Inter Press Service » Projects http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Dec 2014 20:20:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 The Soil, Silent Ally Against Hunger in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:41:31 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138346 The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO , Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

Latin America and the Caribbean should use sustainable production techniques to ensure healthy soil, the basic element in agriculture, food production and the fight against hunger.

“Keeping the soil healthy makes food production possible,” said Raúl Benítez, regional director for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “Without good soil, food production is undermined, and becomes more difficult and costly.”

“We are often not aware that it can take 1,000 years to generate one centimetre of healthy soil, but we can lose that centimetre in a few seconds as a result of pollution, toxic waste, or misuse of the soil,” he said in an interview with Tierramérica.

Despite its importance, 33 percent of the planet’s soil is degraded by physical, chemical or biological causes, which is reflected in a reduction in plant cover, soil fertility, and pollution of the soil and water, and which leads to impoverished harvests, FAO warns.

Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest amount of potential arable land in the world.“We are often not aware that it can take 1,000 years to generate one centimetre of healthy soil, but we can lose that centimetre in a few seconds as a result of pollution, toxic waste, or misuse of the soil.” -- Raúl Benítez

The worst degradation of soil is in Central America and southern Mexico, where it affects 26 percent of the land. In South America that proportion is 14 percent.

According to FAO statistics, four countries account for more than 40 percent of the degraded land in the region, and in 14 countries between 20 and 40 percent of the national territory is affected by degradation.

Forty percent of the most degraded land is in parts of the world with high poverty rates.

On Dec. 5, FAO launched the International Year of Soils 2015 as part of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with the world’s governments and the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.

Latin America “is highly aware of the fundamental role played by the soil in the fight against hunger, which means it takes this issue extremely seriously,” Benítez said in the central FAO offices in Santiago.

Farmers in the northern Peruvian department of Piura show native sedes they preserve. Credit: Sabina Córdova/IPS

Farmers in the northern Peruvian department of Piura show native sedes they preserve. Credit: Sabina Córdova/IPS

He pointed out that Latin America has made the most progress in achieving food security, as the region in the world with the greatest number of countries that have met the hunger target of the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – a series of anti-poverty targets agreed by governments in 2000.

According to The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report, the proportion of people suffering from hunger in the region fell from 15.3 percent in 1990-1992 to 6.1 percent in 2012-2014.

“For that reason, I don’t have the slightest doubt that this International Year of Soils will help draw the attention of governments, organisations and the population, and Latin America is sure to assume a commitment and act in accordance with the region’s needs,” he said.

The regional FAO office has forged alliances with a variety of social organisations working to restore the soil.

In Chile, one of them is the Centro Comunal de Medio Ambiente Naturaleza Viva, an environmental organisation of the municipality of Estación Central, on the west side of Santiago.

Community organiser María Contreras, the president of the centre, led the struggle to recover 40 hectares from the old garbage dump of Lo Errázuriz, in the municipality of Maipú, also to the west of Santiago, where all of the municipalities of the Chilean capital dumped their trash in the 1970s and 1980s.

“That’s where the dump was, it was the Fundo San José de Chuchunco dump, and in some parts they would extract materials [rocks, gravel, sand, etc],” Contreras told Tierramérica.

The government of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago owns 30 hectares of the land, and the rest belongs to the municipality of Estación Central.

“We now have 10 hectares that have been restored, with trees planted, and the regional government has hired security and irrigation services,” said the community leader, who explained that the plan is to extend the green forested area to another 20 hectares, with walking and bike paths.

The area is now called the Forests of Chuchunco, a word that means “between the waters” in the Mapuche indigenous language.

“This experience arose out of a need for survival,” said Contreras, who pointed out that 30 years ago, “Maipú supplied Santiago with fresh vegetables.”

Two years ago, FAO financed the construction of a small greenhouse there, “and today we produce seeds,” she said.

The project got underway in 2010. But to extend the reforestation effort, studies are needed to investigate what lies under the surface – presumably biogas or leachate.

“Without soil we would all die,” the activist said. “The life we don’t see is below ground.”

Contreras called for strengthening social networks and citizen participation to protect the soil, and stressed the need for environmental education in schools to make projects like the Forests of Chuchunco sustainable.

“We want children to have basic education on the environment so they will be responsible citizens tomorrow,” she said.

Another example is the Vermiculture Research and Development Centre (Ceilom), which seeks to promote and expand worm farming by creating a culture of household recycling of organic material.

The centre was founded in 1980 when the first red Californian earth worms (Eisenia foetida) were brought to Chile. The centre offers vermiculture courses with the aim of reducing the amount of garbage and recycling 100 percent of organic material produced in a household, which averages 700 kg a year for a family of four.

“We currently have an agreement with a vegetable market in Recoleta [north of Santiago] to recover and treat their waste. And this kind of arrangement could be made with many street markets,” the head of Ceilom, Marcela Campos, told Tierramérica.

She also cited the Santiago Metropolitan Park, a “green lung” in the middle of the city, which houses the zoo and “produces so much waste that could be treated.”

“That way it would not need to use chemical fertilisers to restore its green areas, for example,” she said.

Today, at a global level, 12 percent of land is used for crops, a total of 1.6 trillion hectares, which means “we have to redouble efforts and preserve our soil using production techniques that make it possible to conserve our natural resources,” Benítez said.

Sustainable soil is “a silent ally” in the erradication of hunger, he concluded.
This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.

Defenceless

From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Cuba’s Reforms Fail to Reduce Growing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 22:21:58 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138300 Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

One of the major challenges assumed by President Raúl Castro when he launched a series of reforms in Cuba is improving living standards in a country still suffering from a recession that began over 20 years ago and has undermined the aim of achieving economic and social equality.

Inequality has been growing since the start of the crisis triggered by the break-up of the Soviet Union and East European socialist bloc – Cuba’s main trade and aid partners – in the early 1990s. The “special period” – the euphemistic term used to refer to the lengthy recession – “has even morally affected the concept of inequality,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS.

To ease the recession in the 1990s, the government of Fidel Castro (1959-2008) opened the doors to foreign investment, fomented tourism, legalised the dollar, and created the “foreign currency recovery stores”, among other measures whose economic benefits also came accompanied by greater social inequality.: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.” -- Cuban schoolteacher

However, María Caridad González appreciates the sense of equality that still exists in Cuban society, which she says has made social inclusion possible for her 10-year-old son, who knows that “to do well in life he just has to study and become a professional.”

Since the 1959 revolution, free universal healthcare coverage and education have been important tools for achieving social equality in Cuba.

González, who comes from a family of small farmers, moved to Havana in the mid-1990s. “It was hard at first. There were shortages of everything, but I stayed anyway and got married here. Now there are a lot of stores and farmers’ markets, and what is lacking is money to buy things,” said the 36-year-old, who works in the cleaning service at a company that is partly foreign owned.

Other people are worse off than González, who manages to add to her monthly income working as a domestic in the homes of families she knows, which brings her another 80 CUC – the Cuban peso convertible to dollars – or 1,920 pesos.

That is more than four times the average public sector salary of 470 pesos (19 dollars) a month. “Thanks to my income we survived the months when my husband, who is a cook in the tourism industry, was out of work,” said González.

She is in a much better position than her neighbor, a 55-year-old primary schoolteacher who earns 750 pesos a month and has no source of dollars or other foreign currency – a mainstay for many Cuban families, who receive remittances from relatives abroad or who work in tourism, where they earn tips.

The teacher, who is married and has two adult children aged 20 and 25, told IPS: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.”

The inequality gap has widened as the differences in incomes have grown.

Those who only earn a public salary – the state is still by far the biggest employer, despite a reduction in the public payroll as part of the reforms – or who depend on a pension or are on social assistance find it impossible to meet their basic needs. According to statistics from the Centre for Studies of the Cuban Economy, food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget in Cuba.

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

However, Cuba’s free universal healthcare and education, social security system, and social assistance for the poor have been preserved in spite of the country’s economic troubles, and were key to Cuba’s ranking in 44th place on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) this year.

The HDI is a composite index that measures average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development: long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

The schoolteacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said “I understand and appreciate that, but it is no less true that the differences in income differentiate us when it comes to putting food on the table or buying clothes.”

Morales agrees with the government’s aim of “equal rights and opportunities” rather than egalitarianism. In his view, the distribution of income based on work is still unequal. “It would be ethical if people received in accordance with what they contributed, and those who needed assistance would receive it through social spending, to balance out the inequalities,” he argued.

The academic defends the idea of subsidising specific people rather than products, which is still being done through the ration card system that distributes a certain quantity of foodstuffs at prices subsidised by the state, to all citizens, regardless of their income.

The system covered the basic dietary needs of families until the 1980s. But that is no longer the case, and Cubans now have to complete their diet with products sold in the hard currency stores and the farmers’ markets, where one pound (450 grams) of pork can cost 40 pesos (1.60 dollars) – the same price fetched by a pound of onions at certain times of the year.

In its 2014-2020 pastoral plan, the Catholic Church complains that broad swathes of society are plagued by “material poverty, the result of wages that are too low to provide a family with decent living standards.”

That situation, it says, impacts semi-skilled workers as well as professionals.

After acknowledging that the expansion of opportunities for self-employment and for setting up cooperatives in non-agricultural sectors of the economy has opened up opportunities for some, the church warns that the current economic reforms “have failed to reactivate the economy in such a way that it benefits the entire population.”

Not all segments of society are in equal conditions to take advantage of the changes that have been ushered in. Researchers like Morales or Mayra Espina say women, people who are not white, and young people are at a disadvantage, whether due to a lack of formal training and education, or of assets and resources for starting up their own businesses.

According to the last official statistics on poverty published in Cuba, from 2004, 20 percent of the urban population was poor. In this Caribbean island nation, 76 percent of the population of 11.2 million lives in towns and cities. Experts worry that the proportion today is even higher, and they say decision-makers need to know the exact percentage in order to properly tailor social policies to the actual situation.

But Espina and other academics say the reforms approved in April 2011 do not put a high enough priority on social aspects, ignore the questions of poverty and inequality, and contain weak measures for guaranteeing equality.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Lima Agrees Deal – but Leaves Major Issues for Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/lima-agrees-deal-but-leaves-major-issues-for-paris/#comments Sun, 14 Dec 2014 19:00:14 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138275 As governments of 195 countries approved the COP20 final document in Lima in the early hours of Dec. 14, activists protested about the watered-down results of climate negotiations outside the venue where they met. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

As governments of 195 countries approved the COP20 final document in Lima in the early hours of Dec. 14, activists protested about the watered-down results of climate negotiations outside the venue where they met. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 14 2014 (IPS)

After a 25-hour extension, delegates from 195 countries reached agreement on a “bare minimum” of measures to combat climate change, and postponed big decisions on a new treaty until the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21), to be held in a year’s time in Paris.

After 13 days of debates, COP 20, the meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), failed to resolve key issues such as the monitoring of each country’s commitment to emissions reductions, recognition of loss and damage caused by climate alterations and immediate actions, representatives of observer organisations told IPS.

The agreed document was the third draft to be debated. The Lima Call for Climate Action, as it is known, stipulates that countries must propose national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by October 2015.

It also “urges” developed countries to “provide and mobilise financial support for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions” to countries affected by climate change, and “invites” them to pledge financial contributions alongside their emissions reduction targets. This exhortation was a weak response to the demands of countries that are most vulnerable to global warming, and it avoided complete disaster.

But observers complained that the Lima Call pays little attention to the most vulnerable populations, like farmers, coastal communities, indigenous people, women and the poorest sectors of societies.

“There were a number of trade-offs between developed and developing countries, and the rest of the text has become significantly weaker in terms of the rules for next year and how to bring climate change action and ambitions next year,” Sven Harmeling, the climate change advocacy coordinator for Care International, told IPS. “That has been most unfortunate,” he said.

The 2015 negotiations will be affected, as “they are building up more pressure on Paris. The bigger issues have been pushed forward and haven’t been addressed here,” he said.

Harmeling recognised that an agreement has been reached, although it is insufficient. “We have something, but the legal status of the text is still unclear,” he said. If there is really a “spirit of Lima” and not just a consensus due to exhaustion, it will begin to emerge in February in Geneva, at the next climate meeting, he predicted.

The countries of the South voted in favour of the text at around 01:30 on Sunday Dec. 14, but organisations like Oxfam, the Climate Action Network and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) were very critical of the result. The Lima negotiations “have done nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change,” according to FoEI. “What countries need now is financing of climate action and what we need is urgent action now, because we need our emissions to peak before 2020 if we are to stay on a safe path.” -- Tasneem Essop

More than 3,000 delegates met Dec. 1-13 for the complex UNFCCC process, with the ultimate goal of averting global warming to levels that would endanger life on Earth.
Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who chaired the COP 20, extended the meeting in order to build bridges between industrialised countries, the largest carbon emitters, who wanted less financial pressure, and developing countries who sought less control over their own reductions.

“Although we seem to be on opposite sides, we are in fact on the same side, because there is only one planet,” said Pulgar-Vidal at the close of the COP.

The specific mandate in Lima was to prepare a draft for a new, binding climate treaty, to be consolidated during 2015 and signed in Paris. Methodological discussions and fierce debates about financing, deadlines and loss and damage prevented a more ambitious consensus.

“What countries need now is financing of climate action and what we need is urgent action now, because we need our emissions to peak before 2020 if we are to stay on a safe path,” Tasneem Essop, climate coordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told IPS.

“We need to protect the rights of climate impacted communities,” she said. The defencelessness of the most vulnerable people on the planet is what makes action a matter of urgency.

However, the Lima agreement contains few references to mechanisms for countries to use to reduce their emissions between 2015 and 2020, when the new treaty replacing the Kyoto Protocol is due to come into force.

These actions need to start immediately, said Essop, as later measures may be ineffective. “What governments seem to be thinking is that they can do everything in the future, post 2020, when the science is clear that we have to peak before that,” she told IPS.

Unless action is taken, year by year extreme climate, drought and low agricultural yields will be harder on those communities, which bear the least responsibility for climate change. Essop believes that governments are waiting for the negotiations in Paris, when there were urgent decisions to be taken in Lima.

Among the loose ends that will need to be tied in the French capital between Nov. 30 and Dec. 11, 2015, are the balance to be struck between mitigation and adaptation in the new global climate treaty, and how it will be financed.

“If we hadn’t come to the decision we have taken (the Lima Call for Climate Action), thing would be more difficult in Paris, but as we know there are still many things to be decided bewteen here and December 2015, in orden to resolve pending issues,” Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said in the closing plenary session.

The goal of the agreement is for global temperature to increase no more than two degrees Celsius by 2100, in order to preserve planetary stability. Reduction of fossil fuel use is essential to achieve this.

Mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage are the pillars of the new treaty. The last two issues are vital for countries and populations disproportionately impacted by climate change, but faded from the agenda in Lima.

“It’s disastrous and it doesn’t meet our expectations at all. We wanted to see a template clearly emerging from Lima, leading to a much more ambitious deal,” said Harjeet Singh, manager for climate change and resilience for the international organisation ActionAid.

“What we are seeing here is a continuous pushback from developed countries on anything related to adaptation or loss and damage,” he told IPS.

These are thorny issues because they require financial commitments from rich countries. The Green Climate Fund, set up to counter climate change in developing countries, has only received 10.2 billion dollars by this month, only one-tenth of the amount promised by industrialised nations.

The Lima Call for Climate Action did determine the format for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), for each country to present its emissions reduction targets.

However, the final agreement eliminated mechanisms for analysing the appropriateness and adequacy of the targets that were contained in earlier drafts.

Negotiators feel that the sum of the national contributions will succeed in halting global warming, but observers are concerned that the lack of regulation will prevent adequate monitoring of whether emissions reductions on the planet are sufficient.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Renewable Energy: The Untold Story of an African Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/renewable-energy-the-untold-story-of-an-african-revolution/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:32:55 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138251 By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

Africa is experiencing a revolution towards cleaner energy through renewable energy but the story has hardly been told to the world, says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Steiner, who had been advocating for renewable energy at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, said Africa is on the right path toward a low carbon footprint by tapping into its plentiful renewable resources – hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“There is a revolution going on in the continent of Africa and the world is not noticing it. You can go to Egypt, Ethiopia Kenya, Namibia, and Mozambique. I think we will see renewable energy being the answer to Africa’s energy problems in the next fifteen years,” Steiner said in an interview with IPS.

Sharing the example of the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Steiner told IPS that the decision was taken that “if UNEP is going to be centred with its offices in the African continent on the Equator, there can be reason why we are not using renewable energy. So we installed photovoltaic panels on our roof which we share with UN Habitat, 1200 people, and we produce 750,000 kilowatt hours of electricity every year, that is enough for the entire building to operate.”

He noted that although it will take UNEP between eight and 10 years to pay off the installation, UNEP will have over 13 years of electricity without paying monthly or annual power bills. “It is the best business proposition that a U.N. body has ever made in terms of paying for electricity for a building,” he said.

According to Steiner, the “revolution” is already happening in East Africa, especially in Kenya and Ethiopia which are both targeting renewable energy, especially geothermal energy.

“Kenya plans to triple its electricity generation up to about 6000 megawatts in the next five years. More than 90 percent of the planned power is to come from geothermal, solar and wind power,” he said. “If you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country” – Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director

Kenya currently runs a geothermal power development corporation which invites tenders from private investors bid and is establishing a wind power firm likely to be the largest in Africa with a capacity of 350 megawatts of power under a public-private partnership.

In Ethiopia, expansion of the Aluto-Langano geothermal power plant will increase geothermal generation capacity from the current 7 MW to 70 MW. The expansion project is being financed by the Ethiopian government (10 million dollars), a 12 million dollar grant from the Government of Japan, and a 13 million dollar loan from the World Bank.

Renewable energy has costs but also benefits

Phillip Hauser, Vice President of GDF Suez Energy Latin America, told IPS that geothermal power is a good option for countries in Africa with that potential, but it comes with risks.

“It is very site-dependent. There can be geothermal projects that are relatively cost efficient and there are others that are relatively expensive. It is a bit like the oil and gas industry. You have to find the resource and you have to develop the resource. Sometimes you might drill and you don’t find anything – that is lost investment,” Hauser told IPS.

Steiner admitted that like any other investment, renewable energy has some limitations, including the need for upfront initial capital and the cost of technology, but he said that countries with good renewable energy policies would attract the necessary private investments.

“We are moving in a direction where Africa will not have to live in a global fuel market in which one day you have to pay 120 dollars for a barrel of crude oil, then the next day you get it at 80 dollars and before you know it, it is doubled,” he said.

“So if you are in Africa and decide to exploit your wind, solar and geothermal resources, you will get yourself freedom from the global energy markets, and you will connect the majority of your people without waiting for thirty years until the power lines cross every corner of the country,”Steiner added.

A recent assessment by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) of Africa’s renewable energy future found that solar and wind power potential existed in at least 21 countries, and biomass power potential in at least 14 countries.

The agency, which supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future, has yet to provide a list of countries with geothermal power potential but almost all the countries around the Great Rift Valley in south-eastern Africa – Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania among others – have already identified geothermal sites, with Kenya being the first to use a geothermal site to add power to its grid.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin told IPS that the agency’s studies shows that not only can renewable energy meet the world’s rising demand, but it can do so more cheaply, while contributing to limiting global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius – the widely-cited tipping point in the climate change debate.

He said the good news in Africa is that apart from the resources that exist, there is a growing body of knowledge across African expert institutions that would help the continent to exploit its virgin renewable energy potential.

What is needed now, he explained, is for countries in Africa to develop the economic case for those resources supported by targeted government policies to help developers and financiers get projects off the ground.

The IRENA assessment found that in 2010, African countries imported 18 billion dollars’ worth of oil – more than the entire amount they received in foreign aid – while oil subsidies in Africa cost an estimated 50 billion dollars every year.

New financing models for renewable energy

According to Amin, renewable energy technologies are now the most economical solution for off-grid and mini-grid electrification in remote areas, as well as for grid extension in some cases of centralised grid supply.

He argued that rapid technological progress, combined with falling costs, a better understanding of financial risk and a growing appreciation of wider benefits mean that renewable energy would increasingly be the solution to Africa’s energy problem.

In this context, Africa could take on new financing models that “de-risk” investments in order to lower the cost of capital, which has historically been a major barrier to investment in renewable energy, and one such model would include encouragement for green bonds.

“Green bonds are the recent innovation for renewable energy investments,” said Amin. “Last year we reached about 14 billion dollars, this year there is an estimate of about 40 billion, and next year there is an estimate of about 100 billion dollars in green finance through green bonds. Why doesn’t Africa take advantage of those?” he asked.

During the conference in Lima, activist groups have been urging an end to dependence on fossil fuel- and nuclear-powered energy systems, calling for investment and policies geared toward building clean, sustainable, community-based energy solutions.

“We urgently need to decrease our energy consumption and push for a just transition to community-controlled renewable energy if we are to avoid devastating climate change,” said Susann Scherbarth, a climate justice and energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe.

Godwin Ojo, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria, told IPS that “we urgently need a transition to clean energy in developing countries and one of the best incentives is globally funded feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.”

He said policies that support feed-in tariffs and decentralized power sources should be embraced by both the most- and the least-developed nations.

Backed by a new discussion paper on a ‘global renewable energy support programme’ from the What Next Forum, activists called for decentralised energy systems – including small-scale wind, solar, biomass mini-grids communities that are not necessarily connected to a national electricity transmission grid.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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AIDS Response Is Leaving African Men Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 22:13:34 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138253 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aids-response-is-leaving-african-men-behind/feed/ 2 What Future for the ACP-EU Partnership Post-2015?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:04:37 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138244 The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

“There are still prospects for a meaningful ACP-EU partnership, capable of contributing and responding concretely and effectively to the objectives of promoting and attaining peace, security, poverty eradication and sustainable development,” according to the top official of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

ACP Secretary General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni was speaking at the 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers held here from Dec. 9 to 12, during which ACP and European Union representatives took the opportunity to renew their commitment to working closely together, particularly in crafting a common strategy for the post-2015 global development agenda.

Besides discussing trade issues, development finance, humanitarian crises and the current Ebola crisis, the two sides also tackled future perspectives and challenges for the ACP itself and for its partnership with the European Union.“We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda … is so valuable” – European Development Commissioner Neven Mimica

It was agreed that comprehensive cooperation built on collaborative approaches, creative methods and innovative interventions in all the countries of the ACP will be the inspiration for a joint initiative in 2015, in the context of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lomé Convention, the trade and aid agreement between the ACP and the European Community first signed in February 1075 in Lomé, Togo, and the forerunner to the Cotonou Agreement.

The European Union will also be celebrating European Year for Development in 2015, which is also the deadline year for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The convergence of these three events, and the anticipated adoption by the international community of the development framework which is to replace the MDGs, “together represent a unique opportunity for the ACP and the European Union to demonstrate in a concrete fashion that they have and continue to strive for impactful relations in the future,” said Bhoendratt Tewarie, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development of Trinidad and Tobago, who chairs the ACP Ministerial Committee on Development Finance Cooperation.

While acknowledging the current economic and financial difficulties being experienced by the European Union and the efforts under way to address them, it was stressed that these do not undermine the validity and strength of the ACP-EU partnership, that the rationale behind the partnership remains valid and that efforts must be redoubled for mutual benefit.

Proof of the commitment to help ACP countries meet the objectives of the Cotonou Agreement was identified in the concrete efforts being undertaken by both sides to improve the quality of life of the most impoverished and vulnerable countries – as  well as other countries, including middle income and upper middle income countries – of the ACP which continue to experience serious developmental challenges.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said that the post-2015 development agenda and the post-Cotonou framework – to succeed the current ACP-EC Partnership Agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin, in 2000 – “will shape development policy for the next decade.”

“We can agree on the need for an enhanced approach, building further on our partnership, incorporating overarching principles, such as respect for fundamental values, and taking account of specific realities in countries and regions,” he told the meeting.

The New EU Commission and EDF Programming

The Council of Ministers’ session was also the occasion for ACP members to meet with members of the new European Commission, which took office on Nov. 1, including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Development Commissioner Mimica as well as European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

Under the new Commission, the eleventh edition of the European Union’s main instrument for providing development aid to ACP countries, the European Development Fund, has been approved for the period 2014-2020 fora total of 31.5 billion euro, but has not yet entered into force.

Pending a further six ratifications on the European side, which are expected by mid-2015, a “bridging facility” amounting to 1.5 billion euro sourced from unused funds from previous EDFs, will allow priority actions to continue in ACP countries in 2014 and 2015.

To date, 53 national indicative programmes (worth up to 10 billion euro for the period 2014-2020) have been signed, with the remaining programmes to be signed by early 2015.

At the regional level, there is broad agreement on the content – sectors and financial breakdown – of the programmes, which should be signed by the first semester of 2015. The Intra-ACP cooperation strategy will be also be adopted and signed during the first semester of 2015.

“But we must not be complacent,” said Mimica. “We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was adopted last June in Nairobi, is so valuable.”

The Joint Declaration represents the springboard for building greater consensus and contributing towards meaningful and ambitious outcomes in July and September next year, looking forward to a post-Cotonou framework.

“Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player”

Meanwhile, the ACP Group is currently reflecting on its institutional aspects, such as leadership, organizational mandate, and implementation of reforms which aim at making it a more effective and accountable stakeholder in the international political context, while working on reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development in member states.

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Dr Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

An Eminent Persons Group has been established and a report will be presented to the next ACP Summit with the aim of identifying the most suitable strategic approach for ACP to be more effective, more visible, more accountable in a world of partnership and ownership, incorporating overarching principles such as respect for fundamental values and taking into account the specificities of the realities in countries and regions.

An important sign of the ACP institutional change was also launched during the 100th Council of Ministers with the appointment of the new Secretary General, Patrick Gomes, who will head the ACP Secretariat from 2015 to 2020, a landmark period covering the latest part of the ACP partnership agreement with the European Union.

Appointment of the Secretary General generally follows a principle of rotation among the six ACP regions – West Africa (currently holding the post), East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

Gomes is the Ambassador of Guyana to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium and the country representative to the WTO, FAO, and the IFAD.

Gomes has led various high-level ambassadorial committees in the ACP system, currently serving as Chair of the Working Group on Future Perspectives of the ACP Group, which transmitted a final report on “Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player” during the ACP Council of Ministers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Climate Change Creates New Geography of Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-change-creates-new-geography-of-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-creates-new-geography-of-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-change-creates-new-geography-of-food/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 13:10:00 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138236 Cándido Menzúa Salazar, national coordinator of the indigenous peoples of Panama, addressed the audience at the Global Landscapes Forum, the largest side event at COP 20 in Lima, on how climate change altered his agroforestry practices. Credit: Audry Córdova/COP20 Lima

Cándido Menzúa Salazar, national coordinator of the indigenous peoples of Panama, addressed the audience at the Global Landscapes Forum, the largest side event at COP 20 in Lima, on how climate change altered his agroforestry practices. Credit: Audry Córdova/COP20 Lima

By Fabiola Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

The magnitude of the climate changes brought about by global warming and the alterations in rainfall patterns are modifying the geography of food production in the tropics, warned participants at the climate summit in the Peruvian capital.

That was the main concern among experts in food security taking part in the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held Dec. 1-12 in Lima. They are worried about rising food prices if tropical countries fail to take prompt action to adapt.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI estimates that climate change will trigger food price hikes of up to 30 percent.

The countryside is the first sector directly affected by climate change, said Andy Jarvis, a researcher at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) who specialises in low-carbon farming in the CGIAR Research Programme for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

“Climate and agriculture go hand in hand and it’s the climate that defines whether a crop will do well or poorly. The geography of where crops grow is going to change, and the impacts can be extremely negative if nothing is done,” Jarvis told Tierramérica during the Global Landscapes Forum, the biggest parallel event to the COP20.

Crops like coffee, cacao and beans are especially vulnerable to drastic temperatures and scarce rainfall and can suffer huge losses as a result of changing climate patterns.

One example: In the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, where the greatest biodiversity of potatoes can be found, higher temperatures and spreading crop diseases and pests are forcing indigenous farmers to grow potatoes at higher and higher altitudes. Potato farmers in the area could see a 15 to 30 percent reduction in rainfall by 2030, according to ClimateWire.

Another illustration: In Central American countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras, a fungus called coffee rust is decimating crops.

The outbreak has already caused one billion dollars in losses in Central America in the last two years, and 53 percent of coffee plantations in the area are at risk, according to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO).

Latin America produces 13 percent of the world’s cacao and there is an international effort to preserve diversity of the crop in the Americas from witches’ broom disease, which can also be aggravated by extreme climate conditions.

At the same time, switching to cacao can be a strategy for coffee farmers when temperatures are not favourable to coffee production, according to the CGIAR consortium of international agricultural research centres.

Regina Illamarca and Natividad Pilco, two farmers preserving potato biodiversity in Huama, a community in the department of Cusco, in the Peruvian Andes, and whose crops are being altered by global warming. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Regina Illamarca and Natividad Pilco, two farmers preserving potato biodiversity in Huama, a community in the department of Cusco, in the Peruvian Andes, and whose crops are being altered by global warming. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

“At the COP, the idea discussed is to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, as the most optimistic goal,” Jarvis told Tierramérica. “But that practically implies the total displacement of the coffee-growing zone. Two degrees will be too hot. The current trends indicate that prices are going to soar. As production drops and supply shrinks, prices go up. The impact would also lead to a rise in poverty.”

In Nicaragua, where coffee is a pillar of the economy, a two degree increase in temperatures would lead to the loss of 80 percent of the current coffee-growing area, he said.

According to a CIAT study, “by 2050 coffee growing areas will move approximately 300 metres up the altitudinal gradient and push farmers at lower altitudes out of coffee production, increase pressure on forests and natural resources in higher altitudes and jeopardise the actors along the coffee supply chain.”

As the climate heats up, crops that now grow at a maximum altitude of 1,600 metres will climb even higher, which would affect the subsistence of half a million small farmers and agricultural workers, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation Assistant Director-General for Forestry Eduardo Rojas said at COP20 that climate change is already endangering the food security, incomes and livelihoods of the most vulnerable families.

“Resilient agriculture is more environmental because it doesn’t use nitrogenous fertilisers. But no matter how much we do, there are systemic limits. We could reach a limit as to how much agriculture can adapt,” he told Tierramérica.

Rojas called for an integral focus on landscapes in the context of climate change, to confront the challenge of ensuring adequate nutrition for the 805 million chronically malnourished people around the world. However, agricultural production will at the same time have to rise 60 percent to meet demand.

The executive director of the U.S.-based Earth Innovation Institute, Daniel Nepstad, noted that the largest proportion of land available for food production is in the tropics.

“The growth in demand for food, especially, in the emerging economies is going to outpace the rise in production. The countries in the world with the greatest potential are in Latin America,” said Nepstad, who added that the innovations to mitigate the impact of climate change on food are happening mainly outside the scope of the UNFCCC.

The director general of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Peter Holmgren, said agroforestry is an approach that reconciles agriculture, forest conservation and food production without generating greenhouse gas emissions.

“The main reason forests are disappearing in this region is agriculture, it is the expansion of commercial agriculture,” he told Tierramérica. “We have a lot of research going on that seeks more resilient and more producing varieties of different crops and livestock. We call it climate-smart agriculture. There is a lot of political commitment to reduce deforestation and direct the investments in agriculture in different ways. However it seems that agriculture is still outside the negotiations in the COP itself.”

As well as agroforestry techniques, agricultural weather report services with forecasts of up to four to six months are ways to contribute to adaptation to changing climate patterns.

CIAT’s Jarvis argued for the need for the diversification of crops and the increase in support with policies to support agriculture.

This article was originally published by the Latin American network of newspapers Tierramérica.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Want Economic Growth? Lessen Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/want-economic-growth-lessen-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=want-economic-growth-lessen-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/want-economic-growth-lessen-inequality/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 00:37:56 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138233 Inequality out in the open. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Inequality out in the open. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

For years, many policy makers, including economists, have clung to the belief that if states do nothing to boost income equality, market forces will cause wealth to trickle down to the poorest citizens and contribute to overall growth.

That theory is now being increasingly debunked as experts affirm that the broadening gap in income is creating far-ranging problems for many societies.

In a new report  published on Dec. 9, researchers at the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) argue that “reducing income inequality would boost economic growth”.

Their research shows that countries where income inequality is decreasing actually “grow faster than those with rising inequality,” and the analysts would like to see governments take stronger action to reduce inequity.“Today, the richest 10 percent of the population in the OECD area earn 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent; in the 1980s, this ratio stood at 7:1 and has been rising continuously ever since” – OECD

“The single biggest impact on growth is the widening gap between the lower middle class and poor households compared with the rest of society,” says the report titled ‘Trends in income inequality and its impact on economic growth’, and “education is the key: a lack of investment in education by the poor is the main factor behind inequality hurting growth.”

According to Michael Förster, a senior analyst in the OECD’s Social Policy division, one reason “the poor and lower middle classes are being left behind in unequal societies” is that they do not have the resources to spend on their own or their children’s education, compared with wealthier citizens,.

He said that governments needed to revise strategies that are based on outdated economic theories.

“The common assumption used to be that the more you did to enhance equality, the more you would hinder growth,” he argued. “So the idea was that if you take too much from the top earners, through taxes, you will have less growth. We haven’t found evidence for that. What we have found is that increasing inequality is bad for growth.”

For example, rising inequality is estimated “to have knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth in Mexico and New Zealand over the past two decades up to the Great Recession,” says the OECD.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States, the “cumulative growth rate would have been six to nine percentage points higher had income disparities not widened.”

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said that this “compelling evidence” proves that addressing high and growing inequality is “critical to promote strong and sustained growth” and needs to be at the centre of global policy discussions.

“Countries that promote equal opportunity for all from an early age are those that will grow and prosper,” he added.

However, some scholars maintain that the consequences of inequality are hard to prove. American economist Jared Bernstein and others have pointed out that it is difficult to establish a firm connection between the inequities in education and economic growth.

These analysts acknowledge that wealthier parents do spend more overall on educational tools and “goods”, and that children from rich families often study at elite institutions in contrast to children from poor backgrounds who may attend lower-quality schools, but they have disagreed on the social or economic effects.

With the “new evidence”, OECD researchers say that the main means through which inequality affects growth is by “undermining education opportunities for children from poor socio-economic backgrounds, lowering social mobility and hampering skills development.”

“People whose parents have low levels of education see their educational outcomes deteriorate as income inequality rises. By contrast, there is little or no effect on people with middle or high levels of parental educational background,” the OECD said in a statement.

According to researchers, anti-poverty programmes will not be enough to create greater equality of opportunities in the long term.  Essential measures will include “cash transfers and increasing access to public services, such as high-quality education, training and healthcare”, the OECD says.

Förster stressed that the inequality study focused on income and not wealth. But recent discussions have centred on both, particularly in France since the election of Socialist President François Hollande in May 2012.

Soon after his election, Hollande announced plans for a 75 percent tax on all income over one million euro, and a watered-down version of the plan was approved by French courts a year ago, even as many wealthy families fled to Belgium and elsewhere.

Economists of different political colours have argued about whether the increased taxation is good for the economy, and the debate has grown more heated with last year’s publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by renowned French economist Thomas Piketty.

A lecturer in Paris and internationally, Piketty advocates a global tax on wealth. He has carried out studies showing that income inequality has grown in many countries, alongside 30 years of declining tax levels.

The gap is particularly marked in the United States, but even in “egalitarian” France, the top one percent earned an average of 30,000 euro monthly in 2010, compared with 1,500 euro per adult of the poorest 50 percent.

According to the OECD, a similar situation exists in many of its 34 member countries, which include European nations and others such as Mexico, Chile and the United States.

“Today, the richest 10 percent of the population in the OECD area earn 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent; in the 1980s, this ratio stood at 7:1 and has been rising continuously ever since.”

Bucking the trend, income inequality has been falling in Chile and Mexico, but the incomes of the richest are still more than 25 times those of the poorest in these two countries.

The OECD’s Latin American Economic Outlook 2015, produced with regional partners and also launched on Dec. 9, focuses on the role of education and skills, and experts said more needed to be done to “raise educational standards and address persistent and substantial socioeconomic inequalities.”

Förster told IPS that the organisation hoped governments would consider the findings as a basis to change policy, “otherwise we won’t get out of the current situation.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Pushing for Gender Equity at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:54:28 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138220 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/feed/ 2 Faiths United Against Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:05:05 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138197 By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

“Never was there a greater need than now for all the religions to combine, to pull their wisdom and to give the benefit of that combined, huge repository of wisdom to international law and to the world.”

The words are those of Christopher Weeramantry, former judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and its vice-president from 1997 to 2000, who was addressing a session on faiths united against nuclear weapons at the civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7 in the Austrian capital.

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Weeramantry strongly criticised the argument of those who claim that nuclear weapons have saved the world from another world war in the last 50 years.

He pointed to the ever-present danger represented by these weapons and said that on many occasions it had been luck that had prevented catastrophic nuclear accidents or the breaking out of a devastating nuclear war.

Noting that nuclear weapons “offend every single principle of religion,” Weeramantry was joined on the panel by a number of different religious leaders, including Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and peace activist, as well as Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA.

Although there often seems to be a gap between the positions of different faith communities concerning different issues, all panellists were very clear in pushing the moral imperative and declaring the similar values that are inherent to all religions.“The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it” – Mahatma Gandhi

According to Mustafa Ceric, it “is not the question of whether you believe, it is the question of whether we are going to wait and see the destruction of our planet.”

Ceric also stressed that the goals and values of humanity are defined by common moral and ethical standards and that the role of religious communities today is greater than ever. Faced with fear and mistrust in society, he said, they also have the responsibility to care for peace and security in the world.

Akemi Bailey-Haynie continued with an emotional statement from first-hand experience – her own mother was a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945.

“When nuclear weapons are considered a deterrent or viable option in warfare, it seems from a mind-set that fundamentally denies that all people possess infinite potential. No one has the right to take away a precious life of another human being.”

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

For Bailey-Haynie, nuclear weapons serve no purpose other than mass destruction. They have devastating effects on human beings and the environment, and the possibility of nuclear accidents or potential terrorism cannot be ruled out, she said, adding that dialogue between people of different or opposing opinions is the beginning to achieve change regarding this issue.

“As a second generation survivor, I deeply feel the sorrow, as well as the outrage, born of not being able to yet live in a time when the most inhumane of weapons, nuclear weapons, have been banned,“ she concluded.

Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Anglican Bishop, sent a video message to participants to express his deep solidarity and support for ICAN’s civil society forum initiative.

He argued that the best way to honour the victims of the incidents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to negotiate a total ban on nuclear weapons to ensure that nothing comparable could ever happen again.

Two of the session’s speakers, Ela Gandhi and Mustafa Ceric, also attended the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

There, Ela Gandhi delivered a speech in the spirit of her grandfather who, she said, would have joined the movement to abolish nuclear weapons if still alive.

As Gandhi had dedicated his life to teaching humanity that there is a non-violent way of dealing with conflict, he even condemned nuclear weapons himself in 1946 when he said: “The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it.”

Pointing out that the mere existence of nuclear weapons leads to similar armament of rival countries, Ela Gandhi warned that these nuclear arsenals could destroy a chance for future generations to survive and have a prosperous life.

The Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was the scene of intense and often emotional discussions among official representatives from over 160 countries, victims and civil society participants. Notably, both the United States and the United Kingdom were officially represented for the first time at a conference where their nuclear arsenals were subject to debate and criticism.

Religion played an important role at the conference, where many lobbying groups had religious backgrounds, and the opening ceremony was addressed by Pope Francis.

“I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity, planted deep in the human heart, will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home,” aid Pope Francis, expressing his hope that “a world without nuclear weapons is truly possibly.”

In a statement on behalf of faith communities to the final session, Kimiaki Kawai, Program Director for Peace Affairs at Soka Gakkai International (SGI), said: “The elimination of nuclear weapons is not only a moral imperative; it is the ultimate measure of our worth as a species, as human beings.”

He said that “acceptance of the continued existence of nuclear weapons stifles our capacity to think more broadly and more compassionately about who we are as human beings, and what our potential is. Humanity must find alternative ways of dealing with conflict.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Africa Sets Demands for Post-2015 Climate Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/africa-sets-demands-for-post-2015-climate-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-sets-demands-for-post-2015-climate-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/africa-sets-demands-for-post-2015-climate-agreement/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 19:45:59 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138213 Members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance staging a demonstration at the Climate Change Conference in Lima. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Members of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance staging a demonstration at the Climate Change Conference in Lima. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

The post-2015 global climate change agreement should be flexible and fully resourced or else condemn Africa to another cycle of poverty resulting from the adverse effects of climate change.

Echoing this view, African delegates and civil society groups at the ongoing (Dec. 1-12) U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, said that some of the continent’s demands were being relegated, yet they are crucial for the post-2015 period.

Azeb Girma, an environmental activist from Ethiopia, told IPS that he was disappointed with the way the negotiations were proceeding.  “We thought to have a pathway to Paris [venue for the next climate change conference in 2015] but Africa is cheated. Africa is demanding adaptation but this has been pushed away. The discussions are leading nowhere,” said Girma.

Some of the negotiators claimed that developed countries were backtracking on some of the positions earlier agreed to at the Durban Climate Change Conference in 2011.

Dr Tom Okurut, Executive Director of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), told IPS that in Durban parties had agreed that adaptation was supposed to be part of the post-2015 climate deal but some developed countries were not willing to commit themselves in the draft texts."We have a mandate from science, from our people, from the continent of Africa, and from the United Nations itself to push for enhanced global climate action to cut [greenhouse gas] GHG emissions as well as strengthen adaptation; this remains a priority for us" – Nagmeldin El Hassan, Chair of the African Group at the Climate Change Conference in Lima

“We need a legally binding agreement that binds all parties to whatever has been agreed to, unlike the current protocol where parties can opt out of the process. Right now, everything is voluntary and that is why we are not getting very big output here,” said Okurut.

Since the beginning of the Lima conference, the African Group has been pushing for a multilateral rules-based system with a comprehensive outcome aimed at halting the growing threat of climate change to the African continent.

“We have a mandate from science, from our people, from the continent of Africa, and from the United Nations itself to push for enhanced global climate action to cut [greenhouse gas] GHG emissions as well as strengthen adaptation; this remains a priority for us,” said Nagmeldin El Hassan, Chair of the African Group while addressing a group of African journalist covering the conference.

Among the more thorny debates in this round of talks is the scope and format of country pledges or ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCS). Some parties, especially the African Group and most of the least developed countries (LDCs), want the focus to be on both mitigation and adaptation, while those in developed countries want the focus only on mitigation.

Earlier in the week, several African environmental groups under their umbrella group, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), held a demonstration at the convention centre urging ministers and other negotiators to back the African position on INDCS.

“We call on all parties to take seriously their responsibility to agree on deep emission cuts and avoid further climate crisis. Time is running out while the negotiations are moving at a very slow pace,” said Nicholas Ndhola, an activist from Zimbabwe.

“We urge and demand all parties, especially the developed countries, to agree on the scope of INDCs to include all elements and not only mitigation which tends to ignore differentiated commitments towards finance, adaptation, technology transfer, means of implementation and capacity-building,”he added.

John Bideri from Rwanda told IPS that the developed countries were seemingly determined to ensure that issues about adaptation and technology transfer are not adequately agreed and defined as the parties agree on framework for the next agreement to be hammered out in Paris in 2015.

Seyini Nafo, spokesperson of the African Group at the Climate Change Conference in Lima and member of the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Seyini Nafo, spokesperson of the African Group at the Climate Change Conference in Lima and member of the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“It is time to come up with an equitable deal. Lima may be the last chance for us to make a breakthrough and end a standoff that has prevented adequate climate action for decades. Please stand with the poor, stand with the vulnerable,” urged Bideri.

The INDCs bring together elements of a bottom-up system – to be put forward by all countries in their contributions in the context of their national priorities, circumstances and capabilities – with the aim of reducing global emissions enough to limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.

According to the London-based CARE International, there is a need to set clear guidelines on the scope and format of INDCs.

“At the moment we run the risk of having to compare apples with oranges – if we don’t clearly define what countries must include in their national climate commitments towards the new agreement due in Paris next year, then it will be extremely difficult to understand how much progress is being made to curb climate change,” said Sven Harmeling, CARE International’s climate change advocacy coordinator.

However,in a statement in Lima,Miguel Arias Canete, the European Union’s Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, said that “the European Union and other developed countries must take into account the concerns of developing countries that want more adaptation, finance and technology sharing elements, but it should be in a mechanism or process outside of the INDCs.”

He added that “countries’ intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) should be exclusively devoted to mitigation.”

While Africa has been pushing for adaptation as part of the post-2015 agreement, it is not about to give up the demand for mitigation in areas of sustainable land and forest management, especially carbon finance, under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme.

Dr Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Water and Environment Minister, speaking at a REDD+ post 2015 discussion organised by the Peruvian government, said that parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have been slow in implementing the Warsaw REDD+ Framework.

“We would want our colleagues in developed countries to agree on REDD+ result-based financing. This is a very key issue for us in Africa. We affirm the need to integrate the REDD+ into the overall structure of the 2015 agreement for durable and effective climate change governance,” said Kamuntu.

Critical among Africa’s demands is fulfilment of the financial pledges for climate financing.  At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, developed countries pledged to scale up climate funding to 100 billion dollars a year from private and public sources by 2020. For the African Group, fulfilling this could make money available for a post-2015 poverty eradication agenda.

Some developed countries, such as Norway and Australia among others, have announced contributions to the Green Climate Fund, bringing the fund to close the 10 billion dollar mark.

Seyni Nafo, African Group spokesperson and a member of the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance, told IPS that much more funding was needed.

“Recent pledges to the Green Climate Fund are a small first step, but funding around 2.4 billion dollars per year is not close to the actual need, and is a far cry from the 100 billion dollars pledged for 2020. Lima should provide a clear roadmap for how finance contributions will increase step-by-step up to 2020,” he said.

The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The United States and China have announced commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a bilateral agreement, sending a strong signal for implementation of an international climate treaty in 2015.

Seyni Nafo said the recent announcements by the European Union, United States and China of their 2030 emission targets were to be commended for proactivity but fall well short of what science requires.

He challenged the European Union and the United States to match stronger mitigation targets with intended contributions on finance, adaptation, technology transfer and capacity-building in accordance with their obligations under international law.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nuclear States Face Barrage of Criticism in Viennahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:19:17 +0000 Jamshed Baruah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138201 Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

By Jamshed Baruah
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Sarcastic laughter erupted when a civil society representative expressed his “admiration for the delegate of the United States, who with one insensitive, ill-timed, inappropriate and diplomatically inept intervention” had “managed to dispel the considerable goodwill the U.S. had garnered by its decision to participate” in Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

The speaker was Richard Lennane, who prefers to call himself the “chief inflammatory officer” of Wildfire, a Geneva-based disarmament initiative. He was making a statement at the final session of the Dec. 8-9 conference in the Austrian capital – the third after the Oslo (Norway) gathering in 2013 and Nayarit (Mexico) earlier this year.“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting.” -- Akira Kawasaki of Peaceboat

Unlike the previous conferences, the United States and Britain – two of the five members of the nuclear club, along with France, Russia and China – participated in the Vienna conference.

But Washington’s diplomatic jargon was far-removed from the highly emotional impact of statements by survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of nuclear testing in Australia, Kazakhstan, and the Marshall Islands. They gave powerful testimonies of the horrific effects of nuclear weapons. Their evidence complemented other presentations offering data and research.

Ambassador Adam Scheinman, special representative of the U.S. president for non-proliferation, assured that “underpinning all of our efforts, stretching back decades, has been our clear understanding of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use”.

This claim not only left a large number of participants unimpressed but also failed to give reason for hope that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference next year would bear fruit.

All the more so, because as the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out in a joint statement, “nearly five years after the successful 2010 NPT review conference, follow-through on the consensus action plan – particularly the 22 interrelated disarmament steps – has been very disappointing.

“Since the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2011,” the statement added, “Russia and the United States have failed to start talks to further reduce their still enormous nuclear stockpiles, which far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements.”

2015 will also mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the consequences of which are still being felt by hibakusha (survivors) and their families, as Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima Peace Ambassador and survivor of the atomic bombing explosion on Aug. 6, 1945, illustrated in an impassioned statement.

“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting,” said Akira Kawasaki, from the Japanese NGO Peaceboat.

“The only solution is to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons and we need to start now,” Kawasaki added.

U.S. ambassador Scheinman sought to reassure in a statement prepared for the general debate: “The United States fully understands the serious consequences of nuclear weapons use and gives the highest priority to avoiding their use. The United States stands with all those here who seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

“The United States has been and will continue to work to create the conditions for such a world with the aid of the various tools, treaties and agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime.”

Irrespective of the veracity of the U.S. claim, Scheinman’s dry and rather formulaic remarks stood in stark contrast to passionate pleas made by representatives of 44 out of 158 participating states, that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error remains real.

States that expressed support for a ban treaty at the Vienna Conference include: Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Holy See, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Echoing worldwide sentiments, Pope Francis called in a message to the conference for nuclear weapons to be “banned once and for all”.

In a message delivered by Angela Kane, High Representative of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna initiatives had “brought humanitarian considerations to the forefront of nuclear disarmament. It has energized civil society and governments alike. It has compelled us to keep in mind the horrific consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons.”

Questioning the rationale behind nuclear weapons, Ban – who is known to be committed to nuclear disarmament – said that keeping the horrific consequences of nukes in mind was essential in confronting those who view nuclear weapons as a rational response to growing international tensions or as a symbol of national prestige.

In his widely noted message, he criticised “the senselessness of pouring funds into modernizing the means for our mutual destruction while we are failing to meet the challenges posed by poverty, climate change, extremism and the destabilizing accumulation of conventional arms.”

In “the 70th year of the nuclear age”, Ban said “possession of nuclear weapons does not prevent international disputes from occurring, but it makes conflicts more dangerous”.

Besides, he added, maintaining forces on alert does not provide safety, but it increases the likelihood of accidents. Upholding doctrines of nuclear deterrence does not counter proliferation, but it makes the weapons more desirable.

Growing ranks of nuclear armed-states do not ensure global stability, but instead undermine it – a view with which also faith organisations gathered in Vienna agreed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Urged to Ban Nuke Strikes Against Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:02:28 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138181 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are urging the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring nuclear strikes on cities to be a clear-cut violation of international humanitarian law.

At the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, supporters of the proposed resolution argued that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is undeniable that the explosion of a nuclear weapon on a populated area would engender destruction beyond acceptable human limits.“The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the 'incremental steps' towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes?" -- Jonathan Granoff

“There are over 6,000 cities already members of our campaign called Cities Are Not Targets! declaring it illegal to target cities with nuclear weapons,” said Aaron Tovish, campaign director for Mayors for Peace.

“This initiative to have the bodies of the United Nations explicitly outlaw such conduct is of great value,” he said.

Proponents argue that just raising the issue would bring a dose of reality into the debate about the threat of nuclear weapons, and that a GA resolution calling on the Security Council to affirm the illegality of using nuclear weapons on populated areas under international humanitarian law (IHL) could be a real, practical step to advance nuclear disarmament.

Jonathan Granoff, head of the Global Security Institute, said that other uses also violate international law but there should be no question that destroying a city is illegal.

Granoff told IPS, “Pending obtaining a legal ban, a convention, or a framework of instruments leading to nuclear disarmament, which is required by the promises made by the nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice, this step would make us all a bit safer and downgrade the political status of these horrible devices.”

Is a resolution necessary?

In recent years, it has become apparent that failure to fulfill promised progress on nuclear disarmament has been caused by deeply entrenched security policies that do not seem likely to change.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have raised hopes of further nuclear disarmament, yet this has flown in the face of a reality in which nuclear weapons states continue to either modernise or expand their arsenals, or do both.

Nuclear states agree that the warheads are bad (often recognising a legal responsibility to disarm), yet critics note that in an act of impressive cognitive dissonance, these states simultaneously advance that they are good because they are necessary for deterrence purposes and strategic stability, the disturbance of which could be bad.

Thus, while they exist, so these states say, it is good to rely on them.

China, Russia, the UK, U.S. and France have agreed they have a legal responsibility to disarm, based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.

India has called for negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on a universal, nondiscriminatory, treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and Pakistan has said it would join such a process. Israel has said nothing.

In 2000, 13 steps were agreed upon to move towards disarmament – and then in 2010, 64 additional commitments were made by 188 states.

Yet despite the non-realisation of these incremental moves towards disarmament, the nuclear weapons states maintain that any other attempt to delegitimise, ban, and eliminate the warheads is a distraction.

Proponents of the resolution like Granoff see it as a step forward towards extrication from the situation.

Granoff told IPS, “The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the ‘incremental steps’ towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes? Will it provide impetus to get a ban on testing, fissile materials, and more cuts of arsenals?”

Criticism of the proposal

The proposal is likely to face robust criticism from nuclear weapons states and those under the “umbrella of deterrence” (those states allied to a nuclear power that claim to be protected by affiliation).

Speaking to IPS, former deputy judge advocate general, U.S. Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap Jr. expressed reservations about the advancement of such a resolution.

Dunlap remains unconvinced on the question of whether there is an authoritative prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons in IHL, saying, “It sounds as if Mr. Granoff assumes that IHL applicable to the use of conventional weapons would automatically apply to the use of nuclear weapons. This is incorrect.

“In fact, even some of the countries which are parties (as the U.S. and some other nuclear powers are not) to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (which contains targeting rules) made an express reservation to it to the effect that it did not govern the use of nuclear weapons.”

These legal arguments are hotly contested, however. Proponents of the resolution point to the final document from the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010 which “reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

Those in support of the proposal seem undeterred. Alyn Ware of the World Future Council told IPS, “I think it’s a good proposal. I don’t think it’s the only path. The idea of ‘non-first use’ also has traction.”

Ware stands in opposition to Dunlap, saying “A nuclear weapon has a much larger blast impact than conventional weapons. The blast impact can’t be contained to a specific military target.

“If it’s far away from populated areas, then maybe it will not violate IHL, but there would still be enormous problems with fall out and controlling its trajectory… but you can’t even make the argument when it’s in a populated area.”

IPS spoke to former Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Office of Ms. Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, Randy Rydell, who said, “The nuclear powers will almost certainly try to deal with this humanitarian campaign by diverting it onto the track of “arms control” — namely, we need to improve the safety and security of nukes and “keep them out of the wrong hands”.

Both arguments divert attention from the risks inherent in such weapons, in anybody’s “hands”.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Faces the Novelty and Challenge of Ageinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 21:58:54 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138179 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/feed/ 0 Starvation Strikes Zimbabwe’s Urban Dwellershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/starvation-strikes-zimbabwes-urban-dwellers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=starvation-strikes-zimbabwes-urban-dwellers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/starvation-strikes-zimbabwes-urban-dwellers/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 18:51:05 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138176 Faced with starvation, hordes of jobless Zimbabweans in towns and cities here have turned to vending on streets pavements to put food on their tables. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Faced with starvation, hordes of jobless Zimbabweans in towns and cities here have turned to vending on streets pavements to put food on their tables. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

As unemployment deepens across this Southern African nation and as the country battles to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ahead of the December 2015 deadline, thousands of urban Zimbabweans here are facing starvation.

The MDGs are eight goals agreed to by all U.N. member states and all leading international development institutions to be achieved by the target date of 2015. These goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

Zimbabwe has a total population of just over 13 million people, according to the 2012 National Census – of these, 67 percent now live in rural areas while 33 percent live in urban areas.

According to the Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey report for 2011-2012 from the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (ZIMSTAT), 30.4 percent of rural people in Zimbabwe are “extremely poor” – and are also people facing starvation – compared with 5.6 percent in urban areas.“The current inability of the economy to address people’s basic needs is leading to hunger in most urban households, with almost none of urban residents in Zimbabwe being able to afford three meals a day nowadays” – Philip Bohwasi, chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Council of Social Workers

Social workers find the stay of urban dwellers in Zimbabwe’s cities justifiable, but ridden with hardships.

“Remaining in towns and cities for many here is better than living in the countryside as every slightest job opportunity often starts in urban areas in spite of the expensive living conditions in towns and cities,” independent social worker Tracey Ngirazi told IPS.

According to Philip Bohwasi, chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Council of Social Workers, urban starvation is being caused by loss of jobs – the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates unemployment in Zimbabwe to be at 60 percent of the country’s total population.

“The current inability of the economy to address people’s basic needs is leading to hunger in most urban households, with almost none of urban residents in Zimbabwe affording three meals a day nowadays,” Bohwasi told IPS.

True to Bohwasi’s words, for many Zimbabwean urban residents like unemployed 39-year-old qualified accountant Josphat Madyira from the Zimbabwean capital Harare, starvation has become order of the day.

“Food stores are filled to the brim with groceries, but most of us here are jobless and therefore have no money to consistently buy very basic foodstuffs, resulting in us having mostly one meal per day,” Madyira told IPS.

Madyira lost his job at a local shoe manufacturing company after it shut down operations owing to the country’s deepening liquidity crunch, thanks to a failing economy here that has rendered millions of people jobless.

Asked how city dwellers like him are surviving, Madyira said: “People who are jobless like me have resorted to vending on streets pavements, selling anything we can lay our hands on as we battle to put food on our tables.”

The donor community, which often extends food aid to impoverished rural households, has rarely done the same in towns and cities here despite hunger now taking its toll on the urban population, according to civil society activists.

“Whether in cities or remote areas, hunger in Zimbabwe is equally ravaging ordinary people and most of the donor community has for long directed food aid to the countryside, rarely paying attention to towns and cities, which are also now succumbing to famine,” Catherine Mukwapati, director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network civil society organisation, told IPS.

Apparently failing to combat hunger in line with the MDGs, over the years Zimbabwe has not made great strides in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger due to the economic decline that has persisted since 2000.

As a result, earlier this year, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with the Zimbabwean government, extended its monthly cash pay-out scheme to urban areas.

Under this scheme, which started at the peak of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis in 2008, families living on less than 1.25 dollars a day receive a monthly pay-out of between 10 and 20 dollars, depending on the number of family members.

Economists and development experts here say that achieving the MDGs without food on people’s tables, especially in cities whose inhabitants are fast falling prey to growing hunger, is going to be a nightmare, if not highly impossible for Zimbabwe.

“Be it in cities or rural areas, Zimbabwe still has a lot of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day, which is the global index measure of extreme poverty, a clear indication that as a country we are far from successfully combating hunger and poverty in line with the U.N. MDGs whose global deadline for world countries to achieve is next year,” independent development expert Obvious Sibanda told IPS.

According to the 2013 Human Development Index of the U.N. Development Programmer (UNDP), Zimbabwe is a low-income, food-deficit country, ranked 156 out of 187 countries globally and UNDP says that currently 72 percent of Zimbabweans live below the national poverty line.

Although hunger is now hammering people in both urban and rural areas, government sources also recognise that the pinch is being felt more by urban dwellers.

“The decline in formal employment, mostly in towns and cities, with many workers engaged in poorly remunerated informal jobs, has a direct bearing on both poverty and hunger, which is on a sharp rise in urban areas,” a top government economist, who declined to be named, admitted to IPS.

For the many hunger-stricken Madyiras in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, meeting the MDGS by the end of next year matters little.

“Defeating starvation is far from me without decent and stable employment and whether or not my country fulfils the MDGs, it may be of no immediate result to many people like me,” Madyira told IPS.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Marginalised Communities Warn of AIDS/TB “Tragedy” in Eastern Europe and Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/marginalised-communities-warn-of-aidstb-tragedy-in-eastern-europe-and-central-asia/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 13:22:20 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138173 Young boy sitting on a wall outside 'Way Home', a UNICEF-assisted shelter providing food, accommodation, literacy trainings and HIV/AIDS-awareness lessons to street children in Odessa, Ukraine. Because of unsafe sex and injecting drug use, street adolescents are one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV. Credit: UNICEF/G. Pirozzi

Young boy sitting on a wall outside 'Way Home', a UNICEF-assisted shelter providing food, accommodation, literacy trainings and HIV/AIDS-awareness lessons to street children in Odessa, Ukraine. Because of unsafe sex and injecting drug use, street adolescents are one of the groups most at risk of contracting HIV. Credit: UNICEF/G. Pirozzi

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Marginalised communities and civil society groups helping them are warning of a “tragedy” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) as international funding for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) programmes in the regions is cut back.

The EECA is home to the world’s only growing HIV/AIDS epidemic and is the single most-affected region by the spread of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). For years, HIV/AIDS and TB programmes in many of its countries have been heavily, or exclusively, reliant on funding from theGlobal Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

But this year has seen the Global Fund move to a new financing model based on national income statistics, under which funding in many EECA countries has already been – or will soon be – heavily cut.“This [reduction in Global Fund financing] could lead to tragedy because governments are not yet ready to take on the responsibility for addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I would like decision-makers to understand that this is not just [about] epidemiological statistics but that our lives and health are at stake” – Viktoria Lintsova of the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD)

Some of those likely to be most heavily affected by the cuts say that the reduction in Global Fund financing is putting essential HIV/AIDS and TB services, and with it lives, at risk.

Viktoria Lintsova of the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD) told IPS: “This could lead to tragedy because governments are not yet ready to take on the responsibility for addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I would like decision-makers to understand that this is not just [about] epidemiological statistics but that our lives and health are at stake.”

At the heart of their concerns are worries over funding for not just medical treatment for existing patients but prevention and other services for at risk and marginalised communities.

Injection drug use has been identified as the main driver of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the EECA but HIV/AIDS is also being increasingly spread among men who have sex with men and sex workers – groups which are heavily marginalised because of political and societal attitudes to homosexuality and women.

TB, an equally severe health problem in the EECA, is closely linked to the HIV/AIDS epidemic because co-infection rates are often high.

Throughout the region, prevention and harm reduction services for marginalised groups are provided by civil society groups which rely almost exclusively on international funding.

Sveta McGill, health advocacy officer at international advocacy NGO Results UK, told IPS that the withdrawal of Global Fund funding could see many sick people slip under the health care radar.

She said: “It is affecting services provided by NGOs covering at-risk groups. These ‘low threshold entry’ services, while not necessarily medical interventions, are crucial to keep people from risk groups coming to centres where they get referred to medical institutions to get treatment and can access medical services as well.

“Often, they would not feel comfortable going straight to state health care institutions, and closing down these venues would mean that less people would be referred to state health care institutions.”

Critics point to rising HIV/AIDS infections in Romania in recent years as a sign of what could happen in other EECA countries when the Global Fund cuts back its financing.

The Global Fund ended financing for programmes in the country in 2010. According to data from the Romanian government, since then there has been a dramatic rise in HIV infections among people who use drugs: in 2013, about 30 percent of new HIV cases were linked to injection drug use compared with just three percent in 2010.

Under the Global Fund’s New Financing Model (NFM), the major change is a reduction in financing to middle income countries. Many EECA countries are now classified as middle income and critics say that while the organisation’s goal of looking to prioritise use of finite resources is sensible, national income data does not always accurately reflect the ability of people to access health care services, nor whether a country has the funds for an adequate disease response.

They point to studies showing disease burdens shifting from low income countries to middle income states, and poverty being greatest in middle income countries. Also, most people living with HIV live in middle income countries.

But some have also dismissed as naive the notion that, as the Global Fund wants, national governments will automatically fill the gap in funding left as the Global Fund cuts back its financing.

Many point to the situation in Ukraine as an example highlighting the problems of the NFM.

According to a report from the Open Society Foundations, Global Fund spending on HIV will drop by more than 50 percent for Ukraine between 2014 and 2015. This includes reductions in unit cost spending for people who use drugs by 37 percent, for sex workers by 24 percent and for men who have sex with men by 50 percent.

Meanwhile, the national HIV prevention budget was slashed by 71 percent in 2014 amid political and economic upheaval.

Lintsova, who lives in central Ukraine, told IPS of the problems drug users are currently facing.

She said that not only are there shortages of the right drugs to treat TB in some parts of the country, but that very few drug users have access to them. Places on opiate substitution treatment (OST) programmes are very limited and waiting times to join them long, sometimes fatally so.

“I know two people who died waiting to get on an OST programme,” she told IPS. “And there are other problems like a lack of needle exchange centres in rural areas, in fact a lack of any harm reduction services in small towns, which leads to high rates of HIV in those places.”

She added that without proper funding, the situation would not improve. “The only solution to these problems is financing,” she said.

But other stakeholders have also privately raised fears that a greater government role in fields such as drug procurement could see authorities looking to save money and procuring larger quantities of cheaper TB drugs of worse quality. Meanwhile, local legislation also makes procurement tenders long and difficult, leading, some health care experts predict, to governments running out of stocks of some essential medicines.

It is unclear how governments will deal with the reduction of Global Fund financing. The transition from Global Fund to domestic funding, although widely announced and anticipated, is not going smoothly in all countries.

Many are often unclear when the Global Fund will actually leave because no straightforward timing plan has been set. There are also specific problems in individual states. In Ukraine, in particular, domestic TB funding has been severely affected by the military conflict, struggling economy and currency fluctuation.

Late last month, these growing fears prompted 24 prominent NGOs in the region to send an open letter to the Global Fund warning of their ‘grave concerns’ over the allocation of funding in the region and calling for it to work with local groups and affected communities.

They specifically asked it to look at each country individually, rather than adopt a “one size fits all” approach.

The Global Fund declined to respond when contacted by IPS.

However, drug users who spoke to IPS said there was little hope of an improvement in the region’s HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics if the Global Fund fails to heed NGOs’ warnings.

Lintsova told IPS: “A lack of reaction to our calls could lead to problems accessing prevention and treatment programmes and a deepening of the EECA’s HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Civil Society Support for Marshall Islands Against Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:41:34 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138164 Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Ahead of the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, activists from all over the world came together in the Austrian capital to participate in a civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7.

One pressing issue discussed was the Marshall Islands’ lawsuit against the United States and eight other nuclear-weapon nations that was filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April 2014, denouncing the over 60 nuclear tests that were conducted on the small island state’s territory between 1946 and 1958.“The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up. It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival” – David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF)

The location was chosen not only because it was an isolated part of the world but also because at the time it was also a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands governed by the United States. Self-government was achieved in 1979, and full sovereignty in 1986.

The people of the Marshall Islands were neither informed nor asked for their consent and for a long period did not realise the harm that the testing would bring to the local communities.

The consequences were severe, ranging from displacement of people to islands that were strongly radiated and cannot be resettled for thousands of years, besides birth abnormalities and cancer. The states responsible denied the harm of the practice and refuse to provide for adequate amount of health care.

Castle Bravo was the code name given to the first United States‘ test of a nuclear bomb in 1954 and was 1000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Addressing the ICAN forum, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum explained that his country had decided to approach the ICJ to take a stand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

De Brum said that the Marshall Islands was not seeking compensation, because the United States had already provided millions of dollars to the islands, but wants to hold states accountable for their actions in violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and international customary law.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, commits nuclear-weapon states to nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear power. The nine countries currently holding nuclear arsenals are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Although a certain degree of disarmament has been taken place since the end of the Cold War, these nine nations together still possess some 17,000 nuclear weapons and globally spend 100 billion dollars a year on nuclear forces.

The Marshall Islands case, which has received worldwide attention and support from many different organisations, is often referred to as “David vs. Goliath”. One eminent supporter is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), whose president, David Krieger, said: “The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up.”

“It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons,” he continued, “and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival. The people of the Marshall Islands deserve our support and appreciation for taking this fight into the U.S. Federal Court and to the International Court of Justice, the highest court in the world.”

Another strong supporter of the case is Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist organisation that advocates for peace, culture and education and has a network of 12 million people all over the world. The youth movement of SGI even launched a “Nuclear Zero” petition and obtained five million signatures throughout Japan in its demand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The campaign was encouraged by the upcoming 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015 as well as the holding of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Addressing the ICAN, de Brum urged participants to support the cause of the Marshall Islands. “For a long time,” he said, “the Marshallese people did not have a voice strong enough or loud enough for the world to hear what happened to them and they desperately don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

He went on to say that when the opportunity arose to file a lawsuit in order to stop “the madness of nuclear weapons”, the Marshall Islands decided to take that step, declaring in its lawsuit: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”.

De Brum recognised that many had discouraged his country from taking that step because it would look ridiculous or did not make sense for a nation of 70.000 people to take on the most powerful nations in the world on such a highly debated issue.

However, he said, “there is not a single citizen on the Marshall Islands that has not had an encounter with one or another effect of the testing period … because we have experienced directly the effects of nuclear weapons we felt that we had the mandate to do what we have done.”

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons is the third in a series of such conferences – the first was held in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013 and the second in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Climate Neutrality – the Lifeboat Launched by Limahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-neutrality-the-lifeboat-launched-by-lima/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-neutrality-the-lifeboat-launched-by-lima http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-neutrality-the-lifeboat-launched-by-lima/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 16:57:04 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138151 Activists demand that the COP20 government delegates approve measures to foment investment in renewable energies and eliminate their huge subsidies for fossil fuels. Credit: Joshua Wiese/IPS

Activists demand that the COP20 government delegates approve measures to foment investment in renewable energies and eliminate their huge subsidies for fossil fuels. Credit: Joshua Wiese/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 8 2014 (IPS)

Packed into stifling meeting rooms in the Peruvian capital, delegates from 195 countries are trying to find a path that would make it possible for the planet to reach climate neutrality in the second half of this century – the only way to avoid irreversible damage, scientists warn.

Climate neutrality is defined as no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, achieved by minimising emissions as much as possible, so an equivalent amount is sequestered or offset. The term climate neutral, rather than carbon neutral, is used to reflect the fact that it is not just carbon dioxide (CO2) that is causing climate change but other greenhouse gases as well.

To reach climate neutrality it is essential to accelerate the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to one that employs renewable energies.

As the COP20 climate summit hosted by Lima Dec. 1-12 approaches the end, the number of developing countries accepting the proposal to set a climate neutral goal – also known as “net zero” – for 2050 is growing.

“The scientific data are more and more alarming,” said Giovanna Valverde, president pro tempore of the Association of Independent Latin American and Caribbean states (AILAC), a regional group of governments of middle-income countries that are negotiating as a bloc in the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“The coordinator of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) showed us the data in the plenary session, and indicated the urgency we are facing. If we set a goal for 2050 it’s so that everyone can join in, but the numbers are alarming,” she told IPS.

Reports by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the IPCC concur on how to reach neutrality: invest more in clean energies, reduce fossil fuel consumption, improve farming practices, reforest, and bolster energy efficiency.

The question of climate neutrality became a key focus of debate in the first week of the conference, but there is a long way to go before it takes shape as a concrete commitment by the international community, to guarantee the transition to a clean economy.

A report by the British Overseas Development Institute found that the industrial and emerging powers of the Group of 20 (G20) continue to invest some 88 billion dollars a year in fossil fuel subsidies, rather than using that money to boost renewable energies.

Moreover, the power and lobbying of the fossil fuel industry can be felt at COP20, where the agenda even includes events organised by multinational oil companies like the Anglo-Dutch Shell, on Monday Dec. 8.

 

Hopes for a greener world came to life at the COP20 installations in the Peruvian capital. Credit: COP 20

Hopes for a greener world came to life at the COP20 installations in the Peruvian capital. Credit: COP 20

Valverde, from Costa Rica, said the key is for “countries to seriously commit to providing information for emission reduction contributions so scientists will have time between 2015 and 2020 to compare methodologies used by different countries, do the math, and define how much more has to be reduced.”

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) issued a statement urging industrialised countries to make more ambitious contributions, reducing dependence on dirty energy sources.

AOSIS called for the planet to reach zero emissions in 2100, which would mean the total elimination of fossil fuels, as recommended by the IPCC in its latest report, released Nov. 2. Countries like Poland, a leading coal producer, announced their rejection of that initiative.

The opposition mounted by countries dependent on fossil fuels is hindering the expansion and growth of clean energies. The European Union, for example, has not agreed on a long-term target within the bloc, nor is it sure that it will back the climate neutrality proposal presented by the UNFCCC and supported by developing countries.

“The goal is part of the mitigation debate and that is still on the table,” one of the EU negotiators, Elina Bardram, told IPS. “It’s important that by the time we get to Paris we have a shared view on where we should go,” she added, referring to the COP21, to be held in the French capital in November 2015.

“That will tell us which is the ambition for a low -carbon future. We don’t have a fixed view on the long-term goal, but of course we have been taking note of the reasons by the IPCC and other scientific bodies.”

A new binding global climate treaty is to be signed in Paris, to replace the Kyoto Protocol as of 2020.

But now in Lima the negotiators must hammer out the form of what many consider the heart of the future treaty: national contributions.

The contributions include each nation’s commitment to reducing emissions, including how much and when. The sum of all the contributions should be sufficient to ward off irreversible effects from climate change.

To achieve that, developing countries and civil society in the South as well as the industrialised North are proposing a mix of reducing incentives for fossil fuels; reforestation; improved agricultural techniques; and investment in renewable energies.

Although the countries are to officially report their contributions between March and June 2015, some have already made announcements.

On Nov. 12, in a joint announcement in Beijing, the United States promised to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels, and China said it would make its “best effort” to peak emissions before 2030 and later reduce them.

But scientific studies warn that more ambitious steps and faster progress are needed.

In the Adaptation Gap Report 2014 published Nov. 19, UNEP assessed the difference between the current measures taken by countries and what would be needed to prevent severe irreversible damage from climate change.

“This report makes it clear that at some point in the second half of the 21st century we will have to achieve climate neutrality, or as some call it, net zero, in terms of global emissions,” said Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC.

According to the study, global emissions should peak in the next 10 years, followed by actions to adopt more clean energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

So far, the delegates in Lima have postponed the review of the pre-2020 emissions cuts, as they are caught up in procedural struggles.

Now the countries are running the risk of failing to reach agreement on the actions needed to reduce emissions to keep the average temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius – although there are even voices warning that the increase should be lower in order to prevent irreversible effects.

“Our position is that the increases in temperature can’t go beyond 1.5 degrees. That would be too harmful for countries like ours,” Ram Prasad of Nepal, the chair of the LDC (Least Developed Countries) group, told IPS.

Climate action is urgent because with each years that goes by, the situation is becoming more and more complicated for the most vulnerable countries, mainly the world’s poorest nations, which makes climate change a deeper problem of inequality, he added.

The UNEP report concluded that to adapt to climate change, the world would need nearly three times more than the 70 to 100 billion dollars a year estimated up to now.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Indigenous Peoples Are the Owners of the Land” Say Activists at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 18:54:44 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138141 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/feed/ 2