claim three-quarters

National governments and international agencies and mechanisms have paid some important attention to tenure-related concerns. But not only have these slowed in recent years, development groups say such efforts have not been adequately comprehensive.

“There is today an unprecedented convergence of demand and support for this issue, from governments, private investors and local people. But there remains no dedicated instrument for supporting community land rights,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“The World Bank, the United Nations and others dabble in this issue, yet there has been no central focus to mobilise, coordinate or facilitate the sharing of lessons. And, importantly, there’s been no entity to dedicate project financing in a strategic manner.”

According to a study released Wednesday by RRI and Tebtebba, an indigenous rights group based in the Philippines, initiatives around land tenure by donors and multilaterals have generally been too narrowly tailored. While the World Bank has been a primary multilateral actor on the issue, for instance, over the past decade the bank’s land tenure programmes have devoted just six percent of funding to establishing community forest rights.

“Much of the historical and existing donor support for securing tenure has focused on individual rights, urban areas, and agricultural lands, and is inadequate to meet the current demand from multiple stakeholders for secure community tenure,” the report states.

“[T]he amount of capital invested in implementing community tenure reform initiatives must be increased, and more targeted and strategic instruments established.”

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet governments continue to administer or claim ownership over nearly three-quarters of the world’s forests, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

From 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests, according to RRI. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those put in place recently have been relatively weaker.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of major action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous peoples and a member of the advisory group for the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, said in a statement.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

Unmapped and contested

Experts say the majority of the world’s rural lands remain both unmapped and contested. Thus, the formalisation of land tenure requires not only political will but also significant funding.

While new technologies have made the painstaking process of mapping community lands cheaper and more accessible, clarifying indigenous rights in India and Indonesia could cost upwards of 500 million dollars each, according to new data.

Until it is fully up and running by the end of 2015, the new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will operate on the Swedish grant, with funding from other governments in the works. That will allow the group to start up a half-dozen pilot projects, likely in Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Colombia, to begin early next year.

Each of these countries is facing major threats to its forests. Peru, for instance, has leased out nearly two-thirds of its Amazonian forests for oil and gas exploration – concessions that overlap with at least 70 percent of the country’s indigenous communities.

“If we don’t address this issue we’ll continue to bump into conflicts every time we want to extract resources or develop land,” RRI’s White says.

“This has been a problem simmering on the back burner for decades, but now it’s reached the point that the penetration of global capital into remote rural areas to secure the commodities we all need has reached a point where conflict is breaking out all over.”

The private sector will also play an important role in the International land and Forest Tenure Facility, with key multinational companies sitting on its advisory board. But at the outset, corporate money will not be funding the operation.

Rather, White says, companies will help in the shaping of new business models.

“The private sector is driving much of this damage today, but these companies are also facing tremendous reputational and financial risks if they invest in places with poor land rights,” he says.

“That growing recognition by private investors is one of the most important shifts taking place today. Companies cannot meet their own growth projections as well as their social and environmental pledges if they don’t proactively engage around clarifying local land rights.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Is Newly-Renovated U.N. Readying For Balkanisation of World?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/is-newly-renovated-u-n-readying-for-balkanisation-of-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-newly-renovated-u-n-readying-for-balkanisation-of-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/is-newly-renovated-u-n-readying-for-balkanisation-of-world/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:38:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136729 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre, facing audience) greets staff and guests during his Sep. 15 visit to the newly renovated General Assembly Hall at U.N. Headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre, facing audience) greets staff and guests during his Sep. 15 visit to the newly renovated General Assembly Hall at U.N. Headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

When world political leaders arrive next week for the annual ritual of addressing the United Nations, they will be speaking inside a newly renovated General Assembly hall – part of a hefty 2.1-billion-dollar, seven-year refurbishing project – with an extended seating capacity for 204 member states, 11 more than the current 193.

In the next decade, the United Nations may be anticipating a rash of new member states, primarily breakaway nations triggered partly by separatist movements, seeking to join the world body.If political fantasies become realities, the unlikely lineup of new U.N. member states may include Catalonia, Scotland, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Quebec, Kashmir, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Palestine, and possibly a Sunni Iraq and a Shia Iraq.

If political fantasies become realities, the unlikely lineup may include Catalonia, Scotland, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Quebec, Kashmir, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Palestine, and possibly a Sunni Iraq and a Shia Iraq.

As one Middle Eastern diplomat sarcastically speculated, “I was wondering whether one of those new seats is meant for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)” (which the United States considers a terrorist group).

As in previous years, the drill next week will be the same: long-winded speeches, hundreds of bilateral meetings between world leaders (without even crossing the street) and a tight security around the U.N. perimeter.

And this year, the visiting political leaders – at last count, over 150 heads of state or heads of government – will be taking the podium at a time when the world is facing a slew of political and military crises, including in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

Ian Williams, a longstanding U.N. correspondent and an associate professor at Bard College, told IPS the completion of renovations to the General Assembly hall shows some degree of foresight, with a dozen or so spare places available for new delegations.

“With the pace of Balkanisation worldwide, however, that might not be enough,” he said, with tongue firmly in cheek.

Kosovo, Kurdistan and Scotland, not to mention the various Putinistans springing up on the fringes of Russia, could soon fill those seats, said Williams, who is working with artist Christian Clark on a new edition of ‘The U.N. For Beginners’ for the 70th anniversary of the world body next year.

He pointed out there is also increasing political Balkanisation of the blocs in the United Nations.

“In days of the old Cold War, there was a certain discipline. All the East Bloc speeches were drearily similar. Now, countries pay little heed to instructions from self-appointed superpowers and are more eager,” said Williams.

Asked if the General Assembly sessions have any impact at all on world events, Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS, “With all due respect to all visiting heads of state, I am not certain the term ‘leaders’ would apply anymore.”

That may partially explain the atmosphere of widespread turmoil the world over, he added.

“So many presidential appearances yet so little positive impact,” said Sanbar, who served under five different secretaries-general.

Until recently, he pointed out, there were endless bilateral meetings between presidents and prime ministers on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. The general debates during the sessions were substantive, and they constituted a backbone for eventual U.N. resolutions.

But most of those visits are now perceived as photo opportunities, said Sanbar, editor of the online electronic newsletter, U.N. Forum.

Addressing reporters Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “At this time of turmoil, the next two weeks will highlight again the indispensable role of the United Nations in tackling global threats and seizing opportunities for common progress.”

He said the new session of the General Assembly will be “a pivotal period for our efforts to defeat poverty and adopt a new generation of sustainable development goals.

“Action on climate change is urgent. The more we delay, the more we will pay in lives and in money,” he said, on the eve of the heavily-hyped U.N. Climate Summit next week.

Ban also announced the appointment of Hollywood movie star Leonardo DiCaprio as “our newest United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on climate change issues.”

Williams told IPS the U.S. delegation then and for a long time afterwards suffered from a national diffidence about the United Nations.

He pointed out U.S. Congressional right-wingers continually harassed the United Nations with cut appropriations, while Democrats, with an eye to their more rabidly pro-Israeli lobbyists, would not cross the road to defend it.

Even the fact that there was money to repair the leaky Assembly Hall is result of the change of American attitude, he added.

But controversy at least creates noise. Now there is a deafening silence, said Williams.

“What happened to all those loons who thought U.N. peacekeepers would take over the United States with their black helicopters?” he asked. “And who remembers the U.N. land grab through World Heritage Sites, or the martyred GIs (U.S. soldiers) who refused to wear blue berets?”

Williams said one hopes they switched to new hobby horses, such as Benghazi, U.S. President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and similar distractions, rather than that the U.N. has become irrelevant.

“Because while the leaders will tut-tut from the podium about the strategic and seemingly insoluble problems – Ukraine/Russia, Syria/Iraq – the assembled leaders will still be in a position to assist the U.N. in serious issues: the flooding of the basement during Hurricane Sandy brought Climate Change home to Turtle Bay.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is doing his best to concentrate the minds of assembled leaders on restarting effective negotiations on a Climate Change pact, said Williams.

“He will probably get better results with that than uniting the members on Syria,” he noted.

Sanbar told IPS when former General Assembly President Razali Ismail of Malaysia cautioned in 1996 about “creeping irrelevance” of these gatherings, he was almost branded a rebel.

“Now heads of key states dash in and out, mainly competing to speak on the first two days, while others who may be have been actually visiting New York a week before do not bother to show up at all,” he added.

“Even our own substantive star, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who admirably maintained the momentum on climate change, seems to feel a need to bring in a Hollywood star for that purpose.

“It would be a Titanic if Leonardo de Caprio gets the Noble Peace Prize for that one,” said Sanbar, who thinks the secretary-general is making a case for the Nobel Peace Prize for his vigorous campaign on climate change.

Referring to the expansion of the General Assembly hall, Sanbar recounted that when the first expansion was planned, the architects sought to be very forward-looking to the year 1990 by designing it for 120 delegations (almost double the original members).

“On an equally sarcastic note,” he added, “you may explore a potential seat for Beyonce,” the celebrated singer, song writer and actress.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136724 Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Honduran Mothers and Grandmothers Search Far and Wide for Missing Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:04:59 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136721 Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
EL PROGRESO, Honduras, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

United by grief and anxiety, the grandmothers, mothers and other relatives of people who disappeared on the migration route to the United States formed a committee in this city in northern Honduras to search for their missing loved ones.
Founded in 1999, the Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos de El Progreso (COFAMIPRO – El Progreso Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives) is now one of the most highly regarded migrants’ rights organisations in Honduras.

For the past 14 years, COFAMIPRO has aired a radio programme on Sunday afternoons called “Abriendo Fronteras” (Opening Borders) on Radio Progreso, a station run by the Society of Jesus (a Catholic religious order) in Honduras.

The programme was originally called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), but Rosa Nelly Santos, a member of COFAMIPRO, told IPS that as the committee expanded its activities, “we decided to call it Abriendo Fronteras, because we have indeed opened them. We are listened to by a larger audience than ever before, and not only by migrants but also by governments.”“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves.” -- Marcia Martínez

The hour-long radio programme fulfills a vital social function. It advises migrants about conditions on the routes, plays the music they request to lift their spirits, and provides a sevice by enabling them to send messages to their relatives in Honduras.

Emeteria Martínez, a founding member of COFIMAPRO, died in 2013 just months after locating one of her daughters , who had been missing for 21 years.

Finding their family members was the driving force that united them, Santos said. “The group was created out of nothing, by discovering that one woman’s grief was the same as another’s. We would meet in the home of one of the group and that’s how we built up courage to go out into the world and search for our relatives,” she said.

Twenty women started the group, and now the leadership group is composed of more than 40 members.

They are unassuming women but they are buoyed by hope, in spite of the pain of not knowing anything about their missing relatives and of facing dreadful tragedies like the Tamaulipas massacre in Mexico. Four years ago, 72 migrants, 21 of whom were Hondurans, were shot at point-blank range by Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal cartel. Their bodies were found on a ranch in the San Fernando district.

The Tamaulipas massacre brought home to Hondurans the suffering involved in migration, over and above the issue of the remittances sent back by those who make it to the United States.

“It was like a defeat for us. You hope that your son or daughter will travel safely on the migrant route and manage to cross the border, but you do not expect him or her to be massacred and shipped back to you in a box. That is really shocking,” said Santos, who together with other members of COFAMIPRO has helped and comforted victims’ relatives.

The women on the Committee are all volunteers who have overcome their fear of the unknown. For over a decade they have taken part in the mothers’ caravans , motorcades organised by the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), which in September every year travel the migrant routes, looking for clues to the whereabouts of missing relatives.

The migratory route begins in Guatemala and ends at Mexico’s northern border.

“The first time I went on the caravan, three years ago, I understood the importance of my mother’s work. I learned from her grief and I decided to take a full part in the Committee,” Marcia Martínez, the 44-year-old daughter of another deceased Committee founder, told IPS.

“I had no idea of the huge number of mothers and relatives who join the motorcade, nor of the epic nature of the journeys my mother undertook. They cover all the routes used by the migrants, asking about them with placards, looking for answers that sometimes never arrive, or arrive too late. When we find someone we were looking for, the joy is indescribable,” she said.

“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants on their way north] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves,” Martínez said.

COFAMIPRO’s premises are in a shopping centre in El Progreso, one of Honduras’s five largest cities, in the northern department (province) of Yoro, 242 kilometres from Tegucigalpa. Formerly they were housed in Jesuit property, but thanks to donations they were able to rent their own small locale where people can come for support to find their relatives.

In the years since it was founded it has documented more than 600 cases of disappeared persons, of whom over 150 have been found. They continue to seek the rest, although they believe that many must have died on the way or fallen in the hands of human trafficking networks.

Initially the government would not recognise the Committee, but the success of its work with the Mesoamerican caravans led to its voice being heard. It has presented cases of disappeared migrants to the foreign ministry. In June, the group finally acquired formal legal status.

Their struggle has not been easy. Honduran officials dismissed them as “crazy old women” when, years ago, they organised their own march to Tegucigalpa to demand action for their missing loved ones.

Their response was a song they chanted at the foreign office building. Santos sang it with pride: “People at the foreign office call us liars, but we are decent women and we prove it with deeds; what we are here to demand is completely within our rights.”

Their steady, silent work has yielded fruit. When IPS interviewed a group of these women, they had just saved the life of a Honduran man, a relative of a local official in El Progreso, through their Mexican contacts.

He had been kidnapped by a criminal organisation that extorted more than 3,000 dollars from his family before they approached the Committee, which secured his release through an operation by the Mexican prosecution service.

Five years ago, COFAMIPRO issued a warning about the present migration crisis, but no one listened. According to the group, migrants will continue to flee from unemployment and criminal violence.

In the baking hot city of El Progreso, cases have been known of mothers who left town when criminal gangs told them their children would be forcibly recruited into the criminal organisations when they were old enough, and that in the meantime the gangs would provide money to raise the children and pay for their education.

An estimated one million Hondurans have emigrated to the United States since the 1970s, but the exodus has intensified since 1998. As of April 2014, Washington has intensified its deportations of families with children as well as adults.

The Honduran authorities say that 56,000 people were deported back to the country in the first seven months of this year. Of these, 29,000 arrived from the United States by air and 27,000 from Mexico by land.

Honduras has a population of 8.4 million and a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 population, according to official figures.

In 2013, migrants contributed 3.2 billion dollars to the Honduran economy in remittances, close to 15 percent of GDP, according to the Central Bank.

In COFAMIPRO’s view, the migratory crisis should spur governments to reform their public policies and refrain from stigmatising and criminalising migrants, because “they are not criminals, they are international workers,” Santos said.

She, at least, has the consolation of having found her missing nephew four years ago.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Uganda’s Youth Discover the Beauty in Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:28:39 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136714 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/feed/ 0 OPINION: Fighting ISIS and the Morning Afterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:14:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136715 Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

As the wobbly anti-ISIS coalition is being formed with American prodding, the Obama administration should take a strategic look at the future of the Arab world beyond the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State. Otherwise, the United States would be unprepared to deal with the unintended chaos.

Driven by ideological hubris, the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war rejected any suggestions that the war could destabilise the whole region and rock the foundations of the Arab nation-state system.Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

That system, which was mostly created under the colonial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, is now being severely stressed. The Obama administration should avoid repeating the tragic mistake of its predecessor. While trying to halt the advance of ISIS by focused airstrikes, and regardless of the coalition’s effectiveness in “degrading” and “defeating” ISIS, President Obama should instruct his senior policymakers to explore possible architectures that could emerge from the ashes of Sykes-Picot.

The stresses and fault lines we are witnessing in the region today could easily lead to implosions tomorrow. Rightly or wrongly, Washington would be blamed for the ensuing mayhem.

As Secretary of State John Kerry shuttles between countries chasing the elusive coalition to fight ISIS, the administration seems to be unclear even about terminology. Is it a war or a multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS? Whatever it’s called, if this strategy fails to eradicate the Islamic State and its Caliphate, is there a “Plan B” in the making?

Briefing senior policymakers on the eve of the Iraq war, I pointed out the possible unintended consequences of the invasion. George Tenet, former CIA director, alludes to several of these briefings in his book, “At the Center of the Storm.”

One of the briefings discussed the possibility that the Iraq invasion could fundamentally unsettle the 100-year old Arab nation-state system. National identity politics, which heretofore has been managed and manipulated by autocratic regimes—tribal, dynastic, monarchical, and presidential—could unravel if the Bush administration failed to anticipate what could happen following Saddam’s demise.

The artificiality of much of those states and their boundaries would come unhinged under the pressures of the invasion and the unleashing of internal forces that have been dormant. National loyalties would be replaced by religious and sectarian affiliations, and the Shia-Sunni disputes that go back to the 7th century would once again rise to the surface albeit with more violence and bloodshed.

The briefings also emphasised Iraq’s central Islamic dilemma. While for many Sunni Muslims Baghdad represents the golden age of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, Iraq is also the cradle of Shia Islam.

Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq are sacred for the Shia world because it was there where the fourth Caliph Ali’s son Hussein was “martyred” and buried. Iran, as the self-proclaimed voice of Shia Islam all over the world, is deeply embedded in Iraq and will always demand a central role in the future of Iraq.

Bush administration senior policymakers ignored these warnings, arguing Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs would view American and coalition forces as “liberators” and, once the dictator fell, would work together in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion, and compromise. This view, unfortunately, was grounded in the neocons’ imagined ideological perception of the region. As we now know, it was utterly ignorant of ground truths and the social fabric of the different Arab Islamic societies.

Many Bush White House and Defense Department policymakers generally dismissed briefings that focused on the “morning after.” It’s safe to say they cared less about the post-Saddam Middle East than about toppling the dictator.

The region still suffers from those disastrous policies.

ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum, and its transnational ideology, warped as it may be, seems to appeal to Arabs and Muslims who have become disenchanted with the existing political order in Arab lands.

Many citizens view their states as fiefdoms of the ruling elites with no genuine respect for individual rights, personal freedoms, and human dignity. The “securitisation” of politics has alienated many young Arabs and is driving them toward extremism.

If the borders between Syria and Iraq are erased by the transnational “Caliphate,” what will become of the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq? Is the Obama administration ready to pick up the pieces when these nation-states disintegrate?

These are the critical questions the Bush administration should have pondered and answered before they invaded Iraq. They are the same questions the Obama administration should ponder and answer before unleashing American air power over the skies of the Levant.

Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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OPINION: Sleepwalking Towards Nuclear Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-sleepwalking-towards-nuclear-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sleepwalking-towards-nuclear-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-sleepwalking-towards-nuclear-war/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 11:27:35 +0000 Helge Luras http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136711

In this column, Helge Luras, founder and director of the Centre for International and Strategic Analysis (SISA) based in Oslo, Norway, argues that up until now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and has thus survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

By Helge Luras
OSLO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

New military measures to deter what NATO perceives to be a direct threat from Russia were adopted at the alliance’s Heads of State meeting in Wales (Sep. 4-5). A few days earlier, President Barack Obama made promises in Estonia that the three tiny Baltic NATO member states would “never stand alone”. 

Since early 2014, Russia has done practically all that Western leaders have warned President Vladimir Putin in advance not to do. Crimea was occupied and annexed. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine were encouraged and given practical support. Later, Russian personnel and equipment came more and more openly into conflict with Ukrainian forces.

Helge Luras

Helge Luras

But the West’s warnings to Russia did not stop there. Already several months ago, establishment figures and the media began to associate events in Ukraine directly with the situation in the Baltics and in Poland. NATO has responded to the Russian offensive against Ukraine, a non-NATO country, by shifting military resources towards the areas of NATO that it claims, but only by conjecture, are threatened by Russia.

But did anyone at the NATO summit warn that the alliance might create a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did anyone have the foresight to consider how tensions between Russian speakers and Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians might increase as a result of the hyperbole of the Russian threat? One should not assume hostile intentions in today’s ethnically-charged world without good reason.

That some Western minds consider themselves, and by extension NATO, to be an idealistic force for peace, human rights and democracy, is beyond dispute. But the reality is that NATO countries – that is, the West – represent the world’s most powerful military force, both conventional and nuclear.

Up to now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and therefore has survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

Since the Cold War, the West has swallowed up a large area formerly under the influence, if not outright control, of Soviet Russia. The hegemonic mind saw this as just natural and of no business to an anachronism like Russia.“The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time”

The future of humanity when expansion started in the 1990s was a Western future: liberal, democratic and free-market. Spheres of influence were the hallmark of others, exemplified by “reactionary” and authoritarian forces like Russia under Putin. Western influence is in another category – it is natural if not God-given.

In Russia, there is a clear and evolving bias in news reporting which the West characterises as “propaganda”. In the West, there is less need to instruct the media directly, there is a reverse bias due to cultural indoctrination. Evidently the West is a keeper of the right values. There is no cause and effect. Evil just pops up. All things Russian are bad, deceitful, not to be trusted. But in Russia this feeds an undeniable paranoia in the psyche.

The West has retained one “acceptable” bogeyman in the atmosphere of religious tolerance that creates such cognitive dissonance as it struggles to come to grips with core tenets of original (radical) Islam. The Western “liberal mind” has at least one cultural object left to legitimately hate: Russian political culture and the strong man it produces.

The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time.

Western leaders undoubtedly perceive that their power is waning. No more state-building in faraway countries for us. The end of omnipotence, indeed of paradigm, is obviously traumatic and difficult to consider with a cool mind. But the diminution of Western political power occurs with no corresponding weakness in pure military muscle.

This leaves the temptation of a “Mad Man Doctrine”. If you can convince your opponent that you are willing to react disproportionately to what is at stake for you, he will fear you beyond the otherwise sensible. Everyone treats a mad man with caution.

In Ukraine, there is more at stake for Russia than for the West. Therefore Russia, as it has also shown, will not give up or allow itself or its allies to lose. In the Baltic countries, there is also more at stake for Russia than for the United States and for most other NATO countries as well.

For, in the post-Cold War, Russia has no ideology beyond nationalism. Its most ambitious claims, even if unopposed, would come to a halt at the geographical outer limits of the ethnic Russian nation.

This is not to say that Russian nationalism could not become a factor of instability beyond Ukraine. Trouble is latent. The partly Russian-populated Baltic countries are now in NATO, and NATO is an institutionalised form of the Mad Man Doctrine. The danger of miscalculating the reaction for NATO as well as for Russia is therefore significant.

Little suggests that the West understand how risky the games in progress really are. NATO and Russia are nuclear powers. Sensible leaders on both sides understood as much during the Cold War. Nuclear powers must not go to war with each other. If at all, the conflicts must remain by proxy. Such insights must be rediscovered today.

NATO should concentrate on finding a way to downplay the conflict with Russia, compromise on Ukraine, and not follow what the United States seem intent on doing; escalating, increasing defence spending across the bloc, sending more troops to the Baltic countries. Appeasement, if the starting point is dumb-headed NATO-expansionism, can be a virtue as well as a vice.

Military means are already at play in the conflict between NATO and Russia. Some call for even more. Before pushing Russia further in the direction they claim not to want – ethnic expansionism – politicians in the West must remember that nuclear arms are the last weapons in the arsenal of both.

Luckily, Putin seems quite sane, with superior rationality to many of his Western counterparts. The irresponsible comparison between Putin and Hitler is therefore wrong in many respects, but not least because Hitler never had the bomb. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nuclear Deal with Iran Likely to Enhance U.S. Regional Leveragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 00:05:48 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136706 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme could significantly enhance U.S. leverage and influence throughout the Greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior U.S. foreign-policy officials and regional experts and released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards co-operation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.The study comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive [regional] priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats,

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, there remain large gaps between them, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the U.S. — which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group — as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… [to reduce] the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such co-operation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions – U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers — to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center here. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan, from which U.S. and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

While it is no secret that the U.S. and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the U.N., “what’s not as well known is that the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces” during that campaign.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some co-operation between Iran and the U.S. is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report. Until now, it has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to U.S. and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career. In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key U.S. regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.N., among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force, he said.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” the report said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America at a Climate Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:41:36 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136697 Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit during the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 23 will have a crucial opportunity to mobilise political will and advance solutions to climate change.

They will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.Cities need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 12 percent, according to U.N. figures, it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, according a World Bank Report.

For the Caribbean region in particular, reliance on imported fuels challenges balance of payments stability and increases the vulnerability of key ecosystems that underpin important productive sectors, including tourism.

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, as per capita income rises and countries become increasingly industrialised—and urban.

Although the region has a clean electricity matrix, with nearly 60 percent generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing GHG emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Importantly, 68 million Latin Americans continue using firewood for cooking, which leads to severe health problems especially for women and their young children, entrenching cycles of poverty and contributing to local environmental degradation, including deforestation.

Cities also need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

Urbanisation rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. By 2050, 90 percent of the population will be living in cities. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services.

Therefore, the question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or will turn towards increased fossil fuel generation.

In this context, energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region’s future.

Consequently, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favour renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower, according to a UNDP report.

On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. Climate variability also destabilises agricultural systems and production that are key to supporting economic growth in the region.

But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

Also, in most countries, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas, thereby decreasing vulnerability to foreign exchange shocks linked to prices changes in world markets.

In this context, countries have already been spearheading innovative policies. Several countries in the region produce biofuel in a sustainable way. For example, Brazil’s ethanol programme for automobiles is considered one of the most effective in the world.

Investing in access to energy is transformational. It means lighting for schools, functioning health clinics, pumps for water and sanitation, cleaner indoor air, faster food processing and more income-generating opportunities.

It also entails liberating women and girls from time-consuming tasks, such as collecting fuel, pounding grain and hauling water, freeing time for education and paid work.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to boost access to sustainable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012.

This was a joint partnership between national and local governments, UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian governments, which improved lives and transformed the energy sector.

In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and Latin America and the Caribbean are already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

In a Nicaraguan community that is no longer in the dark, Maribel Ubeda, a mother of three, said her children are the ones most benefitting from the recent access to energy: “Now they can use the internet and discover the world beyond our community.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Pushes Climate-Smart Agriculture – But Are the Farmers Willing to Change?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:09:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136702 In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
KARNAL, India, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to make a strong pitch to world political leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on Sep. 23 to accept new emissions targets and their timelines.

Launching the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) represents yet another concerted attempt to meet the world’s 60-percent higher food requirement over the next 35 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Alliance will come not a day too soon. The latest Asian Development Bank report says that if no action is taken to prevent the earth heating up by two degree Celsius by 2030, South Asia – one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change and home to 1.5 billion people, a third of whom still live in poverty – will see its annual economy shrink by up to 1.8 percent every year by 2050 and up to 8.8 percent by 2100.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest.” -- Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village in Haryana state
The CSA alliance aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture, thereby increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, strengthening the resilience of food systems and farmers’ livelihoods and curbing the emission of greenhouse gases related to agriculture.

India, home to one of the largest populations of food insecure people in the world, recognises the impending challenge, and the need to adapt. The national budget of July 2014 set up the farmers’ ‘National Adaptation Fund’, worth 16.5 million dollars.

Given that 49 percent of India’s total farmland is irrigated, experts fear the ripple of effects of climate change on the vast, hungry rural population.

Spurred on by organisations and government incentives to switch to a different mode of agriculture, some rural communities are already inventing a workable mix of traditional and modern farming methods, including reviving local seeds, multi-cropping and smart water usage.

Various agriculture research organisations have also been urging farmer communities to move into CSA.

CSA: Embraced by some, shunned by others

In Taraori village in the Karnal district of India’s northern Haryana state, 42-year-old Manoj Kumar Munjal, farming 20 hectares, is a convert to climate-smart techniques. And he has good reason.

Scientists project that average temperatures in this northern belt are expected to increase by as much as five degrees Celsius by 2080.

The main crops in Haryana are wheat, rice and maize, with many farmers also dedicated to dairy and vegetables. Of these, wheat is particularly vulnerable to heat stress at critical stages of its growth.

A recent study projects that climate change could reduce wheat yields in India by between six and 23 percent by 2050, and between 15 and 25 percent by 2080.

Haryana has been sliding in food grain production and ranked 6th among Indian states in 2012-13. This bodes badly for the entire country’s food security, as Haryana’s wheat comprises a major part of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which allocates highly subsidised grain to the poor.

Some 25 million people live in the state of Haryana alone. Of the 16.5 million who dwell in rural areas, 11.64 percent live below the poverty line.

Munjal, a university graduate, had to take over the farm with his brother when his father suffered a paralytic stroke, but has since changed the way his father grew crops.

Farming the climate-smart way, Munjal’s crop mix includes four acres of maize that need only a fifth of the water that rice consumes.

He opts for direct seeding instead of sapling transplantation, which involves high labour costs and a week of standing water to survive, in addition to being vulnerable to floods and strong winds due to a weak root system.

Munjal’s new methods, moreover, give shorter-cycle harvests and vegetables are grown as a third annual crop, translating into higher income for the farmer.

Trained by CGIAR’s Research Programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Munjal also uses technology like the laser land leveler, which produces exceptionally flat farmland, and thus ensures equitable distribution and lower consumption of water.

Other tools like the Leaf Colour Chart and GreenSeeker help Munjal assess the exact fertiliser needs of his crops. Text and voice messages received on his mobile phone about weather forecasts help him to time sowing and irrigation to perfection.

Around 10,000 farmers have adopted climate smart practices in 27 villages in Karnal, according to M L Jat, a cropping systems agronomist with CIMMYT.

They, however, account for a low 20-40 percent of total farmers here.

Making the global local

As global policy negotiations pick up with the upcoming Climate Summit and the 20th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 20) in Lima, Peru, scheduled for December 2014, there appears to be a growing gap between negotiators’ sense of urgency and actual on-the-ground implementation of CSA.

In Taraori village, home to over 1,000 farmers, where climate-smart agriculture was introduced over four years ago, conversion is slow with only 900 acres, out of a total of 2,400 acres of farmland, utilising such practices.

Forty-year-old Vinod Kumar Choudhary tells IPS that “the challenge in inducting farmers” into new models of agriculture, is that the older generation has no faith in the new system, preferring “to stick to tried and tested methods practiced for generations.”

“Any technology introduction must be [accompanied by] a behaviour change, which is slow,” adds Surabhi Mittal, an agricultural economist with CIMMYT.

While water and labour are still available, albeit for an increasingly high price, traditional farmers here say they will continue on as they have before.

The younger crowd believes this mindset needs to change.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest,” says 48-year-old Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village, also in Haryana state, which is a major producer of India’s scented Basmati rice, exported mostly to the Middle East.

“Climate change and international dollar swings [are] the two most unpredictable entities deciding our fate in recent years,” Dayal tells IPS.

Therefore Dayal runs two buses, in addition to overseeing seven hectares of farmland that he owns jointly with his brother. Of his two high-school-aged sons, he plans to include the older one, Kusal, in the farm’s management while the younger one, he hopes, will get admission into a foreign university.

“If he gets into one, our life is made,” Dayal says.

From among the 60 families in Dayal’s village of Birnarayana, “only 15 percent of the younger generation are agreeable to continuing with agriculture as their main livelihood,” Dayal tells IPS. “The rest wish to migrate in search of white-collar jobs with assured income.”

India is one of the largest agrarian economies in the world. The farm sector contributed approximately 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) during 2012-2013.

Even though seven out of 10 people – or 833 million of a population of 1.21 billion – depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for a livelihood, the growth rate for the sector was just 1.7 percent in 2012-2013. In comparison, the service sector grew at a rate of 6.6 percent, according to the ministry of agriculture.

The 2011 census found that the number of cultivators across India fell significant over the last decade, from 127 million in 2001 to 118 million at the time of the census. The number of agricultural labourers, however, rose rapidly between 2001 and 2011, from 106 million to 144 million.

The number of small and marginal farmers, who own on average 0.38 to 1.40 hectares of land and constitute 85 percent of Indian farmers – also rose by two percent between 2005 and 2010.

Unless binding international agreements on carbon emissions come into effect almost immediately, India will be saddled with a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions, as the millions of people who eke out a living on tiny plots of earth find their lifeline slipping away from them.

And in the meantime, the country will need to scale up its efforts to ensure that climate-smart agriculture becomes more than just a modernity embraced by the youth and takes root in farming communities all over this vast nation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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As Uganda Heats Up, Pests and Disease Flourish to Attack its Top Export Crophttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/as-uganda-heats-up-pests-and-disease-flourish-to-attack-its-top-export-crop/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-uganda-heats-up-pests-and-disease-flourish-to-attack-its-top-export-crop http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/as-uganda-heats-up-pests-and-disease-flourish-to-attack-its-top-export-crop/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 18:34:38 +0000 Prossy Nandudu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136687 Farmer Sera Nafungo picking coffee berries in Bukalasi, eastern Uganda. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Farmer Sera Nafungo picking coffee berries in Bukalasi, eastern Uganda. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

When Abudu Zikusoka was a small boy his father would bring people to their home in Ndesse village in Central Uganda’s Mukono district. He would watch as they packed the family’s harvested coffee into sacks and then loaded it onto their bicycles.

“I used to see one of them giving daddy money from which he took out some coins to give my sister,” Zikusoka tells IPS.

“When my brother started going to school, daddy continued with the practice until one day I asked my sister where she was taking the money,” he remembers. 

His sister explained that the money was meant for school fees that had to be paid at the beginning of each term. This is why Zikusoka decided to embrace coffee farming after his father gave him a half hectare piece of land when he married in 2005 — he wanted to be able to support his family too.

On his piece of land, also in Ndesse village, Zikusoka was able to plant coffee trees and crops such as bananas, cassava and maize which became the main source of income for his family. Thanks to the profit from his farming Zikusoka was also able to buy an additional hectare of land.

Coffee is Uganda’s single-largest export earner. This East African nation is the largest exporter of coffee on the continent as Ethiopia consumes more than half of what it produces.

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) estimates that 85 percent of all coffee produced in Uganda is mostly from smallholder farmers, the majority of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people.

A Ugandan coffee grower poses beside his crop. Coffee is grown by at least half a million smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

A Ugandan coffee grower poses beside his crop. Coffee is grown by at least half a million smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

But now it seems as if the good times are at risk from a changing climate.

“The yields are so poor, they are affected by diseases and pests almost all the time and when the rain takes a long to come, it becomes hard… The worst is that we were hit by the coffee wilt last year and I lost everything,” Zikusoka says in frustration.

“I haven’t been able to harvest much coffee like it was in 2006 when I had just started focusing on coffee as a commercial crop,” Zikusoka explains.

He is one of the many farmers who have recently been affected the black coffee twig borer and coffee wilt diseases in Mukono district, one of Uganda’s commercial coffee-growing districts. Wilt first attacked Uganda’s Robusta coffee in 1993 and has destroyed over 12 million plants since then. However, it is believed this figure is underreported.

“Before the coffee wilt attacked my crop, I used to earn between 700 to 1,000 dollars in a good season but the remaining trees [not affected by the wilt] have earned me only 250 dollars, and now I don’t know if I will be able to earn more,” he adds.

Zikusoka has come to the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) in Kituuza, Mukono district, to find out if he can access the improved varieties developed here that are resistant coffee diseases, which have now become tolerant to high temperatures.

Last month, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report was released in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, scientists noted that incidences of pests and diseases have appeared to have increased here because of climate change.

According to Dr. Africano Kangire from NaCORI, it appears that the warmer than usual weather is creating a breeding ground for pests and disease. The report attributes the rise in temperature to increased global warming, fuelled mainly by human activities such as clearing forests for settlement and charcoal burning, among others, which has seen increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“High temperatures provide favourable conditions for the breeding of pests and diseases, which are affecting coffee production. We have seen incidences where diseases like malaria are now rampant in the highlands which weren’t the case before, although this is for the medical professional to elucidate,” says Kangire.

According to Kangire, Uganda’s temperatures have been erratic and increasing over the years. He says if temperatures hit the two degrees Celsius level, as predicted, it could render Robusta coffee cultivation in Uganda’s lowlands very difficult while limiting it to few locations in the much cooler highlands.

He further explains that coffee leaf rust disease, which has long been known to affect coffee at altitudes lower than 1,400m above sea level, has now surfaced at 1,800m above sea level. This, he explains, is evidence of rising temperatures in the country, since logic shows that the higher you go, the cooler it becomes.

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying near Paidha town, Zombo District in northern Uganda. The country is Africa’s biggest producer of coffee, ahead of Ethiopia. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying near Paidha town, Zombo District in northern Uganda. The country is Africa’s biggest producer of coffee, ahead of Ethiopia. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

He adds that the coffee berry disease, which is known to affect Arabica coffee, has also shifted to higher altitudes to attack crop cultivated 1,800m above sea level — it previously only appeared at 1,600m above sea level.

Dr. Revocatus Twinomuhangi, is one of the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report and is also the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) country engagement leader and a lecturer at Makerere University Centre for Climate Change Research and Innovations.

“We are witnessing a shift in production of crops such as coffee, tea, maize for example coffee was mainly for highland areas but because people have cut down trees and cleared part of the highlands for cultivation the crop failing and if the temperature could rise to even 1.5 degrees Celsius there will be dramatic shift from highlands to low lands like the central regions in Uganda,” he tells IPS.

However, the latest UCDA report shows that Uganda’s July coffee exports earned the country revenue of 37.9 million dollars up from June’s value of 31.04 million.

According to the managing director of UDCA, Henry Ngabirano, the authority has succeeded in recording some profits from the coffee sector despite the presence of coffee wilt diseases.

“We are getting clonal coffee varieties resistant to the wilt because these were the most-affected while Arabic coffee, which was less affected, has remained at 10 percent production.

“So the 10 percent Arabic and the other percentage of clonal coffee are keeping us in the market but we are confident that since researchers ad government have taken it up, we shall be able to adjust to effects of climate change,” Ngabirano tells IPS.

While scientists at NaCORI are breeding improved coffee varieties, which include those resistant to coffee wilt, Paul Isabirye, assistant commissioner from the Department of Meteorology cautions that temperatures could have risen since the IPCC report was issued.

He points out that rain is now falling at the wrong times, and the coffee beans have less time to mature.

“If the coffee beans face a lot of sunshine and less rain, the beans will continue to be smaller and of lower yields,” he tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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Pushing for Cities to Take Lead on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/pushing-for-cities-to-take-lead-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-for-cities-to-take-lead-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/pushing-for-cities-to-take-lead-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 18:19:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136694 Smog over Cairo. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria reaffirmed their commitment Sep. 17 “to support international cities’ efforts to lead in the global fight against climate change”. Credit: Wikipedia

Smog over Cairo. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria reaffirmed their commitment Sep. 17 “to support international cities’ efforts to lead in the global fight against climate change”. Credit: Wikipedia

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

If former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had used the Vélib’ – Paris’ public bicycle sharing system – to arrive at the headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development here Wednesday, he might have sent a stronger message about the need for cities to be “empowered to take the lead in combating climate change”.

Yet, despite arriving by car, Bloomberg, the United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, spoke persuasively about how efficient environmental policies at local level can lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

A key step is to make populations more aware of the issues by sending the right message, so that voters can make informed decisions, Bloomberg said during an open “discussion” with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

For example, if people saw an image of a baby on television with “two or three cigarettes dangling out of his or her mouth” and understood that as a symbol of the polluted air that they were breathing in their city, or the air that their children would breathe, the message would hit home, said Bloomberg, the founder and principal owner of the international media company that bears his name.If people saw an image of a baby on television with ‘two or three cigarettes dangling out of his or her mouth’ and understood that as a symbol of the polluted air that they were breathing in their city, or the air that their children would breathe, the message would hit home – Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York

“People will understand the issue, they will understand how it affects them … and what they can do about it,” he said, adding that such understanding will affect their political choices.

At the meeting, Bloomberg and Gurría “reaffirmed their commitment to support international cities’ efforts to lead in the global fight against climate change” and urged governments to adopt policies to achieve this.

Their pledge ties in with the former mayor’s current role: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Bloomberg as a special envoy in January to assist him in “consultations with mayors and related key stakeholders in order to raise political will and mobilise action among cities as part of his long-term strategy to advance efforts on climate change”.

This assistance includes “bringing concrete solutions” to the 2014 Climate Summit that the UN Secretary-General will host in New York on Sep. 23.

However, many non-governmental organisations regard this Summit as a gathering where world leaders will once again be “fiddling with flimsy pledges instead of committing to binding carbon reductions”, according to environmental group Friends of the Earth.

“A parade of leaders trying to make themselves look good does not bring us any closer to the real action we need to address the climate crisis. This one-day Summit will not deliver any substantial action in the fight against climate change,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FoEI).

“World leaders are falling far short of delivering what we need to truly tackle climate change in a just way. Their flimsy non-binding pledges in New York will do little to improve their track record. What we urgently need are equitable and binding carbon reductions, not flimsy voluntary ones,” she said in a statement.

Friends of the Earth will join with thousands of protesters on Sep. 21 to march in New York, Paris, London and several other cities around the world to “demand climate justice, standing with climate and dirty energy-affected communities worldwide”, the group said.

Some of the cities where the demonstrations will occur have already taken steps to reduce emissions and improve the quality of life for residents, as Bloomberg pointed out in Paris. But political awareness needs to be heightened so that special interest groups are not the ones imposing directions, the former mayor said.

Over three consecutive terms as mayor of New York, where he reportedly spent 268 million dollars of his own money on election campaigns, Bloomberg set up schemes to make New York “greener”, including recycling food waste and aiming at converting organic waste to biogas.

For Bloomberg and Gurría, cities are a” crucial part of efforts to slow climate change” because urban areas produce more than two-thirds of the world’s carbon emissions. The share of the global population living in cities is also set to increase to 70 percent, or 6.4 billion people, by 2050 from the current roughly 50 percent, says the OECD.

“Cities have the potential to make a great difference in the global effort to confront climate change: they account for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and two-thirds of the world’s energy use today,” according to Bloomberg and Gurría.

“Mayors have, within their authorities, many ways to reduce emissions, change the way energy is consumed, and prepare for the impacts of climate change,” they added.

Both men called on world leaders gathering at the UN Climate Summit to “look for ways to help their cities accelerate their progress and empower them to do even more.”

“We are all aware of the immense scale of the global challenge presented by climate change,” Gurría said. “It is no longer simply an environmental issue. It is an economic and a social issue. It is vital to our quality of life and to the life of our fragile earth. Action is becoming ever-more urgent.”

The OECD and Bloomberg Philanthropies also issued a “Policy Perspectives” document Wednesday that recommends measures for enabling cities to fight global warming. The recommendations include actively involving the private sector because “green” policies cannot be separated from economic growth, according to Gurría.

He said that various sectors needed to work together to “enable real progress in reaching international climate goals and a meaningful, global agreement next year in Paris,” where the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference will take place.

Friends of the Earth and many other NGOs remain unconvinced, however, of the commitment by wealthy nations such as those that are members of the OECD. The group said that the positions of developed countries’ leaders “are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites, the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Launches Ambitious Humanitarian Plan for Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:07:45 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136688 Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an ambitious recovery plan for Gaza following the 50-day devastating war between Hamas and Israel which has left the coastal territory decimated.

However, the successful implementation of this plan requires enormous international funding as well as a long-term ceasefire to enable the lifting of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.

“We are working on a 24-month plan aimed at 70 percent of Gaza’s population who are refugees but this will only be possible if the blockade is lifted and construction materials and other goods are allowed into Gaza,” Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), told IPS.

“Taxpayers are being asked once again to fund the reconstruction of Gaza and at this point there are no security guarantees, so a permanent ceasefire is essential if we are not to return to the repetitive cycle of destruction and then reconstruction,” Gunness said.“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future, it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price” – Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

The attack on Gaza, euphemistically code-named “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israelis, now stands as the most severe military campaign against Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

“The devastation caused this time is unprecedented in recent memory. Parts of Gaza resemble an earthquake zone with 29 km of damaged infrastructure,” said Gunness.

Following the ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll stood at 2,130 and more than 11,000 injured.

Over 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals and five clinics were closed due to severe damage, while 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals and 45 of 97 its primary health clinics were substantially damaged. Reconstruction is estimated to cost over 7 billion dollars.

According to UNRWA, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged during Israeli bombardments, while many higher education facilities were damaged.

Some 110,000 displaced Gazans remain in UN emergency shelters or with host families, according to UNRWA.

The reconstruction of shelters alone will cost over 380 million dollars, 270 million of which relates to Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 129 completely destroyed.

“We have a two-year plan in place which addresses the spectrum of Palestinian needs. Currently we have 300 engineers on the ground in Gaza assessing reconstruction needs,” Gunness told IPS.

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

UNRWA’s strategic approach has been divided into the relief period, the early recovery period and the recovery period of up to four months following the cessation of hostilities.

“The relief period, which will continue for the next four months, involves urgent humanitarian intervention including providing shelter, food and medical needs for displaced Gazans,” said the UNTWA spokesman.

“The early recovery period will continue for the next year and will address the critical needs of the population such as repairing damage to environmental infrastructure, restoring UNRWA facilities and supplementary assistance for livelihood provisioning.

“The recovery period will last for two years and will focus on the impact of the conflict through a sustainable livelihoods programme promoting self-sufficiency and completing the transition of UNRWA emergency and extended-stay shelters back to intended use and full operational capacity.”

One thrust of UNRWA’s programme will focus on protection, gender and disability. The increased numbers of female-headed households and households with disabled men is having an impact on unemployment patterns.

“Women are the primary caregivers and are closely linked to homes and the psychological trauma being exhibited by children. Furthermore, there have already been signs of increased gender-based violence,” explained Gunness.

“We want to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence, how to deal with violence in the home and building healthy and equal relationships through our gender empowerment programme.”

The UN agency will also address food distribution by providing minimum caloric requirements through basic food commodities, including bread, corned beef or tuna, dairy products and fresh vegetables. Non-food items provided include hygiene kits and water tanks for 42,000 families.

Emergency repairs to shelters are also being undertaken with 70 percent more homes destroyed or damaged than during the 2008-2009 hostilities. Emergency cash assistance for refugee families to meet a range of basic needs is also being distributed.

“Due to the enormous damage done to hospitals and health facilities, UNRWA has so far established 22 health points to provide basic health services to the sick and wounded, and health teams have been deployed to monitor key health issues,” noted Gunness.

The psychological impact of the war is another area that concerns UNRWA.  “There isn’t a person in Gaza who hasn’t been affected by the war. In consultation with UNRWA’s Community Health Programme, we have hired additional counsellors and youth coordinators who will provide a range of services to groups and individuals.”

“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future,” said Gunness, “it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Tackling Climate Change and Promoting Development: A “Win-Win”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-climate-change-and-promoting-development-a-win-win/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-climate-change-and-promoting-development-a-win-win http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-climate-change-and-promoting-development-a-win-win/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 14:23:28 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136682 The cost of solar energy has fallen by 90 percent in the last half dozen years. Credit: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

The cost of solar energy has fallen by 90 percent in the last half dozen years. Credit: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

A widespread perception exists that developing countries must make a choice between tackling climate change and fighting poverty. This assumption is incorrect, according to the authors of a new report on green growth.

The New Climate Economy (NCE) report was launched on Tuesday at the United Nations by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, which is chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón."Reforms will entail costs and trade-offs, and will often require governments to deal with difficult problems of political economy, distribution and governance.” -- Milan Brahmbhatt of WRI

“The report sends a clear message to government and private sector leaders: we can improve the economy and tackle climate change at the same time,” said Calderón.

“Future economic growth does not have to copy the high carbon path that has been observed so far,” he added.

Focusing on the global aggregate rather than individual countries, the NCE report charts the path that the world economy must take over the next 15 years. To improve the lives of the poor and lower carbon emissions to a safe level, a vast transformation must be made. But here is the surprise: it will cost much less than expected.

In a business-as-usual scenario, the world will invest about 89 trillion dollars in urban, agricultural and energy infrastructure over the next 15 years, the report predicts.

On the other hand, a low-carbon path would require 94 trillion dollars over the next 15 years, and its benefits in reducing resource scarcity and improving basic liveability would more than make up for the difference.

The window of opportunity will not stay open for long, however.

“If we don’t take action in the coming years it will be every day more expensive and more difficult to shift towards the low carbon economy at the global level,” Calderón said.

Jeremy Oppenheim, global programme director for the NCE report, explained the details.

The commission’s work focuses on three systems: cities, land use and energy. In each case, the implementation of greener policies can also lead to greater development.

In terms of urban systems, “our main focus has been how to drive to higher productivity in cities through improved transport systems,” Oppenheim said. Economic gains can be achieved “through improved urban form by having cities that are denser and that are essentially better places to live.”

Urban sprawl is the enemy when it comes to environmentally-friendly city design. For example, Barcelona and Atlanta both have about five million people, but Barcelona fits into 162 square kilometres, while Atlanta is spread across 4,280 square kilometres. As a result, Atlanta emits more than 10 times more CO2 per person than Barcelona.

Efficient cities generally deliver improved economic and environmental performance.

Low-income countries must “get the infrastructure right the first time so they urbanise in a high productivity way,” Oppenheim told IPS.

Moving on to agriculture, Oppenheim said that “we think that it is possible to increase yields by more than one percent a year.”

The NCE report states that “restoring just 12% of the world’s degraded agricultural land could feed 200 million people by 2030, while also strengthening climate resilience and reducing emissions.”

Reducing deforestation also has wide benefits to the economic system and to agricultural productivity, as well as the obvious climate benefits.

The report recommends that world leaders halt deforestation of natural forests by 2030 and restore at least 500 million hectares of degraded forests and agricultural lands.

As for the third system to be reformed, energy, the biggest economic and environmental opportunity will come from a shift away from the widespread use of coal. Coal is not as economically efficient as once thought, especially since the health problems caused by coal pollution reduce national incomes by an average of four percent per year.

The report’s authors recommend a halt to the creation of new coal plants immediately in the developed world and by 2025 in middle-income countries. Natural gas may serve as a stopgap for a short period of time, but it too must eventually give way to low-carbon energy sources.

Transforming so much energy infrastructure may be more economical than expected.

“We are stunned by the progress that has been made in renewable energy,” Oppenheim said. “The cost of solar has come down by 90 percent in the last half dozen years.”

If the price of solar energy continues its downward tumble, it will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels, leading to a natural shift in investment even without government intervention.

Governments will have to make a number of significant decisions to facilitate the change, however.

Currently, the market for energy is distorted by government subsidies. According to the report, governments around the world subsidise fossil fuels for an estimated 600 billion dollars, but only subsidise clean energy for 100 billion.

Lord Nicholas Stern, co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, says that “those subsidies have to go.”

“They’re giving the wrong signals. They’re encouraging the use of polluting fossils fuels. They’re subsidising damage.”

Governments need to set up “strong, predictable and rising carbon prices,” according to Stern.

With clarity on carbon prices, incentives to pollute would decrease and investors would put their money towards low-carbon options.

Although the NCE report may be the most optimistic document on climate change to come out of the U.N. in years, the authors do realise that their recommendations may be difficult to follow.

Milan Brahmbhatt, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and one of the authors of the NCE report, told IPS that “there is no simple reform formula or agenda that will work for all countries.”

“The report focuses specifically on ‘win-win’ reforms to strengthen growth, poverty reduction and improvements in well-being, which also help tackle climate risk,” Brahmbhatt said. “‘Win-wins’ are not necessarily ‘easy wins’ though. Reforms will entail costs and trade-offs, and will often require governments to deal with difficult problems of political economy, distribution and governance.”

The report’s launch was strategically timed one week before the secretary-general’s climate summit, which will convene an unprecedented number of world leaders to make public pledges on national climate change mitigation efforts. Ban Ki-moon hopes the summit will generate the necessary political will for a binding climate change agreement to be negotiated in Paris next year.

A binding agreement in Paris would give countries the confidence to pursue strong national climate policies, knowing that they are not the only ones doing so, and could give assistance to developing countries that are more vulnerable to climate change but less responsible for it, according to Stern.

While the NCE report only covers the next 15 years, 2030 will not signal the end of efforts to tackle climate change. “Beyond 2030 net global emissions will need to fall further towards near zero or below in the second half of the century,” the report says.

It may not cover everything, but the NCE report reassures worried leaders of the enormous potential for green growth. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an independent initiative created by Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom, plans to directly share its report with world leaders in an upcoming consultation period.

Felipe Calderón believes that the report’s optimistic and practical message will help it make a big splash.

“With this report we now have a set of tools that global leaders can use to foster the growth that we all need while reducing the climate risks that we all face,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Will the Upcoming Climate Summit Be Another Talkathon?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-the-upcoming-climate-summit-be-another-talkathon/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:35:44 +0000 Meenakshi Raman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136679 Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Climate defenders line the entrance to the National Stadium in Warsaw where the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP19 was held last October. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Meenakshi Raman
PENANG, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations hosts a Climate Summit Sep. 23, the lingering question is whether the meeting of world leaders will wind up as another talk fest.

It is most likely that it could go that way. The problem is that developed countries are pressuring developing countries to indicate their pledges for emissions reductions post-2020 under the Paris deal which is currently under negotiation, without any indication of whether they will provide any finance or enable technology transfer – which are current commitments under the Convention.Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

What is worse is that many developed countries – especially the U.S. and its allies – are delaying making their contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF was launched in 2011 and it was agreed in Cancun, Mexico in 2010 that developed countries will mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The GCF has yet to receive any funds that can be disbursed to developing countries to undertake their climate actions.

Worse, there is a grave reluctance to indicate the size and scale of the resources that will be put into the GCF for its initial capitalisation. Only Germany so far has indicated that it is willing to contribute one billion dollars to the Fund. Others have been deafeningly silent.

The G77 and China, had in Bonn, Germany in June, called for at least 15 billion dollars to be put into the GCF as its initial capital. The Climate Summit must focus on this to get developed countries to announce their finance commitments to the Fund.

If it does not, the UNFCCC meeting in Lima will be in jeopardy, as this is an existing obligation of developed countries that must be met latest by November.

This is the most important issue in confidence building to enable developing countries to meet their adaptation and mitigation needs. Otherwise, without real concrete and finance commitments, the New York summit will be meaningless.

Asking developing countries to undertake more commitments without any financial resources or technology transfer is not only contrary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but is also immoral.

In Cancun, many developing countries already indicated what they were willing to do in terms of emissions reductions for the pre-2020 time frame and many of them had conditioned those actions on the promise of finance and technology transfer.

Despite this, the GCF remains empty and no technology transfer has really been delivered.

The other issue is whether developed countries will raise their targets for emissions reductions, as currently, their pledges are very low.
In 2012 in Doha, Qatar, developed countries that are in the Kyoto Protocol (such as the European Union, Norway, Australia, New Zealand. Switzerland and others but not including the U.S., Canada and Japan) agreed to re-visit the commitments they made for a second commitment period from 2013-2020.

The total emissions that they had agreed to was a reduction of only 17 percent by 2020 for developed countries, compared to 1990 levels. This was viewed by developing countries as very low, given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had in their 4th Assessment Report referred to a range of 25-40 percent emissions reductions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels for developed countries.

It was agreed in Doha that the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol (KP) would revisit their ambition by 2014. Hence, whether this will be realised in Lima remains to be seen. So whatever announcements are made in New York will not amount to much if the cuts do not amount to at least 40 percent reductions by 2020 on the part of developed countries.

Developed countries that are not in the Kyoto Protocol such as the United States, Canada and Japan were urged to do comparable efforts in emissions reductions as those in the KP.

It is not likely at all that these countries will raise their ambition level at all, given that both Japan and Canada announced that they will actually increase their emission levels from what they had announced previously in Cancun!

For the U.S., the emission reduction pledge that they put forth is very low, amounting to only a reduction of about three percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. For the world’s biggest historic emitter, this is doing too little, too late.

It is against this backdrop that the elements for a new agreement which is to take effect post-2020 is to be finalised in Lima, with a draft negotiating text to be ready early next year.

If the pre-2020 ambition is very low both in terms of the emission reductions of developed countries and the lack of resources in the GCF, the basis for the 2015 agreement will be seriously jeopardised.

Without any leadership shown by developed countries, developing countries will be reluctant to undertake more ambitious action. Hence, the race to the bottom in climate action is real.

If the Climate Summit does not address the failure of developed countries to meet their existing obligations which were agreed to under the UNFCCC, it will indeed turn into a mere talkshop that attempts to provide a smokescreen for inaction on their part.

Another lingering question: Can the private sector, which is expected to play a key role in the summit, be trusted on climate change?

It is the private sector in the first place that got us into this climate mess. Big corporations cannot be trusted to bring about the real changes that are needed as there will be much green-washing.

Companies are profit-seeking and they would only engage in activities that will bring them profits. There are huge lobbies in the climate arena who are pushing false approaches such as trading in carbon and other market mechanisms and instruments through which they seek to make more profits.

For example, there is a big push for ‘ Climate Smart Agriculture” with big corporations and the World Bank in the forefront.

There is no definition yet on what is ‘climate smart’ and there are grave concerns from civil society and farmers movements that such policies being pushed by big corporations who are in the frontline of controversial genetic engineering, industrial chemicals and carbon markets.

Many criticise the CSA approach which does not exclude any practices—which means that GMOs, pesticides, and fertilisers, so long as they contribute to soil carbon sequestration, would be permissible and even encouraged.

Such approaches not only contribute to environmental and social problems but they also also undermine one of the most important social benefits of agroecology: reducing farmers’ dependence on external inputs. Yet CSA is touted as a positive initiative at the New York Summit – a clear cut case of green-washing.

Real solutions in agriculture are those which are sustainable and based on agroecology in the hands of small farmers and communities- not in the hands of the big corporations who were responsible for much of the emissions in industrial agriculture.

The same can be said about the Sustainable Energy for All – with big corporations driving the agenda – where the interests of those who really are deprived of energy access will not be prioritised.

This is because the emphasis is on centralised modern energy systems that are expensive and not affordable to those who need them the most undermines the very objective it is set to serve in term of ensuring universal access to modern energy services.

If these initiatives are touted as ‘solutions’ to climate change, then we are in big trouble – for they are not the real kind of solutions needed.

A lot is being said about creating enabling environments in developing countries to attract private investments.

It is for developing countries to put in place their national climate plans and in that context, gauge which private sector can play a role, in what sector and how to do so, including the involvement of small and medium entrepreneurs, including farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples etc.

But developed countries are pushing the interests of their big corporations in the name of attracting new types of green foreign investments. Such approaches are new conditionalities.

Any role of the private sector is only supplemental and cannot be a substitute for the provision of real financial resources and technology transfer to developing countries to undertake their action. This clearly cannot be classified as climate finance.

Developed country governments in passing on the responsibility for addressing climate change to the private sector are abdicating the commitments that they have under the climate change Convention. This is irresponsible and reprehensible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: A Climate Summit to Spark Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-climate-summit-to-spark-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-climate-summit-to-spark-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-climate-summit-to-spark-action/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:00:48 +0000 Ban Ki-moon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136675

Ban Ki-moon is Secretary General of the United Nations.

By Ban Ki-moon
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

On Sep. 23, I have invited world leaders from government, business, finance and civil society to a Climate Summit in New York so they can show the world how they will advance action on climate change and move towards a meaningful universal new agreement next year at the December climate negotiations in Paris.

This is the time for decisive global action. I have been pleased to see climate change rise on the political agenda and in the consciousness of people worldwide. But I remain alarmed that governments and businesses have still failed to act at the pace and scale needed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

But I sense a change in the air. The opportunity for a more realistic dialogue and partnership has arrived. Ever more heads of government and business leaders are prepared to invest political and financial capital in the solutions we need. They understand that climate change is an issue for all people, all businesses, all governments. They recognise that we can avert the risks if we take determined action now.

I am convening the Climate Summit more than a year before governments head to Paris to give everyone a platform to raise their level of ambition. Because it is not a negotiation, the Summit is a chance for every participant to showcase bold actions and initiatives instead of waiting to see what others will do.

An unprecedented number of heads of state and government will attend the Summit. But it is not just for presidents and prime ministers. We have long realised that while governments have a vital role to play, action is needed from all sectors of society.

That is why I have invited leaders from business, finance and civil society to make bold announcements and forge new partnerships that will support the transformative change the world needs to cut emissions and strengthen resilience to climate impacts.

The sooner we act on climate change, the less it will cost us in lost lives and damaged economies. Economists are also showing that new technological advances and better policies that put a price on pollution mean that moving to a low-carbon economy is not only affordable, but can spur economic growth by creating jobs and business opportunities.

All countries stand to benefit from climate action – cleaner, healthier air; more productive, climate-resilient agriculture; well-managed forests for water and energy security; and better designed, more livable urban areas.

Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why? Let us join forces to push back against sceptics and entrenched interests. Let us support the scientists, economists, entrepreneurs and investors who can persuade government leaders and policy-makers that now is the time for climate action. Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:28:21 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136671 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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