Inter Press Service » Reframing Rio Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ethiopia Shows Developing World How to Make a Green Economy Prosper Thu, 16 Oct 2014 06:12:11 +0000 James Jeffrey The GIZ, German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, Sustainable Land Management programme in northern Ethiopia. The programme includes promoting the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover etc.  Courtesy: GIZ

The GIZ, German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, Sustainable Land Management programme in northern Ethiopia. The programme includes promoting the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover etc. Courtesy: GIZ

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Ethiopia has experienced its fair share of environmental damage and degradation but nowadays it is increasingly setting an example on how to combat climate change while also achieving economic growth. 

“It is very well known by the international community that Ethiopia is one of the front-runners of international climate policy, if not the leading African country,” Fritz Jung, the representative of bilateral development cooperation at the Addis Ababa German Embassy, tells IPS.

This Horn of Africa nation has learned more than most that one of the most critical challenges facing developing countries is achieving economic prosperity that is sustainable and counters climate change.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “maximum and minimum temperatures over equatorial East Africa will rise and … climate models show warming in all four seasons over Ethiopia, which may result in more frequent heat waves.”Ethiopia has also recognised how its abundance of waterways offer huge hydro-electric generation potential. Today, massive public infrastructure works are attempting to harness this potential to lift the country out of poverty.

In Africa, the primary concern is adapting to the negative impacts of climate change. Though the report recognised Ethiopia as one of the countries that have “adopted national climate resilience strategies with a view to applying them across economic sectors.”

Along with China and India, Ethiopia provided a case study for researchers conducting a year-long investigation into issues such as macroeconomic policy and impacts; innovation, energy, finance and cities; and agriculture, forests and land use.

Ethiopia’s Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE), a strategy launched in 2011 to achieve middle-income status by 2025 while developing a green economy, “is proof of Ethiopia’s visionary engagement for combining socio-economic development as well as environmental sustainability,” Jung says.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development, partnered with Ethiopian government organisations to tackle environmental issues.

One programme has been the Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLMP), launched in 2008.

Northern Ethiopia suffered significant soil erosion and degradation — with farmers driven to cultivate the steepest slopes, suspending themselves by ropes — before attempts were made to counter ecological destruction.

Since then approximately 250,000 hectares of degraded land in Ethiopia’s highland areas of Amhara, Oromia and Tigray — in which over 50 percent of Ethiopia’s 94 million people live — has been restored to productivity.

This has been achieved through promoting sustainable land management practices such as the use of terracing, crop rotation systems, and improvement of pastureland and permanent green cover, benefiting more than 100,000 households.

“SLMP with its holistic approach increases water availability for agriculture and agricultural productivity and thus contributes directly and indirectly to an increased climate resilience of the rural population,” Johannes Schoeneberger, head of GIZ’s involvement, tells IPS.

One particular example of this, Schoeneberger says, was the introduction of improved cooking stoves combined with newly established wood lots at farmers’ homesteads reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pressure on natural forests. It also reduced households’ bills for fuel wood, he notes.

Ethiopia has also recognised how its abundance of waterways offer huge hydro-electric generation potential. Today, massive public infrastructure works are attempting to harness this potential to lift the country out of poverty.

“[This] bold action in anticipation of future gains is something countries need to focus on,” Getahun Moges, director general of the Ethiopian Energy Authority, tells IPS. “I believe every country has potential to build a green economy, the issue is whether there’s enough political appetite for this against short-term interests.”

When it comes to countries working out effective methods to enact, Ethiopia finds itself somewhat of an authority on achieving sustainability due to past experiences.

“Ethiopians can give answers whereas often in industrialised countries people aren’t sure what to do,” Yvo de Boer, director general of Global Green Growth Institute, an international organisation focused on economic growth and environmental sustainability, tells IPS. “Ethiopians should be asked.”

The result of that research was a report called the New Climate Economy (NCE) released last month in Addis Ababa and New York.

NCE is the flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, established in 2013 — Ethiopia was one of seven founding members, and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute participated in the global partnership of leading institutes informing the NCE — to examine whether lasting economic growth while also tackling the risks of climate change is achievable.

And the NCE has concluded that both goals are possible.

“The notion that economic prosperity is inconsistent with combating climate change has been shown to be a false one that doesn’t hold,” Helen Mountford, director of economics at Washington-based World Resources Institute and future global programme director of the New Climate Economy, tells IPS. “It’s an old-fashioned idea.”

This turnaround has been made possible by structural and technological changes unfolding in the global economy, and by opportunities for greater economic efficiency, according to the NCE.

By focusing on cities, land use and renewable and low-carbon energy sources, while increasing resource efficiency, investing in infrastructure and stimulating innovation, it is claimed a wider economy and better environment are achievable for countries at all levels of development.

Although Ethiopia is by no means out of the woods yet.

“Climate change together with other challenges like demographic growth and competing land use plans continue to threaten the great natural resource base and biodiversity of the country,” Jung says.

But Ethiopia appears to have heeded past problems and chosen to follow a different, and more sustainable, path.

And according to those behind the NCE there is reason for optimism globally on how to achieve a more sustainable future.

They hope that the NCE’s findings will encourage future agreement and cooperation when nations discuss and implement international climate change policies, allowing the ghosts of the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord — previous efforts judged ineffective — to be laid to rest.

But others, such as environmental economist Gunnar Köhlin, director of Sweden-based Environment for Development Initiative, point out that previous sustainability initiatives have struggled to achieve tangible results, especially in Africa.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has still not invested fully in a mature energy generation and distribution system,” Köhlin tells IPS. “There are therefore still many choices to be made in supplying households with energy that is both not aggravating climate change and at the same time is resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

In light of this and the failure of previous projects, Köhlin suggests, the NCE begs the question: What will be different this time?

“In the last 10 to 15 years new policy developments have started to take hold,” Mountford says. “Yes, there have been failures, but there have been many successes and so we have taken stock of these — now we are at a tipping point, with the lessons learned from these recent experiences and significant technological innovations giving us new opportunities.”

The true test of the NCE’s merit will come at the next major convention on climate change due in Paris in 2015, when world leaders will wrestle with, and attempt to agree on, international strategy.

“Let us hope Paris might bring about historic decisions and agreements, and this report might contribute to that end,” Moges says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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


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Côte d’Ivoire Chokes on its Plastic Shopping Bags Fri, 26 Sep 2014 06:25:54 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert Treichville is a thriving market in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where plastic bags remain the sole way of packaging food. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Treichville is a thriving market in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where plastic bags remain the sole way of packaging food. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABDIJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

In the middle of downtown Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, the aisles of a thriving supermarket are full of customers. But as they line up to pay for their items, there is one line to a cashier’s till that remains empty. It’s the “green cash register”, where the cashier does not provide plastic bags as this supermarket tries to implement a green policy. 

“People do not find it convenient to bring their own bags. But they are often angry that they have to line up while nobody comes here [to the green cash register],” the cashier tells IPS.

Increasing environmental consciousness is not the sole reason for Ivorian shops adopting green policies: the government has adopted new laws that will affect consumers.

Each year, Côte d’Ivoire produces 200,000 tonnes of plastic bags of which 40,000 go directly into the trash. Less than 20 percent of this plastic is recycled.

In this West African nation, the pressure is growing to find alternatives to plastic shopping bags — which have become an environmental curse. In several of the city’s neighbourhoods, used plastic bags clog gutters and float on the lagoon, causing floods, sanitation problems and health hazards.

Côte d’Ivoire has been choking on its plastic bags. But as the government tries to find solutions, consumers still need to adapt their habits to the changing regulations.

Solving the environmental disaster

In May 2013, the Ivorian government announced a ban on several types of plastic bags. It was meant to prohibit the production, importation, commercialisation, possession and the use of any non-biodegradable plastic bags made of lightweight polyethylene, or similar plastic derivates with a thickness of less than 50 microns.

Already, eight African countries are doing the same. It is an initiative that started in Rwanda and South Africa in 2004, with the two nations deciding to levy extra taxes on plastic bags. Other countries that have banned plastic bags are Botswana, Eritrea, Kenya, Mauritania, Tanzania and Uganda.

But pressure from the plastic industry forced Côte d’Ivoire to back down and to postpone the ban until this August, while trying to find solutions to the industry’s concerns. The government could not simply ignore 7,500 jobs and an industry worth about 50 billion CFA (97 million dollars).

The ban was only applied in August, which allowed the industry enough time to produce biodegradable bags and develop alternatives.

The government also tried to ensure that the market was ready for the transition.

The industry has also had more time to invest in producing bio-degradable bags and more effective recycling infrastructure.

“Our objective is to, on a long-term basis, reduce and replace all bags with reusable bags, and to orient consumers about other ways of carrying merchandise, like [using] cloth bags and baskets.

“If the industry picks up, it will generate long term-profits of annually 17.1 billions CFA [33 million dollars] and will create 1,900 jobs,” explained Ivorian Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan at the beginning of September.

Changing habits

In Treichville Market, one of the busiest commercial areas of the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, the sellers have other concerns.

“People do not have the money to buy an entire bottle of oil. So we divide small portions into plastic bags [to sell],” Mohammed Cissé, a small shop owner in one of Abidjan’s biggest markets, tells IPS.

“It is an economical problem, I think. People do not have the money to buy containers. Those plastic bags are cheap. Reusable boxes are expensive.”

For Cissé, having consumers reuse their plastic bags will mean he will save money since he currently covers the cost of the plastic bags he packages his oil in.

“But people will not understand this! I cover most of the cost of the plastic bags, which is about 10 CFA per bag [3 cents]. Since I give away hundreds of bags per day, I see the total cost,” he says.

In a country where almost half the population lives on less than two dollars per day, buying reusable bags is a challenge, says Cissé.

His neighbour, Jean-Marie Kouadio, is wary about the new bags.

“I have seen biodegradable bags. They are very weak. Where is the benefit if you have to use three bags instead of one?”

He tells IPS that ecological solutions are not available for the smaller bags that he uses to package oil and salt.

Further away, Awa Diabaté faces a different concern. Diabaté, 54, sells donuts on a street corner, right beside a heap of abandoned dirty plastic bags. She sees the point of the ban, but believes that the health concerns behind the ban will be a challenge if proper solutions are not found.

“The individual wrappings allows me to keep the donuts clean from dirt. Often, small kids come to buy food. If they do not carry the food in [the plastic], they will drop it on the ground.

“Reusing bags, means cleaning them. Many people will not take good care. I am pretty sure some will get sick from that,” she tells IPS.

Diabaté’s concerns are down to earth. But they reveal a reality difficult to ignore: plastic bags are essential to Ivorian daily life. And solutions need to fit that.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Africa Pays the Price of Low Harvests Thanks to Costly Fertilisers Thu, 25 Sep 2014 08:54:12 +0000 Busani Bafana Eherculano Thomas Rice (left) from Chimoio, Mozambique shows the pigeon pea he uses to improve soil fertility in his field. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
CHIMOIO, Mozambique, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Eherculano Thomas Rice, is pleased to have harvested 40 bags of white maize from his eight-hectare field in Chimoio, in Mozambique’s Manica Province. But he knows that his productivity and yield would be higher if he had been able to afford to buy fertiliser to add to his crop.

Rice grows cowpea to boost soil fertility in his field and improve his productivity, only buying fertiliser when he can afford it.

According to local NGO Farm Inputs Promotions Africa (FIPS), which works with about 38,000 farmers in five districts in Manica Province, a 50kg bag of fertiliser costs about 33 dollars. And a farmer will need three bags per hectare of land.

Africa is paying the price of low productivity because of limited use of commercial fertilisers by smallholder farmers who produce the bulk of the continent’s food.

“For now I intercrop my maize with pigeon pea, to increase soil fertility and it works. But fertiliser could boost my productivity,” Rice tells IPS, during a walk around his farm as he points to the mature pigeon pea plants.

“Farmers need awareness on how fertiliser can improve their production for them so that they can save and buy it easily. Farmers are discouraged by having to travel long distances to buy inputs, often a high cost.”

Low fertiliser use by smallholder farmers like Rice is a common narrative in sub-Saharan Africa — a continent which currently uses about eight kg/ha of fertiliser. It is a figure that pales against the global average of 93kg/ha and 100-200kg/ha in Asia, according to the Montpelier Panel’s 2013 report, Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture.

Rice, who was trained by FIPS as a village inputs promotion agent, runs demonstration plots teaching farmers how to use improved inputs. Farmers are given input kits of improved seed and fertilisers as an incentive for them to buy them themselves.

Agriculture currently contributes about 25 percent of Mozambique’s GDP and a 2004 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development evaluation report indicates that improved seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are capable of raising productivity by up to 576 percent.

Charles Ogang, the president of the Uganda National Farmers Federation, tells IPS via email that food security in Africa is compromised because farmers are not using enough agricultural inputs, in particular fertilisers.

“There are many reasons why farmers in Africa are still hardly making a living of agriculture. One of them is the lack of access to key tools and knowledge,” Ogang says.

“Fertilisers are often not even available for purchase for farmers who live remotely. I believe that the lack of rural infrastructure, storage and blending facilities, the lack of credit and limited knowledge of farmers of how to use fertilisers are the key constraints for an increased use.”

According to the First Resolution of the Abuja Declaration on fertiliser, African governments have to increase fertiliser use from the average of eight kg of nutrients per hectare to 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015.

“Although no country in sub-Saharan Africa has achieved this target, there are some signs of improvement in the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser by the countries and Regional Economic Communities since June 2006,” says Richard Mkandawire, vice president of the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP). He says that Malawi has increased its fertiliser use from an average of 10kg/ha in the 90s, to a current 33kg/ha, and shows the commitment of countries to reach the target of 50kg/ha.

Mkandawire tells IPS that the partnership is undertaking technical research to advance appropriate soil management practices, including the facilitation of soil mapping. It is also testing soil to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to access fertiliser blends that are suitable for their land.

Mkandawire acknowledges that there is no silver bullet to lowering the cost of fertiliser for smallholder farmers. But he says AFAP has employed several types of financial mechanisms to help lower the cost. The mechanisms include facilitating guarantees to fertiliser distributors for retailer credit, financing assistance to importers or blenders to improve facilities, training, financial and technical assistance to warehouses at ports.

In August, AFAP in collaboration with the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA) launched a multi-media campaign in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to push African governments to invest in agriculture productivity.

According to the campaign, African governments should ensure farmers have access to adequate and improved inputs especially fertiliser for agriculture transformation and economic development.

In June, African heads of state committed themselves to use agriculture growth to double food productivity, halve poverty and eliminate child under nutrition by 2025 when they came up with the Malabo Declaration following a meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

Charlotte Hebebrand, IFA director general, says Africa’s fertiliser demand is less than three percent of the global market. The continent’s production continues to be low and a significant share of the local production is exported as raw materials.

“Our estimates are that demand will increase over the course of the next three to five years in countries that are stable politically, committed to allocate at least 10 percent of their budget to agriculture, and those that have established sound fertiliser subsidy schemes,” Hebebrand tells IPS.

“Equipped with the right inputs and the knowledge to use these inputs, yields can increase tremendously. For every one kilogram of nutrient applied, farmers obtain five to 30 kg of additional product.”

Poor supply chains for fertilisers where farmers often have to travel long distances to buy a bag of fertiliser, are a primary cause of low fertiliser use in Africa. Poor farming practises are also worsening soil health in Africa.

An analysis of soil health in Africa by the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) shows that croplands across sub-Saharan Africa lose 30 to 80 kgs per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen annually as a result of unsustainable farming practices, which the report warns will “kill Africa’s hopes for a food-secure future.”

AGRA’s Soil Health Programme is working on solving the problem by supporting an extensive network of partnerships in 13 countries in which three million farmers have been trained in using organic matter, applying small amounts of mineral fertilisers, and planting legume crops like cowpea, soybean and pigeon pea.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Experts Warn of Dire Consequences as Lake Victoria’s Water Levels Drop Further Tue, 23 Sep 2014 07:50:38 +0000 Joshua Kyalimpa There are numerous traders operating businesses at Kasenyi landing site, on Lake Victoria. Their wooden and metallic structures are placed about 50 metres into where the lake waters used to be. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

There are numerous traders operating businesses at Kasenyi landing site, on Lake Victoria. Their wooden and metallic structures are placed about 50 metres into where the lake waters used to be. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Joshua Kyalimpa
KAMPALA, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

Over the years, Cassius Ntege, a fisherman from Kasenyi landing site on the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria, has observed the waters of the lake receding. And as one of the many who depend on the lake for their livelihoods, he has had to endure the disastrous consequences of the depleting lake.

Ntege told IPS that he first started going to the lake as teenager to fetch water for domestic use, then as a fisherman, and now as vice chairperson of the beach management unit — a body set up by the government to curb illegal fishing and stop depletion of fish stocks from the lake.

But the declining water levels of Lake Victoria have become his daily concern.Expected changes of plus or minus 10 percent from present annual rainfall totals may seem minimal, but it’s the shift in water patterns that are of concern.

“Look, where that wooden kiosk is placed was previously centre of the lake and now traders have put shops and food kiosks there,” said Ntege as he pointed to the wooden and metallic structures placed about 50 metres into where the lake waters used to be.

There are many traders operating businesses at Kasenyi landing site, which lies about 30 km from the country’s capital, Kampala. And for them, a drop in water levels means additional land to set up shop.

Ntege, like many fishermen here, believes the decline in Lake Victoria’s water levels is because of the effect of wind blowing across the waters from the land — a phenomenon known locally as “Muguundu”.

But climate experts state in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report that a rise in global temperature is what is affecting rainfall patterns over Lake Victoria — and the worst is yet to come.

The report states that increased warming in the western Indian Ocean and precipitation over the ocean system will bring about climate extremes in East Africa and increase precipitation during the short rainy season.

Professor Hannes Rautenbach from the University of Pretoria, and one of the authors of the report, told IPS that temperatures are projected to rise by +2°C in the next 50 years, and by +2.5°C in about 80 years. This, he said, would alter rainfall patterns over Africa’s biggest fresh water lake that is shared by the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania.

Changes in sea surface temperatures in distant tropical oceans will strongly influence annual rainfall amounts and timing, Rautenbach said. He said expected changes of plus or minus 10 percent from present annual rainfall totals may seem minimal, but it’s the shift in water patterns that are of concern.

“The rain belt over Uganda will shift, in that areas like in the Northwest and Western regions, which have been receiving minimal rains, will receive more rains compared to the Lake Victoria region,” Rautenbach explained.

Lake Victoria, which has been receiving high volumes of rainfall, will experience a 20 percent drop in rainfall from present. This, coupled with evaporation due to an anticipated temperature rise of about 1°C over Lake Victoria, will cause a drop in water levels very soon.

East Africa is also projected to experience a change in mean annual precipitation. This will result in increased rainfall over the short September to November rainy season and it will mean that the long rainy season, which takes place between March and May, will reduce. This will negatively impact Uganda’s farmers particularly those in in areas were vital crops such as coffee, tea, cotton and maize are being grown.

Youba Sokona, chair of the IPCC Working Group III that looked at possible mitigation measures, advised that the Uganda government invest in research for varieties to withstand the changing climate.

“Crops varieties as we know them today could not withstand the change and Uganda like other East African governments has no option but to race against time and fund research into new varieties,” said Sokona.

The Ugandan government, however, say they are taking the warning seriously and are developing strategic interventions to mitigate the effects.

Dr. Anuciata Hakuza of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, said strategic interventions include promoting and encouraging highly adaptive and productive crop varieties and cultivars in drought-prone, flood-prone and rain-fed crop farming systems.

She said other adaptation strategies that the government was working on include highly adaptive and productive livestock breeds, conservation agriculture and ecologically compatible cropping systems to increase resilience to the impact of climate change.

Hakuza said the government was also promoting sustainable management of rangelands and pastures through integrated rangeland management.

Uganda’s climate change policy also provides support for community-based adaptation strategies.

Dr. Chebet Maikut, one of Uganda’s negotiators to the Conference of the Parties, told IPS that there are plans to develop innovative insurance schemes, such as low-premium micro-insurance policies, and low-interest credit facilities to insure farmers against crop failure and livestock loss due to droughts, pests, floods and other weather-related events.

“Traditional finance institutions have already been reluctant to fund farming so as the risks grow even further due to climate change there will be need to develop insurance polices,” he said.

Uganda also plans to promote irrigated agriculture, and improved post-harvest handling, storage and value-addition in order to mitigate rising climate-related losses and to improve food security and household incomes.

Maikut argued that all these plans require huge investments. He said in addition to the funds that Uganda was making available out of its national budget, developed countries should also be willing to make contributions.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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


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Africa Seeks Commitment to Adaptation in Climate Deal Sun, 21 Sep 2014 05:52:54 +0000 Brendon Bosworth Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Brendon Bosworth

It is a critical time for international climate change negotiations. By December 2015, world leaders are due to decide on an international climate change agreement covering all countries that will take effect in 2020. 

Going into the upcoming United Nations negotiations — the December COP 20 talks in Lima, Peru, where the agreement will be drafted, and the pivotal COP 21 next year in Paris, France, where it is due to be signed — African climate change negotiators are driving for leaders to up their commitment to climate change adaptation.

“No matter what we do, we are at a stage where we need to adapt. Adaptation should be at the centre of the deal in Paris,” South Africa’s director of international climate change, Maesela Kekana, a negotiator with the African Group of Negotiators, told IPS. “If we do not get adaptation, then it means Africa would not have got anything since the beginning.”

The African Group has proposed that a global adaptation goal should be part of the 2015 agreement.

Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change. As the world continues to warm it is likely that land temperatures in Africa will rise quicker than the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate change impacts would place added stress on already stretched water resources in parts of the continent and affect crop production. For instance, roughly 65 percent of maize-growing areas in Africa would experience yield losses for just one degree Celsius of warming, with impacts worsened by drought, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change

Coastal areas run the risk of damage from sea level rise. In Tanzania, for example, it is estimated that with sea-level rise by 2030 as much of 7,624 square kilometres of land could be lost, with up to 1.6 million people at risk of being flooded, according to researchers from the University of Southampton.

Adapting to climate change will be costly. Developed nations have pledged to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year for climate action in developing countries by 2020.

“We want to disaggregate [the 100 billion dollars] and have an adaptation target or goal for supporting adaptation,” Mali’s Seyni Nafo, a lead negotiator with the African Group of Negotiators, told IPS.

While the group hasn’t yet decided on the specific amount, it wants to ensure funds are set aside for adaptation and mainly channeled through the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations fund set up to channel climate aid to developing countries, he explained.

In the past the majority of global climate finance has gone to funding mitigation measures. Of the 30 billion dollars developed countries gave to developing countries between 2010 and 2012 for climate change action just 21 percent went into adaptation, according to a 2012 Oxfam report.

The Green Climate Fund aims to split its funding 50: 50 for mitigation and adaptation.

Germany recently pledged one billion dollars to the fund, but other developed nations are yet to make large pledges.

“As one of my African colleagues says, ‘it’s still an empty vault,’” Matthew Stilwell, an adviser on climate change negotiations and policy with the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development, told IPS. “Developed countries’ tendency is to withhold some of the money and offer the money as part of the quid pro quo in Paris as part of the negotiations.”

Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of civil society coalition the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, welcomed the potential of the Green Climate Fund but remained sceptical.

“Based on the experience of the other existing funds, which are just shells, our fear is that we are going to have the Green Climate Fund going the way of the Adaptation Fund and the Least-Developed Countries Fund, and the others — we have celebrated them but eventually they end up a disappointment,” Mwenda told IPS.

As 2015 draws near, the urgency of dealing with human-induced climate change is becoming more apparent since the effects of climate change are already being seen.

“Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes” are being felt around the world as a result of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, says a leaked draft report from the U.N., The New York Times reported.

The report notes that continued emissions “will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

While there are hopes for an ambitious 2015 climate agreement some civil society actors, frustrated with continued political wrangling over climate change, are not holding their breath.

“There are a lot of unfulfilled promises from the first COP to now,” Rajen Awotar, executive chairman of the nonprofit Mauritius Council for Development, Environmental Studies and Conservation, told IPS.

“The 2015 agreement: I bet we’ll see a very weakened agreement,” he said. “There will be no winner; everybody will be a loser. The biggest loser will be the climate.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Will Climate Change Denialism Help the Russian Economy? Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:00:49 +0000 Mikhail Matveev July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit:

July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit:

By Mikhail Matveev
MOSCOW, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

The recent call from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for “tightening belts” has convinced even optimists that something is deeply wrong with the Russian economy.

No doubt the planned tax increases (introduction of a sales tax and increases in VAT and income tax) will inflict severe damage on most businesses and their employees, if last year’s example of what happened when taxes were raised for individual entrepreneurs is anything to go by – 650,000 of them were forced to close their businesses.

Nevertheless, it looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the “belt-tightening” but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain.

“In October [2013], Vladimir Putin signed a bill under which oil extraction at sea deposits will be exempt from severance tax. Moreover, VAT will not need to be paid for the sales, transportation and utilisation of the oil extracted from the sea shelf,” noted Russian newspaper Rossiiskie Nedra.“It looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the ‘belt-tightening’ but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain”

Some continental oil projects were alsoblessedby the “Tsar’s generosity”: “For four Russian deposits with hard-to-recover oils [shale oil, etc.] – Bazhenovskaya [in Western Siberia] and Abalakskaya in Eastern Siberia, Khadumskaya in the Caucasus, and Domanikovaya in the Ural region – severance taxes do not need to be paid. Other deposits had their severance tax rates reduced by 20-80%.”

In fact, the line of thinking adopted by Russian officials responsible for tax policy is very simple. Faced with the predicament of an economy dependent on oil and gas (half of the state budget comes from oil and gas revenue, while two-thirds of exports come from the fossil fuel industry), they decided to act as usual – by stimulating more drilling and charging the rest of the economy with the additional tax burden.

There have been many warnings from well-known economists about the “resource curse” [the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources] – and its potential consequences for the countries affected: from having weak industries and agriculture to being prone to dictatorships and corruption.

For a long time, however, economists have been keen on separating the economic and social impacts of fossil fuel dependency from the environmental and climate-related problems. But now, these problems are closely interconnected, and Russia might be the first to feel the strength of their combination in the near future.

Medvedev may not have read much about the “resource curse” but he should at least be familiar with the official position of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), whose Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid the worst possible climate scenario.

One should at least expect this amount of knowledge from Russia as a member of the UN Security Council and it will be interesting to note whether the Russian delegation attending the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23 will be ready to explain why, instead of limiting fossil fuel extraction, the whole country’s economic and tax policy is now aimed at encouraging as much drilling as possible.

However, it is not just the United Nations that has been warning against the burning of fossil fuels due to the related high climate risks. In 2005, Russia’s own meteorology service Roshydromet issued its prognosis of climate change and the consequences for Russia, stating that the rate of climate change in Russia is two times faster than the world’s average.

Roshydromet predicted a rapid increase in both the frequency and strength of extreme climate events – including floods, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. The number of such events has almost doubled during the last 15 years, and represent not only an economic threat but also a real threat to humans’ lives and their well-being,

Consider this summary of climate disasters in Russia during an ordinary July week (not including any of the large natural disasters such as the floods in Altai, Khabarovsk, and Krymsk, or the forest fires around Moscow in 2010):

“Following the weather incidents in the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk District where snow fell last weekend, a natural anomaly occurred in Novosibirsk, resulting in human casualties … Two three-year-old twin sisters died after a tree fell on them during a strong wind storm in the town of Berdsk, Novosibirsk District.”

“The flood in Yakutia lasted a week and resulted in the submersion of Ozhulun village in Churapchinsky district last Saturday. Due to the rise of the Tatta River, 57 house went under.”

“Flooding in Tuapse [on the coast of the Black Sea] occurred on July 8, 2014 … [and] has left 236 citizens homeless.”

ar swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit:

Cars swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit:

Is it not worrisome that so many climate disasters have to occur before Russian officials start to realise that climatologists are not lying? Or perhaps they are simply not inclined to take the climatologists’ warnings seriously.

Another significant problem could arise for Russia if oil consumers start taking U.N. climate warnings seriously – and there is evidence that this is happening.

The European Union (still the main consumer of Russian oil and gas) has announced an ambitious “20/20/20 programme” – increasing shares from renewables to 20 percent, improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, and decreasing carbon emissions by 20 percent. The United States has decided to decrease carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent. These are only first steps – but even these steps can help decrease fossil fuel consumption.

Fossil fuel use has only very slowly been increasing in the United States and decreasing in Europe in the last five years. On the other hand, demand for oil has continued to rise in China and Southeast Asia, and it is perhaps this – rather than the recent “sanctions” against Russia over Ukraine – that inspired President Vladimir Putin’s recent “turn to the East”.

But there are serious doubts that Asia’s greed for oil will continue into the future. China recently admitted that it will soon be taking measures to limit carbon emissions – for the first time in its history. China has already turned to green energy andled the rest of the worldin renewable energy investment in 2013.

Will other Asian countries follow suit? Perhaps – because they certainly have a very strong incentive. According to Erin McCarthy writing in the Wall Street Journal, South and Southeast Asia’s losses due to global warming may be huge, and its GDP may be reduced by 6 percent by 2060, despite the measures taken to curb its emissions.

What does this mean for Russia?

Well, if the oil-consuming countries meet their carbon emission targets, we can expect a 10-20 percent decrease in oil demand in the next ten years, maybe more. Any decrease in demand usually induces a decrease in price – but not always proportionally. Sometimes, especially if the market is overheated, even a small decrease in demand can trigger a drastic falls in price. Economists call such a situation a “bursting bubble”.

Today, the situation in the oil (and, in general, fossil fuel) market is often called a “carbon bubble”. Because of high oil prices, investors are motivated to make investments in oil drilling in the hopes of earning a stable and long-term income.

But once the world starts taking climate issues seriously and realises that most of the oil needs to be left in the ground, oil assets will fall in value. Investors will try to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel sector, and, facing a crisis, oil companies will be forced to decrease both production and prices.

If the “carbon bubble” bursts, Russia will be left with sustainable businesses (that are being choked by the nation’s own tax politics) and with a perfect network of shelf platforms, oil rigs, and pipelines (which will be completely unprofitable and useless). Thus, by making fossil fuels the core of its economy, Russia is taking twice the number of risks.

First, it risks ruining the climate, and second, it risks ruining its own economy. It looks like Russia will lose at any rate: if the leading energy consumers are unable to decrease their oil consumption, the climate will be ruined everywhere, including Russia. If they manage to decrease their dependence on fossil fuel, the Russian economy will be ruined.

This certainly is not looking pleasant, especially if we add in the high probability of a major disaster like the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill happening in the Arctic, as well as countless minor leaks possibly occurring along the Russian pipelines.

But maybe Russia just has no other alternative to an economy dependent on fossil fuels?

In that case, perhaps it is worth mentioning a recent article by Russian financier Andrei Movchan in the Russian Forbes magazine. Movchan convincingly shows that the Achilles’ heel of the modern Russian economy is its extremely underdeveloped small and medium-sized businesses. And it looks like the current tax plans would literally exterminate them.

If Russia were able to reverse this tax policy and make small businesses play as big of a role in the economy as they do in the United States or Europe, there could be economic growth comparable to the growth expected from oil and gas – without all the frightful side effects of an economy driven by fossil fuels.

Sounds like a dream, but the first step to making it a reality can be simple: get rid of big oil lobbying in the government and try to reform the taxation system to suit the interests of Russian citizens instead of the interests of the big oil corporations.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Mikhail Matveev is Communications Coordinator for Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and Russia

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Water, Rivers and Runoff Challenge Ethiopia’s Expanding Capital Tue, 01 Jul 2014 08:34:06 +0000 James Jeffrey Pedestrians stepping gingerly to avoid the puddles and mud around Meskal Square in the centre of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Pedestrians stepping gingerly to avoid the puddles and mud around Meskal Square in the centre of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

The streets of Addis Ababa are increasingly turning into water-logged obstacle courses as downpours increase in the run up to Ethiopia’s July to September rainy season. Strangers link hands to steady themselves as they step high and gingerly over the spreading puddles and slippery mud.

Sustainable drainage systems may not sound like an exciting topic to get the heart beating faster, but it is one of increasing importance in Ethiopia and especially in Addis Ababa as the capital city grows, construction sites abound, its population swells and demand for accessible, clean water increases — and the downpours keep coming.

“Despite Ethiopia being called the water tower of Africa, it’s actually more of a water highway due to runoff and a lack of storage capacity,” Manaye Ewunetu, managing director of London-based ME Consulting Engineers that works on water systems in the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, tells IPS.

Due to its mountainous topography Ethiopia’s water storage capacity is relatively low at about 30 percent, compared to countries like Australia where it is nearer 80 percent.“I have to set the alarm on my mobile and wake up around midnight. I go outside to join the neighbours queuing by the tap, it can take up to three hours before I go back to bed.” -- Meleshew.

This issue affects a population of 92 million that is projected by the World Bank to grow to 145 million by 2050, hence efforts by the likes of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German government-backed international enterprise for sustainable development trying to enhance the resilience of small-scale agriculture through sustainable land management practices.

But water issues are also sharply felt in urban areas like Addis Ababa, with a population that has grown from around 2.7 million in 2008 to a current population estimated at over three million, and likely to reach more than five million by 2037, according to the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency.

Addis Ababa is increasingly emerging as an important world city, home to the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and many other international organisations, embassies and consulates.

New York-based consultancy A.T. Kearney in the emerging cities outlook of its 2014 annual Global Cities Index ranked Addis Ababa, after Jakarta and Manila, as the third-most likely city to advance its global position. “At current rates of improvement, the Ethiopian capital is among the cities closing in fastest on the world leaders — despite current distances — in income equality, healthcare and business transparency,” states A.T. Kearney’s report.

Despite the plaudits, the speed of this young city’s development — other demographic growth estimates put Addis Ababa’s population nearer 5 million now and increasing up to 8 million by 2030 — threatens to overwhelm it and the rivers and springs that led to its creation in 1886 as the country’s New Flower, the translation of its Amharic name.

Waste disposal, inadequate drainage, industrial and petrol station run off and discharge into water sources, create significant health hazards in the city. This is exacerbated by flooding.

“Floods have significant health hazards by [carrying] pathogens and pollutants which can contaminate food and water sources,” Wendwosen Feleke, a water and sanitation expert for the World Bank Ethiopia Country Office, tells IPS.

About 14 million birr (700,000 dollars) is spent by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health treating water-borne diseases each year, an estimation that does not include other economic losses such as loss of time and loss of earnings due to absence from jobs.

There are other economic implications, also.

“Inadequate drainage can result in deterioration or even destruction of infrastructure meaning it may fail to reach its design life,” James Markland, a senior transport specialist with the World Bank Ethiopia Country Office, tells IPS. “[This reduces] the economic effectiveness of substantial investments made.”

Furthermore, 24-hour-a-day water availability is all but unknown in the city, despite an average yearly rainfall of 1,180mm which is just under what rain-drenched U.K. experiences.

For the majority of Addis Ababa households the norm is to fill water receptacles during the periods when water flows from taps: in some parts of the cities this is early in the morning, in other parts it is late at night.

“I have to set the alarm on my mobile and wake up around midnight,” says 24-year-old Meleshew. “I go outside to join the neighbours queuing by the tap, it can take up to three hours before I go back to bed.”

Meleshew lives with three friends in a small house to the west of Addis Ababa where they take it in turns to wake to refill their house’s water container once every few days.

“It’s hard because during the daytime I am looking for a job and so I’m tired at the end of the day,” Meleshew says. Often she finds herself nodding off while queuing for her turn, and typically wakes up with a headache after a night of interrupted sleep.

Many other city dwellers can’t even rely on a water source at home, hence the sight of people walking along the city’s roads carrying large yellow water containers on their backs after visiting public water points.

The authorities in Addis Ababa are not turning a blind eye to the relentless expansion of the city, and there is, as a result, a so-called city master plan that aims to mitigate the city’s disorganised growth and guide efforts to modernise it over the next 25 years.

But, some argue, presently the master plan doesn’t address the water issue adequately.

“Unless you put a drainage master plan into the city’s master plan there will be chaos,” says Manaye, who has watched the city expanding for the last 27 years during visits from U.K..

And despite the relevant government and city departments producing the necessary manuals, lack of coordination and willpower means little of tangible worth is occurring on the ground, he says.

“The problems stem from a lack of integration,” Teshome Worku, from Addis Ababa-based CORE Consulting Engineers, tells IPS. “The master plan doesn’t involve enough different disciplines and peoples.”

A robust water and drainage system would have much needed aesthetic benefits for the city, in addition to the benefits of tackling pollution, disease and lack of potable water.

“When you come from outside [and see Addis Ababa] it is very disturbing—it’s one of the most polluted cities in the world,” Manaye says.

Making the most of existing waterways and constructing ponds and parkways to absorb runoff would help make the city more attractive and offer huge investment opportunities for recreation and tourism, Manaye says.

Currently the city has very few parks, and a common lament from ex-pats in Addis Ababa is its lack of water features. In most global cities water bodies within developments can be used to boost marketing and contribute to increased property values.

“There is huge potential for regeneration is Addis,” Manaye says. “Water gives life to a city.”

Issues related to water, rivers and runoff are given increasing precedence due to the effects of climate change. The result, according to those pushing for improved drainage systems, is the need for radically different thinking at all levels to manage infrastructure and water issues. But that could be hard to achieve, partly due to Ethiopians’ tendency to accept hardships and soldier on.

“It’s not normal but it becomes normal,” Meleshew says of water shortages in Addis Ababa. “We adapt.”

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Zambian Churches Slow to Use ‘Socio-political Influence’ to Fight for Climate Justice Sun, 29 Jun 2014 18:56:50 +0000 Friday Phiri Joe Hamwata, a conservation farmer Pemba district, southern Zambia is one of the many vulnerable here bearing the blunt of climate change. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Joe Hamwata, a conservation farmer Pemba district, southern Zambia is one of the many vulnerable here bearing the blunt of climate change. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

By Friday Phiri
LUSAKA, Jun 29 2014 (IPS)

It seems that churches in Zambia are becoming more pragmatic in their approach by advocating for better policies and training of vulnerable communities on climate change adaptation mechanisms.

Zambia is no stranger to the debate about whether churches should be involved in championing social rights considering their considerable influence on the country’s socio-political and economic agenda.

Grey Ngaba, a local environmental activist from Choma district in southern Zambia, told IPS that “churches have not been as active in championing climate justice, as they have been, on the political front.” "We are not taking a confrontational approach but working as partners with government, using our church structures to influence change at both ends.” -- Reverend Suzanne Matale, general secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia

Ngaba’s remarks seem to summarise a perception among some Zambians that the involvement of churches in climate change education has been lukewarm, save for their role in the provision relief to victims of climate-induced disasters such as floods.

“We are not only advocating for better policies but also training communities on the best ways to cope with the negative effects of climate change that are already taking a toll on various communities,” Reverend Suzanne Matale, general secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), an denominational umbrella organisation of Christian churches, told IPS.

“As churches, we are concerned with the direction in which the world is moving especially with the continued denial by world leaders even when evidence suggesting otherwise is abound,” Matale said.

She explained that while some churches still emphasise prayer, CCZ believes in both prayer and action.

“We have over the years been involved in environmental justice especially in the extractive industry [tracking mining activities and benefits to ordinary citizens] — through our socio-economic program me, but in the last decade or so, climate change has become a significant component of our work,” said Matale.

However, some churches still portray climate change as the fulfilment of the biblical “end times” prophecy.

“Last year, when we had a prolonged drought, some churches organised a prayer meeting, but some of us had been trained that the changes we were experiencing had more to do with climate change,” Joe Hamwata, a conservation farmer in Pemba district, southern Zambia, told IPS.

Reverend Weston Simwinga of the United Church in Zambia (UCZ) of Maamba town is optimistic that the situation will change through relentless education, as the impacts of climate change are already visible.

“As an affiliate of CCZ, we have been sensitised on our role not only to close the knowledge gap, especially within the church, but to also to act as a watchdog on behalf of the people,” Simwinga told IPS.

The Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN), a coalition of civil society organisations championing climate justice, is nevertheless cautious on the churches’ active involvement in the climate change discourse.

ZCCN board member Robert Chimambo’s advice to churches is to “invest substantially in understanding climate change to effectively fight the climate moral struggle considering its complex nature.”

The question that remains is whether the church’s climate justice campaign is bearing fruit on the political scene where the church yields considerable influence on policy makers in this southern African nation.

Matale answered the question in the affirmative by citing the development of a uranium mining policy in Zambia, which was the result of “CCZ research in 2009, on the dangers of uranium mining without a proper policy”. It compelled the government to propose a policy before proceeding with its uranium mining plans.

Matale highlighted CCZ’s focal point role in the African faith based organisations campaign dubbed: “We have faith – act for climate justice”, where over 200,000 signatures were collected across Africa demanding a “just and legally binding climate treaty” at COP 17 in South Africa, in 2011.

“Since then, we have not looked back. We are not taking a confrontational approach but working as partners with government, using our church structures to influence change at both ends,” Matale said.

She added: “We have so far trained several disaster risk reduction church committees who in turn carry out climate change adaptation activities in the community through tree planting, good forest management practices and sustainable agriculture, among others.”

Professor Prem Jain, the UNESCO chair in Renewable Energy and Environment, told IPS that the campaign is gaining momentum as “African governments share the sentiments of “polluter pays” principle demanding Africa’s share of resources to cope with climate shocks.”

On the tail end of all arguments are vulnerable communities bearing the brunt of climate change.

Hamwata concludes: “My maize produce last farming season dramatically reduced by over 100 percent due to prolonged drought. It is no longer a question of how we are affected, but how to cope with this change; it is an everyday reality for us farmers.”

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Liberia’s Poor and the Rising Sea Wed, 25 Jun 2014 08:55:04 +0000 Wade C. L. Williams Residents of West Point, Liberia, hope that one day they will be relocated from the beach as the continuous environmental degradation has resulted in most of the land eroding into the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Wade C. L. Williams/IPS

Residents of West Point, Liberia, hope that one day they will be relocated from the beach as the continuous environmental degradation has resulted in most of the land eroding into the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Wade C. L. Williams/IPS

By Wade C. L. Williams
MONROVIA, Jun 25 2014 (IPS)

Mary B owned a shop in West Point, Monrovia’s densely-populated slum community, where she sold liquor just a few yards away from the sea. But last month, the ocean left her homeless and without a business because the devastating erosion of the coastline has resulted in most of the land eroding into the Atlantic Ocean with thousands of homes being washed away by the encroaching sea.

“While a human being or your landlord will tell you ‘I give you notice at a particular time’ then you will pack your things and look for another place, the sea can’t give you notice,” the young woman who preferred to be called Mary B told IPS.

Situated between the Mesurado and St. Paul Rivers on a peninsula projecting out of the Atlantic Ocean, the township of West Point is home to about 75,000 people living in shacks that are predominantly made out of zinc.

Mary B said she had bought the piece of land from the commissioner of the township for 11,500 Liberian dollars, about 130 U.S. dollars, and built her shop on it.

According to the Township Commissioner’s office, residents in the area are primarily squatters, with no legal rights to the land, though it is possible to obtain a Squatters Permit from the administrative office, which grants a certain level of legitimacy to the dwellers.

But for sometime now, residents of West Point have been hoping that one day they will be relocated because of the continuous environmental degradation on the shoreline here.

A report on the threat to the environment in Liberia released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2008 states that erosion in this West African country is causing the shoreline to recede in some cities, including Buchanan, Greenville, Harper and Robertsport. Beach mining is also said to be the main contributing factor.

Mohamed Carew Alias Kaddafi, 43, is physically challenged and a father of six. A carpenter by trade, he ran a small grocery shop in West Point, which was washed away in the storm.

“We were in the shop, the water came with force and blasted the whole place,” he told IPS, adding that this is not the first time he has lost his business to the sea.

“It happened before in 2007 and I lost my house.”

He may be eager to move elsewhere, but the government has not committed to a relocation plan.

West Point is home to many of Monrovia’s disadvantaged people and many cannot afford the city’s huge rents, which are fixed in U.S. dollars — 150 for a modest two bedroom apartment. To make matters worse the government does not have public housing available.

People in the area have always talked about plans by the government to relocate them, but the Public Works Ministry says the government has no such plans to move over 75,000 people.

However, the government agency responsible for monitoring environmental conditions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says the erosion in West Point and other communities is something the government is concerned about.

“In Liberia, climate change is causing serious coastal erosion and degrading of coastal environment,” Stephen Neufville, acting head of the EPA, told IPS.

West Point and other coastal communities in Monrovia are expected to benefit from the second phase of the Coastal Defence Project otherwise known as Enhancing Resilience of Vulnerable Coastal Areas to Climate Change Risks in Liberia.

But the EPA says that the start of the next phase of the project, which includes Monrovia, where West Point is situated, “depends on when we get the next funding.” The previous funding, they say, was used for the first phase that is currently ongoing in Buchanan.

This project, launched by the United Nations Development Programme and the government of Liberia, is set to help coastal communities in three counties develop defensive mechanism against the effects of climate change that cause sea erosion. The Coastal Defence Project involves building breakwaters to stop waves from eating up the coastline.

But many residents fear that this may be happening too slowly and if nothing is done to relocate them from the area, the sea will continue to cause destruction to their lives and properties.

“For us in West Point, we call the sea the original landlord,” Mary B said.

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Senegal Walks a Fine Line Between Development and Environmental Protection Sun, 22 Jun 2014 11:27:41 +0000 Doreen Akiyo Yomoah The Dangote cement factory, set to be one of the largest on the continent, is now in Galene, Poute and Dangane, villages close to Thies, Senegal’s third-biggest city. Credit: Doreen Akiyo Yomoah/IPS

The Dangote cement factory, set to be one of the largest on the continent, is now in Galene, Poute and Dangane, villages close to Thies, Senegal’s third-biggest city. Credit: Doreen Akiyo Yomoah/IPS

By Doreen Akiyo Yomoah
DAKAR, Jun 22 2014 (IPS)

While the cement factories in Senegal are at war, ostensibly over the environmental impact one company will have on this West African nation, experts have cautioned that as the government plans to radically develop and industrialise the country, striking a balance between environmental protection and development will be key.

“I don’t think we can want one thing, and also want its opposite. We need cement to help industry in Senegal. At the same token, it will have adverse effects on the environment and we have to try and minimise them,” Dr. Thomas Ibrahima, a researcher at the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA), told IPS.

Sococim, the Senegalese subsidiary of Vicat, a French cement manufacturing company, is at loggerheads with the government of Senegal."Even ministers admit to not being able to follow all [the recommendations] in the environmental impact studies." -- Djim Nanasta, Environmental Development Action in the Third World

The French company began suing the state in November 2013, at Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA), a regional arbitration court in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for allowing Dangote Cement, a Nigerian cement conglomerate, to set up shop in Senegal.

Dangote reportedly paid the descendants of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, a renowned Senegalese religious leader, a 12.6-million-dollar settlement to develop the factory on forest lands they inhabit. The factory, set to be one of the largest on the continent, is close to Thies, the country’s third-biggest city. The villages of Galene, Poute and Dangane are in close proximity to the site.

IPS was not allowed entry near the site, and was banned from entering the village of Galene. However, some villagers in Poute have expressed relief that the factory has come to the area.

Aboulaye Fall, a Dangote employee and Poute resident, told IPS: “Dangote is ready to help Poute. The company is going to provide electricity and roads for easier travel. The company is decreasing youth unemployment, and most of us are very happy to have the factory here in Poute.”

But Djim Nanasta, programme officer at Environmental Development Action in the Third World (ENDA), an international environmental and energy NGO based in Dakar, told IPS that due to cultural pressures, “people may have objections about the setting up of the factory, but they may not feel that they can openly express their complaints.”

According to Nanasta, when conflict arose between Sococim and Dangote, the youth in Poute formed a coalition in support of Dangote. However, he pointed out that one of the concerns of a cement factory, is that “they emit a lot of dust. This affects the population by causing respiratory problems.”

Boubacar Camara, the CEO of Sococim, said in an earlier interview: “This is the first time in the history of Senegal that we have seen a plant built in violation of all the rules.” Camara claimed that the requirements — acquiring permits, and conducting environmental impact studies, which are necessary steps for opening a cement factory in this West African nation — had been flouted by Dangote.

Abdoulaye Ndaw, a senior legal officer and the chief of knowledge and information management at CCJA, told IPS that the case was still pending with the court, and no ruling has been made on whether Dangote has violated any laws.

According to Ndaw: “Vicat, which made heavy investments to control the entire national cement [industry], does not want to see their business plunge into instability with the entry of a new cement [competitor].”

Cement manufacturing is not the only industrialisation taking place here. President Macky Sall went to Paris in February to solicit donations to fund Emerging Plan Senegal (PSE), the government’s plan to radically develop and industrialise the country.

PSE focuses heavily on industrialisation, and while cement manufacturing is hard on the environment, this type of activity will increase. Senegal already exports phosphate. Chemical Industries of Senegal, the country’s largest phosphate developer, is expected to begin providing two million tonnes of phosphate per annum, which will place a significant toll on the environment.

The president has also expressed a desire to make mining, which is notoriously destructive to the environment, one of the pillars of Senegal’s development, saying: “We’re committed to putting all the conditions in place to attract companies.”

However, Francis James, country director of the United Nations Development Programme, has said that two-thirds of Senegal’s soil, or 34 percent of the country’s surface, is affected by environmental degradation, and the country is losing 50,000 hectares of land per year.

Moustapha Ndiaye, an environmentalist at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, told IPS that in the face of industrialisation: “There are many laws that exist to protect the environment. It’s absolutely necessary for companies to respect them.”

But Nanasta cautioned that although cement companies may comply with environmental regulations in order to be given the go-ahead to commence operations, there is hardly any follow-up. “Even ministers admit to not being able to  follow all [the recommendations] in the environmental impact studies,” Nanasta said.

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Green Groups Offer Broad Vision for Global Paper Sector Reforms Thu, 19 Jun 2014 11:44:04 +0000 Carey L. Biron The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the world’s second-largest tropical forest landscape. Yet deforestation has encroached on much of the landscape. Credit: Taylor Toeka Kakala/IPS

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the world’s second-largest tropical forest landscape. Yet deforestation has encroached on much of the landscape. Credit: Taylor Toeka Kakala/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jun 19 2014 (IPS)

More than 120 environmental groups from across the globe have offered a comprehensive vision document on how to enact, strengthen and implement sustainability reforms across the paper sector.

Traditionally a key driver of deforestation, the paper industry has seen nascent though significant changes in recent years. Collaborations between activists, industry and government regulators have led to broadened consumer options as well as a series of sustainability practices and pledges unheard of a decade ago.

Yet watchdog groups worry that key policies and agreements aimed at strengthening such practices throughout the sector will be ineffective without coordinated action to ensure their robust implementation.

While the global paper industry has increasingly come under the scanner in recent years, the new set of principles offers the first comprehensive attempt to harmonise goals voiced by advocacy groups on six continents.

“We seek a world with new consumption patterns that meet the needs of all people while eliminating waste and over-consumption,” the Global Paper Vision, released Tuesday, states, “where paper production is less reliant on virgin fiber and not associated with loss of biodiversity or forests, maximises use of recycled materials, respects human rights including local people’s land rights, provides employment and has social impacts that are beneficial, conflict-free and fair.”

The full document is aimed at all parts of the paper lifecycle, addressing industry, investors, retailers, consumers, governments and civil society.
Its goals and roadmap cover responsible sourcing and clean production, as well as ways to reduce consumption and maximise the use of recycled content.

Organisers say they understand that such a broad set of goals brings about significant challenges. But given recent piecemeal advances around the world, they hope that a comprehensive civil-society vision can now harmonise watchdog activities and act as a springboard for discussion with industry and regulators.

“There is a new environmental literacy amongst consumers and new expectations of corporate responsibility, but there is also a tremendous amount of sometimes confusing environmental rhetoric from the companies,” Joshua Martin, director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“We wanted to lay out an authentic conservation message that sets a high bar and points to a place for us to strive for. There’s a lot of commitments and promises out there, and we wanted to show there’s a global, coordinated community committed to making the leadership practices of today into the standard practices of the future.”

500 million tonnes

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand of some million tonnes of paper and related products every day.

That amounted to some 400 million tonnes of paper used every year in 2010, with half being consumed (and most quickly thrown away) in Europe and North America, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an EPN member. By 2020, the fund says, global demand will have increased to an estimated 500 million tonnes per year.

While efforts aimed at reducing consumption and strengthening recycling programmes have seen significant success in many parts of the world, demand is quickly rising in middle-income countries such as China. That rise has offset advances made elsewhere.

Indeed, even as paper consumption went down in most parts of the world over the past half-decade, China’s more than doubled. While North Americans in 2009 consumed more than 30 times the amount of paper than the average African, that same year China alone eclipsed all of North America, according to a 2011 report on the global industry from EPN.

And despite increases in efficiency and strengthened sourcing policies and environmental standards, producing 500 million tonnes of paper per year will inevitably continue to require significant water, energy and chemicals.

At the same time, recent years have also seen a string of important pledges from companies, likely propelled by strengthened consumer education on sustainability issues around paper, particularly on the sourcing side. Potentially one of the most significant of these came last year, when Asia Pulp & Paper, the largest producer in Indonesia and one of the largest in the world, announced a moratorium on all clearing of natural forests, among other reforms.

Canada, meanwhile, has temporarily halted logging in some 76 million hectares of public forestland, one of the largest conservation agreements in history, before pledging to switch to fully sustainable practices in the future.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the area of forest certified standards, and today we have hundreds of [sustainable] paper products that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” EPN’s Martin says. “These are great opportunities to build on, but we really have to keep our eye on the ball and make sure this is still something people know is a global concern.”

He says the Global Paper Vision will now be put out as “an invitation to those companies that want to be leaders to partner with us on taking it forward.”

Crux of certification

Of all the issues touched upon in the vision document, forest certification will likely be a key focus. While several such schemes already exist, activists today see just one as being credible, overseen by a group based in the United States and Germany called the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

As of May, the council reports having certified nearly 185 million hectares of forestland in more than 80 countries, though North America and Europe make up more than 80 percent of this total. Still, the group says that FSC-certified paper has “exploded over the past few years, nearly becoming an industry standard”.

In an e-mail to IPS, the council’s U.S. president, Corey Brinkema, applauded EPN’s new vision document for “laying out a path forward that respects local communities, and balances environmental and social values with society’s need for pulp and paper.”

Brinkema said the FSC looked forward to “working with the signatories to help turn the Global Paper Vision into a reality for the world’s forests and for the current and future generations who rely on them.”

Other parts of the industry have been more circumspect in their immediate reaction to the EPN goals.

“We are committed to maintaining an open dialogue with interested stakeholders on ways to promote a sustainable future for the paper industry,” Cathy Foley, group vice president at the American Forest & Paper Association, a trade group, told IPS in a statement.

AF&PA members are “committed to continuous improvement in sustainability performance” through an industry initiative, Foley noted, with members reporting on related progress every two years.

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South Sudan’s Wildlife Become Casualties Of War and Are Killed to Feed Soldiers and Rebels Tue, 17 Jun 2014 09:17:12 +0000 Charlton Doki South Sudan’s wildlife, including elephants, are being used to feed troops on both side of conflict between government and forces loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar. Pictured here is a South African elephant. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

South Sudan’s wildlife, including elephants, are being used to feed troops on both side of conflict between government and forces loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar. Pictured here is a South African elephant. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

By Charlton Doki
JUBA, Jun 17 2014 (IPS)

While South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar agreed last week to end the country’s devastating six-month conflict by forming a transitional government within the next two months, it may come too late for this country’s wildlife as conservation officials accuse fighters on both sides of engaging in killing wild animals to feed their forces.  

Poaching has always been a common practice in South Sudan. But conservationists say that since the conflict between the government and forces loyal to Machar began in December 2013, there has been an upsurge in the killing and trafficking of wildlife by government and anti-government forces as well as armed civilians.

South Sudan Becoming a Hub for Wildlife Trafficking
Between January and April, South Sudan Wildlife Service officers seized a number of elephant tusks.

In one incident officials arrested an Egyptian trader trying to transport several kilograms of ivory through Juba International Airport.

“During that period[January to April] alone wildlife officers seized 30 elephants’ tusks in Juba. They also seized another 12 elephant tusks from a dealer in Lantoto in Yei County, Central Equatoria state. This translates to 21 elephants dead,” Michael Lopidia, WCS’s deputy director for South Sudan.

“In that short period of time, if they can seize this high number of tusks then you can see that poaching is on the increase with conflict,” he explained.

Also between January and April, a combined force of wildlife forces and the SPLA soldiers seized over 40 kilograms of bush meant and eight leopard skins in Juba during random security checks on vehicles.

“Since the start of this conflict we have noticed that poaching has become terrible. Rebels are poaching and the government forces are also poaching because they are all fighting in rural areas and the only available food they can get is wild meat,” Lieutenant General Alfred Akuch Omoli, an advisor to South Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, told IPS.

Officials say elephants are being killed for their meat and tusks while migratory animals that move in large numbers, especially the white-eared kob, the tiang (also known as the Senegal hartebeest) and reedbuck, are being killed specifically to provide bush meat.

“Our forces are also shooting wildlife animals for food. If you go from here between Mangala and Bor [just outside of the capital, Juba] you will see a lot of bush meat being sold along the road,” the director general for Wildlife in South Sudan, Philip Majak, told local radio.

The current conflict has also made it difficult for wildlife officers to stop both the government and rebel troops from poaching and is hindering their efforts to conduct routine patrols in national game parks and wildlife reserves.

“Wildlife officers have run away from their work stations, which means they can no longer conduct routine patrols to prevent poaching. So criminals and gangs can now easily kill animals in the bushes,” Omoli said.

“Things will only get better when peace is restored, fighters return to the barracks and the government disarms civilians carrying illegal guns,” he added.

Wildlife Conservation and Tourism Ministry officials say prior to the two-decade civil war between what was previously north and south Sudan, South Sudan had more than 100,000 elephants. But when the war ended in 2005, there were only 5,000 left.

Last year, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which is helping conserve wildlife in South Sudan, fitted 34 elephants with GPS satellite collars.

But between January and April WCS officials established that some of the collars were no longer visible on satellite.

“We have evidence that some of the elephants we collared have been killed. When the conflict escalated we established that one of the collars was behind rebel forces’ lines in Jonglei state. That means that elephant has most probably been killed by now,” Michael Lopidia, WCS’s deputy director for South Sudan, told IPS.

The increased availability of arms remains an issue here. Before South Sudan gained independence in 2011, it was estimated that there were between 1.9 and 3.2 million small arms in circulation in the country. Two-thirds of these small arms and light weapons were thought to be in the hands of civilians, according to a February 2012 report by Safer World titled “Civilian disarmament in South Sudan: A legacy of struggle.”

But this number is thought to have doubled or tripled in the last three years due in part to the number of rebel and militia groups that have sprung up in Jonglei and Upper Nile states in 2010 and 2011. There has also been an increased supply of small arms by traders from neighbouring countries.

“There is serious poaching here in South Sudan simply because there are a lot of guns in uncontrolled hands. Civilians who own guns just go into the forests and begin poaching without permission from the ministry,” Omoli explained.

Ethnic conflict has also played a role in hampering conservation efforts. During the 2013 war in Jonglei state’s Pibor County led by David Yau Yau of the Murle community, communities and wildlife rangers from the Boma National Park were displaced. This ultimately lead to a halt in wildlife conservation activities.

“The armed conflict between Yau Yau and the SPLA [South Sudan's army] from February to May 2013 disrupted our efforts to conserve animals. WCS lost more than 5,000 dollars worth of property. All our infrastructure, including tents, were removed and looted,” Lopidia said.

But another concerning factor is that wildlife rangers lack the capacity to deal with South Sudan’s highly militarised poachers. According to both the South Sudan Wildlife Service and WCS officials, poachers here tend to be heavily armed.

“Once we went to fix a sign post. There were seven rangers and they saw more than 10 poachers carrying G3s [automatic rifles] while the rangers were carrying AK47s [select-fire assault rifles]. We had to come back because if the rangers had approached the poachers they would have been overpowered,” Lopidia explained.

There is also currently no specific law to deal with the issues of poaching and wildlife trafficking. Though wildlife officers have arrested poachers and wildlife traffickers, because of the lack of a clear law, “sometimes in the courts ask under what section are you charging this person,” Omoli said. Most often suspected poachers are set free.

“That’s why we want to speed up the laws so that they are put in place and implemented as soon as possible,” Omoli said.

South Sudan Wildlife Service officers also do not have powers to prosecute. Arrested poachers and wildlife traffickers are often handed over to the police for prosecution.

“The problem is that when these cases are taken to police they are sometimes not tried and the cases just die out. We would prefer to try these cases. But the cases end up pending and the suspects are sometimes released and they go back to what they have been doing — poaching,” Omoli explained.

Officials say that if South Sudan’s variety of wildlife, including elephants, giraffes, buffalos, white-eared-kobs, gazelles, tiang, antelopes, mongalla gazelles, reedbuck and lions, were sustainably managed, tourism for the country’s wildlife could contribute up to 10 percent of South Sudan’s GDP in 10 years time.

“We need proper planning and policies. We should identify what natural resources we have and prepare good policies guiding how they should be used for a long time to benefit the current and future generations. There should be a national plan to do that,” Dr. Leben Nelson Moro, a professor of development studies at Juba University, told IPS.

Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism officials are working with WCS to develop a legal framework that will govern how wildlife offences or violations are dealt with. The law will also guide the development of tourism.

But there will also have to be an education campaign for local communities as there is currently limited awareness among South Sudan’s communities on the importance of wildlife conservation.

At a local restaurant in Juba, 55-year-old Zachariai Lomude told IPS: “I love bush meat and have eaten it since I was a child. I will continue to eat it as long as I am alive regardless of whether killing wild animals is allowed or not.”

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U.S. Economy Will Grow But Not Trickle Down, OECD Warns on Inequality Mon, 16 Jun 2014 20:59:36 +0000 Michelle Tullo By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Jun 16 2014 (IPS)

Even though the U.S. economy is now expected to grow – albeit sluggishly – over the coming two years, inequality will not improve without policy reforms, a major grouping of rich countries is warning.

President Barack Obama has named income inequality the “defining challenge of our time”, and has tried to make the issue a central focus for the remainder of his time in office. That concern is now being backed up by two new reports from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international body of 34 developed countries.“It’s no longer just about inequality but about inequalities – inequality leads to greater polarisation in education and health outcomes.” -- OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria

“Americans have increased working hours by 20 percent but incomes have still fallen. It’s no longer just about inequality but about inequalities – inequality leads to greater polarisation in education and health outcomes,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said at a Washington panel discussion on Jun. 12.

“Inequality was a direct cause of the [2007-08] financial crisis … but contrary to popular thought, there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between growth and inclusivity.”

Gurria in recent months has become a powerful voice on the issue of inequality. During his time in Washington, he also affirmed the gravity of income inequality for the U.S. compared to other developed countries.

The OECD has now released two new reports, Tackling High Inequalities in the U.S. and the OECD’s Economic Survey of the United States. The reports warn that, while there doesn’t necessarily need to be a trade-off between growth an inclusivity, the latter also does not inevitably follow the former.

“Real [gross domestic product] is about six percent above its pre-crisis level, the housing sector is beginning to recover, banks have returned to health,” the reports note, “corporate profitability is high and equity prices have reached new peaks.”

Yet despite these strengthening indicators, income inequality in the U.S. has continued to worsen, with wages for most workers having been slow to bounce back following the economic crisis.

Out of the 34 OECD countries, the U.S. has the fourth-highest inequality, behind Chile, Mexico and Turkey. It is also in third place in terms of the gap between the society’s richest and poorest 10 percent.

While the recession hurt all OECD countries, equality in the U.S has suffered more than in the others.

Between 2000 and 2012, the average disposable income of the bottom 10 percent in the U.S. dropped by some 14 percent. Yet in Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland this figure dropped by only half that figure, and by even less in New Zealand and France.

Some observers say the technology and the housing crisis could be two possible reasons that share of income is today more among the rich in the U.S.

“Innovation and the returns to those innovations are concentrated in the U.S. and among people at the top,” Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank here, told IPS. “Also, the recent recession may have made the situation much worse at the bottom in the U.S., where the housing crisis affected many more low-income people who were highly indebted.”

Global models

During his talk in Washington, the OECD’s Gurria offered four recommendations for bolstering inclusive growth in the United States: investing more in human capital, promoting inclusive employment, improving the tax and benefits system, and providing more efficient public services.

Improving education and health services is certainly widely recognised as one way to improve inclusion, but the U.S. experience with related reforms has seen mixed results, particularly given the highly polarised politics that continue to stymie legislative progress in Washington. Obama focused much of his first administration with improving human capital through education legislation, attempts to increase the minimum wage and the highly controversial Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, the U.S. spends 25 percent less than OECD countries on policies to connect unemployed citizens to jobs, Gurria noted. Many other rich countries have invested significantly in “activating” their unemployed, or helping match them with jobs that match their skills.

Indeed, certain models do exist across the globe that appear to be able to garner bipartisan support here.

“There are some lessons that we can learn from other countries, such as the use of work-sharing arrangements in Germany that allowed workers to keep their jobs while reducing their hours,” AEI’s Mathur says. “Germany and many other European countries have also done a better job of matching youths to apprenticeship programmes and training programmes.”

In addition to job matching, the U.S. needs more job creation. While the U.S. Senate proudly reports that 9.4 million private sector jobs have been created in the country over the past four-plus years, the OECD and other critics say these include too many low-wage positions.

Of course, not even full employment would fully solve inequality. The OECD credits globalisation, technological change and policy reforms such as lower wage ratios (between the median and minimum) for driving up the wages of the most skilled, especially in information technology or financial sector. Yet these have also left behind low- and middle-skilled workers.

Other countries have offset this difference through redistribution measures like social transfers and lower, progressive tax burdens. In the United States, redistribution measures have reportedly offset two-thirds of the fall in household income brought on by the financial crisis, but this still lags far behind other OECD countries.

“Taxes and transfers readjust inequality by one third in France, but only one fifth in the U.S.,” said Gurria. Yet he also cautions against putting too much faith in tax reforms, warning that “Taxing the rich is an easy way out, but there’s no quick fix.”

AEI’s Mathur agrees that policies must be holistic, targeting not just income inequality but also economic mobility.

“At AEI, we have been doing work looking at consumption inequality, and we find that consumption inequality is much narrower than income inequality,” she says. “This suggests that transfer programmes have to some extent been successful in improving material standards-of-living at the bottom of the income distribution.”

Mathur recently co-authored a study on economic mobility that suggests policies such as expanding school choice to help low-income students graduate high school and helping single mothers by expanding child-care subsidies, among other recommendations.

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Mauritian Sugar Farmers Squeezed by Low Prices as Bagasse and Ethanol Become Popular By-products Tue, 10 Jun 2014 08:38:39 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, shows a pack of special sugar produced by sugarcane farmers from Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, shows a pack of special sugar produced by sugarcane farmers from Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Jun 10 2014 (IPS)

While Mauritius has been forced to transform its sugar industry because of low prices for the commodity, the country’s small-scale sugarcane farmers who contribute to it say they are barely earning a living.

Previously, Mauritius produced only raw sugar from the cane plant. Now it produces value-added refined and special sugar, electricity from bagasse, ethanol and will soon produce bio-plastics.

“We are paid for the amount of sugar produced from our canes and some peanuts for the bagasse they use to produce electricity and nothing for the electricity which they sell to the national grid, or for our molasses or for the ethanol,” Jugessur Guirdharry, a farmer for the Union Park Cooperative Society, in the south of the island, told IPS. Farmer Salil Roy believes sugar cane is a victim of its own success “in the sense that it helped farmers support their children’s higher education, locally and abroad.”

With the end of the Sugar Protocol in 2009, an agreement between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific states since 1970 wherein the latter supplied sugar to the EU at a much higher price than was available on the world market, meant that this Indian island nation stopped receiving high prices for its sugar. Instead, Mauritius was producing sugar at 500 dollars a tonne but selling it at 433 dollars a tonne.

To keep the industry alive, the government implemented drastic reforms. It centralised private sugar production factories and from the original 17 there are now four flexi-factories that crush cane, produce special and refined sugars, molasses, ethanol and renewable energy from bagasse — the fibrous pulp left over after cane is squeezed for its juice. Soon they will also produce bio-plastic.

This island nation now produces 400,000 tonnes of special and refined sugars that are sold on markets in Europe from where they are sold directly to big EU firms.

About 75 percent of the sugar produced in Mauritius is value-added refined and special sugar that is sold mainly in Italy, Spain, Greece, United Kingdom and Belgium while the rest is sold to a hundred clients in niche-markets in the United States and China.

However, the 17,000 small-scale farmers contribute to about 28 percent of the national sugar production are not happy. They say it is very difficult to make a living out of cane cultivation only.

Farmers complain of high production costs and costs of inputs like fertilisers, herbicides and manpower and transport.

“If a farmer does not do part of the work in the fields himself, he’ll not be able to make his ends meet,” Guirdharry added.

Without the contribution of farmers like him, this industry would not have survived, Issah Korreembux, a small-scale sugarcane farmer, told IPS. Indeed, the Mauritius Cane Industry Authority (MCIA) says that many smallholder farmers have abandoned between 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of land that had previously been sugar plantations.

“If they are not given their due, more will do so because of lack of manpower, high costs of inputs and an ageing population among the farmers with the youth staying away from agriculture,” Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society, in eastern Mauritius, told IPS.

Guirdharry pointed out that by producing bagasse, small farmers contribute to the production of clean energy.

“If we use coal only, the impact on the environment would be devastating. We are thus preventing the import of about 250,000 tonnes of coal annually,” he explained.

Small-scale farmers like Dabydoyal are looking for other means to increase their income. About 5,000 of them have joined the fair-trade movement. They produced 21,000 tonnes of sugar under this label in 2013, which brought them an additional income of 60 dollars per tonne above the normal price of 530 dollars.

Under this certification by an international firm FLO-CERT, the small-scale producers develop good agricultural practices, make good use of the soil, use less chemical products and follow an integrated management plan for pests and diseases to improve the crop.

“This is a very good thing for small-scale farmers and we are encouraging all of them to join the movement,” Sooradehoo Punchu, president of the Mauritius Fair-trade Federation Cooperative Ltd, told IPS.

Farmer Salil Roy believes sugar cane is a victim of its own success “in the sense that it helped farmers support their children’s higher education, locally and abroad.”

“Today, these children have grown up and become professionals but have turned their back to the plantations,” Roy told IPS. Small and medium farmers have launched an Alliance of Sugar Cane Planters Association (ASPA) to defend their rights.

Its leader Trilock Ujoodha says a revision of the distribution of cane revenue will solve many problems faced by small and medium producers, which includes among them the issue of abandoned land.

Other farmers recalled that their income from sugar that represented 95 percent of their total revenue in the past stands today at 94 percent, despite the slump in local sugar prices.

“It should have decreased more,” observed farmer Jugdish Rampertab. However, Roy believes small farmers are faring well but “they could do much better with a fair distribution of sugar revenue.”

Mauritius has transformed its main product that is sugar cane into several valued added products. It’s not the end of the road yet, as this industry prepares to face another big challenge in two years’ time with the end of the sugar quota system in the EU scheduled for 2017.

This will again lead to volatile prices of this commodity. “How far can we diversify our cane industry?” Dabydoyal asks.

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Nature Is Talking And Africa’s Legislators Are Listening Mon, 09 Jun 2014 08:04:50 +0000 Miriam Gathigah The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the world’s second-largest tropical forest landscape. Here, slash and burn agriculture and charcoal are the main causes of greenhouse gases emissions. Credit: Taylor Toeka Kakala/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
MEXICO CITY, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

Africa’s climate change legislative frameworks, though a step in the right direction, have come under fire for not being ambitious enough to meet the challenge of a changing climate.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an emerging global actor in Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), has been criticised because its REDD+ projects are not supported by a legally binding framework, leaving forest communities in a legal void and vulnerable to economic exploitation.

But Jean-Claude Atningamu, a legislator in the DRC, admitted that while his country may have strategies and policies in place, a law on REDD+ is yet to be developed.

“We have just begun these processes and we are grappling with many challenges,” he told IPS.

He said that although indigenous communities were not benefiting from climate change financing, it was not because of a lack of political goodwill to do so.

“We do not have the full support from the international community who are not providing the funding necessary to help the people of the DRC meet the economic challenges that they are facing,” he said at the conclusion of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) summit that was held in Mexico from Jun. 6 to 8.

He said that while the DRC has the second-largest forest cover in the world “we are yet to receive REDD+ financing.”

“We are expecting to receive the first 60 million dollars from REDD+. With our expansive forest cover we should be receiving at least one billion dollars in a year.

“We need to have mechanisms set up by parliament to help African countries to access REDD+ financing. Without access to this fund, we cannot implement the policies that we are discussing at this GLOBE Summit,” Atningamu added.

He pointed out that in Africa the forest was the wealth of the people, “we need it to feed our people, to get heat, to cook. You cannot tell your wife to stop using firewood and not provide an alternative source of energy.”

But a lack of access to climate financing is not the only issue of concern for the African block of legislators.

The resolutions agreed upon at the summit also raised concerns. These include an agreement to deliver robust legislation in support of sustainable development, particularly climate change, natural capital and forest/REDD as well as strengthening legislators´ capacity to effectively exercise their oversight responsibilities, especially over the executive.

Simon Asimah, chair of the African block at the summit and also GLOBE International vice-president for Africa, said that the resolutions were not comprehensive enough to meet the legislative gaps that Africa is facing.

How do developed and developing countries compare in recent policy responses to climate change?

How does your country compare in the number and types of climate laws?

The Ghanaian legislator said that “a few clauses will be added to the final resolution to ensure that the African region the position of Africa in climate security is fully represented.”

These recommendations were accepted and clauses include the suggestion that all countries in Africa should have GLOBE chapters in their respective national legislatures and establish an African regional secretariat at GLOBE International to be founded in one of the countries of Africa. There are currently only  four globe international chapters in Africa – in Ghana, Nigeria, the DRC and South Africa,

This is key for coordination purposes, as well as to enhance the sharing of best practices on climate change mitigation and adaptation across Africa, according to the legislators.

Although the summit resolutions encouraged the development of legislation on natural capital, Asimah said that the African block had pushed to have “all countries, particularly those in Africa, to legislate on effective climate change laws, and in these laws, recognise and incorporate natural capital accounting concepts in accounting for their natural resources as part of their total national capital.”

Joyce Laboso, Kenya’s deputy speaker in the national assembly, also raised concerns over changing global perspectives and the impact they were having on Africa.

Laboso told IPS that fossil fuel is increasingly being discouraged at a time when many African countries such as Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Angola are discovering oil “and now we are being told that we are now moving into renewable energy that is going to be subsidised. How are we then going to achieve sustainable development if Africa cannot rely on its natural wealth?”

The Ghanaian delegation emphasised that developed nations such as the United States and emerging economies like China and Mexico were emitting the most carbon yet Africa was not expected to exploit its forests and become industrialised in the same way Brazil had.

Asimah said that Africa was also not being compensated enough or in some cases not at all for its efforts to keep people from exploiting the forests. “Africa must find a way to develop. But this is not a blame game, climate change is a global problem and it requires global solutions,” he said.

But Jacob F. Mudenda, speaker of Zimbabwe’s national assembly said: “Industrialised countries must submit themselves to climate change conventions, without which there will not be any global synergies.”

The African legislators from countries including, Nigeria, Cape Verde Islands, Sudan and Uganda, said that they were considering making significant financial demands on multinationals that were exploiting Africa’s natural wealth without impacting significantly on their GDP.

In Zimbabwe, Mudenda said that environment laws have now been anchored in the constitution as human rights “anyone who feels that they are being exploited can file a case at the constitutional courts.”

Mudenda further said that besides Zimbabwe, other countries like Botswana are learning from Norway and imposing revenue clauses on multinationals investing in their countries that they must improve the wealth of these African countries through a 51 to 49 percent benefit sharing ratio where the host takes the majority.

In spite of the concerns raised, African legislators have said that the summit was a step in the right direction, particularly as they continued to forge global partnerships on natural resources now that various global processes and goals were coming to an end, especially the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and new ones were beginning to take shape.

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Q&A: Developing World Leads in Advancement of Climate Change Laws Sun, 08 Jun 2014 15:44:52 +0000 Miriam Gathigah The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the world’s second-largest tropical forest landscape. Here, slash and burn agriculture and charcoal are the main causes of greenhouse gases emissions. Credit: Taylor Toeka Kakala/IPS

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the world’s second-largest tropical forest landscape. Here, slash and burn agriculture and charcoal are the main causes of greenhouse gases emissions. Credit: Taylor Toeka Kakala/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
MEXICO CITY, Jun 8 2014 (IPS)

Developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are increasingly leading the way in providing a legal framework for climate security and are being hailed for their continued advancement in formulating climate change laws and policies.

China is not only an important emerging economic actor, but a key actor in any climate change scenario. China’s five-year national plan on climate change is also one of the best in the world, according to climate change legislators at the ongoing  Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) summit being held in Mexico from Jun. 6 to 8.

GLOBE International is an organisation comprising of national parliamentarians from over 80 countries worldwide. An estimated 290 legislators from about 70 countries are present at the summit, including speakers of parliament and presidents. They are expected to develop a new generation of international climate agreements and ensure that climate is placed at the heart of national laws.

The summit has castigated a number of developed countries, particularly Australia and Canada, for their refusal to engage in climate change talks as well as implementing international agreements that can enhance climate security, even as poorer nations such as Bangladesh continue to make significant investments in climate security.

GLOBE International’s director of policy and deputy secretary general Terry Townshend says that there have been a rapid advancement in climate change laws globally. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

GLOBE International’s director of policy and deputy secretary general Terry Townshend says that there have been a rapid advancement in climate change laws globally. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

In an interview with IPS, GLOBE International’s director of policy and deputy secretary general Terry Townshend says that there has been a rapid advancement in climate change laws globally. Excerpts follow:

Q: Has there been much progress with regards to climate change legislation?

A: GLOBE’s study that involved 66 developed and developing nations has revealed that in recent years, climate change legislations in these nations have risen from 47 laws to 487.

Most of this progress is in developing countries. By tackling climate change these countries are making their jobs easier in terms of addressing other challenges such as poverty.

Although emissions are not very high in African countries and they are not forcing the problem of climate change, they are feeling the impact. When we talk about climate change legislation, it is just as important to talk about adaptation and reducing disasters through mitigation. It is in every country’s best interest to understand what the impacts are likely to be and work towards reducing the risks.

Q: What gaps has GLOBE identified in these legislations particularly in Africa and Asia?

A: While there has been a huge increase in the number of laws on climate change, collectively all of these actions though impressive will not effectively address climate security. Emissions are still rising.

Most of the laws are not ambitious enough. A country can have a law that gives the framework, but just as important if not more important, is the ambition of that law. For instance, if a law says that we need to reduce emissions by five percent while we need to reduce by say 50 percent, then we say that the law is not ambitious enough.

Q: How can GLOBE influence this ambition because to some extent it is a reflection of an understanding that the country has on climate change?

A: GLOBE provides best practices from other countries with similar economic structure. The GLOBE groups that we have in Africa particularly in South Africa, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are very keen to learn from what other countries have done. Other countries such as Ghana are making tremendous headway in climate-related laws.

Q: What is the scope and grasp of GLOBE in different regions and what is the attraction?

A: GLOBE has expanded rapidly and its geographic representation is broad and well spread. It has many members in Latin America in particular, good representation in Africa, Asia and Europe. We now have more representation in developing than developed countries. This is important because it is not GLOBE selecting people to work with, but working with people elected or chosen by their own people to represent their interests in parliament.

GLOBE offers support to legislators in the form that they need it. Many of them in developing countries do not necessarily have the capacity whether it is in research or support from their parliaments to do the necessary national analysis they need to inform development of legislation.

Q: How does GLOBE ensure that political changes do not interfere with ongoing processes? What happens when a member of GLOBE is not re-elected to parliament?

A: We are very strict about membership at the GLOBE chapters in individual countries. They should represent the political make up of that parliament. It should include government members and not just opposition members. This is crucial, if the government changes and if there was support from the party that was in opposition that is now in government then policies and laws that were made when they were in opposition are more likely to be supported.

Q:  How does this legislative organisation interact with organised Civil Society Organisations and local governments?

A: It is up to the national chapters to decide how they interact with the local groups. If they are developing a law, for example, it is up to them to decide who they would like to involve, or invite into discussions.

It is very much nationally led, GLOBE does not say to country chapters that you must do it this way or that way.

When we respond to legislators demand in a specific country for assistance we provide the assistance however we can. Sometimes it might be that we need to work with this non-governmental organisation or this think tank to develop our law, this is one way we can step in.

For example, in Mexico the GLOBE group wanted to work with Mexican civil society organisations and think tanks to help shape the law. So they held consultation workshops to make sure they use their expertise that is within the civil society community to inform the development of the law. While this is a very good way to do it, we can only share best practices but each country must decide how they want to move forward.

Q: Do GLOBE members have a good grasp of their respective parliaments? How is GLOBE able to determine that the legislators are influencing their respective parliaments?

A: We are always very keen to hear from GLOBE members on what they do with the information that they receive. The agreement that we will establish here will have some commitments for the legislators and we will be keen to hear what they have done with it once they get back to their parliaments.

We invite legislators to tell us what they are doing with that agreement, so we do not just convene and sign papers, we actively encourage them to deliver on the commitments.

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Kenya’s Climate Change Legislation Takes Shape To Save Struggling Farmers Wed, 04 Jun 2014 11:39:45 +0000 Miriam Gathigah A tea farmer in Nyeri County, central Kenya contemplates what to do after his crop was damaged by severe weather patterns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A tea farmer in Nyeri County, central Kenya contemplates what to do after his crop was damaged by severe weather patterns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jun 4 2014 (IPS)

Daniel Njau, a small-scale farmer from Nyeri County, central Kenya, is torn. He just may have to give up his six-hectare tea plantation in favour of farming climate-resilient food crops.

“Tea is very sensitive to climate change. Any drastic weather changes spell doom for the cash crop. In recent years, I have made more losses than gains,” he told IPS.

But statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture show that Njau is only one of an estimated 500,000 small-scale tea farmers facing uncertainty when it comes to their livelihoods.

United Nations scientists have also warned that as maize-growing areas become warmer, production of maize — the country’s main staple crop — will reduce by a fifth. Yields of other staple foods, including beans, will shrink by 68 percent.

At least 300,000 maize farmers are affected, says the Ministry of Agriculture.

For sometime now, experts have blamed the low adaptive capacity on the lack of a national policy and law on climate change in this East African nation.

When it comes to a climate change policy, Kenya’s legal framework is sectoral and fragmented, with each sector containing its own legislation. A 2012 Climate Change Authority Bill was rejected by Kenya’s former president Mwai Kibaki in 2013.

But Kenya’s National Assembly deputy speaker Joyce Laboso told IPS that while the 2012 bill was rejected because of a lack of public involvement in its discussion, “the new Climate Change Bill 2014 has garnered significant political goodwill.”

The 2014 bill is expected to provide a legal and institutional framework for climate change mitigation and adaption efforts.

Once it becomes law, the bill will also advise national and county governments on regional and international conventions, and treaties and agreements on climate change to which Kenya is a party or should be a party to. The bill will also facilitate their implementation.

John Kioli, the brains behind the Climate Change Authority Bill 2012 and chairperson of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group, says that the 2012 bill “has now been resurrected in the form of the Climate Change Bill 2014.”

According to the deputy speaker Laboso the 2014 bill was introduced in parliament in January “and it has already gone through the first reading and is now at the committee level awaiting its second reading.”

Kioli pointed out that “allocation of funding for climate change is a major challenge.”

He explained that had the 2012 Climate Change Authority Bill been enacted, it would have established an independent climate change authority, with legal powers to self-regulate, and a climate change trust fund to finance adaptation projects.

The new 2014 bill will establish a climate change fund to facilitate climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Government estimates show that the country’s five-year National Climate Change Action Plan will require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars. This is equivalent to the current 2013 to 2014 national budget. The action plan is a blueprint on how to operationalise Kenya’s National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS).

Although Kioli said that in as far as legislation was concerned the country is heading in the right direction. He pointed out that challenges abound particularly when it comes to “the lack of understanding on the difference between environment and climate change.”

Kioli said that this was evident from the fact that some quarters have been calling for the revising of the 1999 Environment, Management and Coordination Act to serve as a solution to climate change.

“We carried out research on the effects of climate change on various sectors, including agriculture, and concluded that there were significant legislative gaps,” Kioli pointed out.

Kioli said that the country’s first tangible commitment to combating climate change was in the December 2009 promulgation of the NCCRS — a plan that would ensure robust measures were put in place to combat climate change.

Climate change experts say that though significant, NCCRS is just a plan of action. It is neither a national policy nor law.

Although a policy is not enacted by the national assembly and therefore not legally binding, it is an important framework implemented through an act. And the National Climate Change Action Plan highlighted the need to have a policy and law specifically on climate change.

Meanwhile, Laboso said that the Environment and Natural Resources Committee together with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources have been meeting various stakeholders, including senators and members of the county assembly, to iron out any contentious issues and to make relevant amendments to the Climate Change Bill 2014.

“The amendments will be tabled in parliament in a report together with the bill for discussion once parliament resumes from recess this month [June]. The pace is good since both the national policy on climate change and the 2014 bill are been developed concurrently,” Laboso said.

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OP-ED: Climate Change Threatens the Wild Beauty of Small Islands Tue, 03 Jun 2014 16:49:21 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers Waves and high tides are eating away at the beaches in Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park, where the vegetation is uprooted and washed into the sea. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

Waves and high tides are eating away at the beaches in Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park, where the vegetation is uprooted and washed into the sea. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Jun 3 2014 (IPS)

It’s beginning to sink in that our climate is changing more rapidly than at any time in recorded history and it will have profound and irreversible effects on the planet. On World Environment Day on Jun. 5, let’s stop for a moment to consider in particular the devastating impact that climate change is having on small island states and their wildlife. 

Forty years ago Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring”, helped launch the environmental movement. The image of a Silent Spring shocked readers because it evoked the idea that if we did not care for the environment then one spring very soon the birds would stop singing because they would have vanished.

Today in order to gain support for critical environmental issues such as climate change, many complex integrated models and economic analyses have to be prepared to convince people that our climate really is changing. Let’s hope that it will not require small islands states to have submerged beneath the waves before the skeptics are convinced.

Thinking back to a simpler age not so long ago – to the time when Carson wrote her seminal work – appreciation of the sheer wonder of nature was sufficient to move us to act. With what do we associate small islands?

Groynes installed at Folkestone Beach in Barbados to prevent beach erosion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Groynes installed at Folkestone Beach in Barbados to prevent beach erosion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Blue lagoons, palm-lined golden beaches, coral reefs and majestic atolls. These tropical idylls are the epitome of beauty and part of their attraction as holiday destinations is their rich wildlife, much of which is migratory. But the islands are vulnerable to sea level rises and other effects of climate change. And so too are the features contributing to their appeal and that includes the species that live on and around them.

Migratory animals, which can be among the most vulnerable of all species because of their dependence on particular habitats at specific stages of their life cycles as they undertaken their epic journeys spanning continents and oceans, are subject to unprecedented changes.

We are observing threats to migratory species caused by increased temperatures that will lead to the loss of vital habitat while at the same time oceanic food webs linked to changing zooplankton abundance are starting to collapse.

Sharks are moving into warmer waters outside their normal boundaries of their migrations, increasing the frequency of attacks on people. Warmer beaches are affecting hatching patterns of marine turtles: cool beaches produce predominantly male hatchlings while warm beaches produce mostly females.

Hawksbill turtle, Komodo, Indo-Pacific. Credit: Courtesy of Image Broker/Robert Harding

Hawksbill turtle, Komodo, Indo-Pacific. Credit: Courtesy of Image Broker/Robert Harding

So scientists are seeing the feminisation of marine turtle populations which will have an impact on the ability of turtles to reproduce. Large baleen whales such as the Blue Whale, the largest creature on earth, must make longer journeys between their feeding grounds in warmer waters to their breeding grounds in cooler parts of the sea. The whales’ main food source of krill is declining because of changes in temperature and acidification of the oceans due to climate change.

Islands are critical stopover, nesting and breeding sites for migratory birds. Albatrosses that wander the oceans for much of the time seek out tiny dots of land to build their nests and raise their young.

Islands provide much needed opportunities for rest and refuelling with food for birds flying between Eurasia and Africa – especially when the birds have completed their crossing of the Sahara.

The evidence is heaping up telling us that climate change is happening and the reality is that the temperatures will rise. What we must avoid is rapid changes or temperature increases so severe that we cross a point of no return.

This is a vitally important factor for species’ survival. Like humans, some animals can adapt and migratory animals are more likely to be able to adapt because they are mobile in nature and therefore potentially able to disperse other areas to mitigate environmental changes.

This is why getting a deal in Paris for the post Kyoto Protocol is so critical. A global deal now would mean we can keep the planetary temperature rise within a manageable limit and then concentrate international efforts on assisting people and their ecosystems, including migratory species and other threatened species by climate change, to adapt if possible.

If there is no deal, we will go beyond the manageable limits and we can foresee devastating impacts on humans and wildlife. On World Environment Day, let’s not forget the beauty that nature holds and just how very vulnerable it is, and know that the fight against climate change has many dimensions, including conserving the magnificent beautiful small island states and their wildlife.

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Caribbean Forced to Choose Between Climate Change Impact and MDGs Wed, 21 May 2014 15:32:00 +0000 Desmond Brown A section of the Green Bay Primary School in Dominica damaged by Hurricane Tomas in 2010. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of the Green Bay Primary School in Dominica damaged by Hurricane Tomas in 2010. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, May 21 2014 (IPS)

Climate change is forcing the nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to choose between expending scarce resources to deal with its impact or other pressing development goals.

“There is a very thin line between consumption and conservation…progress and protection,” Grenada’s Environment Minister Roland Bhola told IPS. He explained that countries still have to fulfil the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include reducing poverty and hunger, while dealing with the impacts of climate change.

But there is a flicker of hope for these countries. The European Union (EU) has signed a financial agreement for 39.5 million East Caribbean dollars for a project designed to improve the sub-region’s natural resource base and its resilience to impacts of climate change.“There is no doubt that on the whole the impacts of climate change on small islands will have serious negative effects especially on socio-economic conditions and bio physical resources including the land.” -- Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer

The OECS consists of the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin islands.

Head of the EU delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, ambassador Mikael Barford, has acknowledged that this is a “very vulnerable region” and that the project is a reflection of Europe’s commitment to support climate action in developing countries.

“The Caribbean is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world but we tend to ignore the threat that could occur as a result of the impact of climate change…”

“On your doorsteps, scientists are warning that your 62-square-mile [161-square-kilometre] sister island of Barbuda is becoming one of the most vulnerable spots due to the consequences of climate change,” he told IPS.

“Already there is accelerated erosion taking place because of the rise in sea levels and it’s estimated that if this continues, a third of the island could be lost.”

Antigua and Barbuda, the only country in the OECS to have appointed an ambassador for climate change, has had more than six hurricanes of various intensity over the last 20 years.

Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador Diann Black-Layne told IPS: “Climate change is impacting our country.”

She said that many small island developing states (SIDS), were suffering percentage losses of their GDPs because of the impact of climate change.

“We’ve had extreme weather, variation in rainfall, significant flooding and our waterways are not able to cope with the climate as we know it.

“Antigua and Barbuda is known as a dry weather country and so we design our homes, our roads and our lives around that reality. But today it’s getting worse and we experience flooding that Antiguans never knew or experienced before,” she added.

Black-Layne, who is also the chief environmental officer here, explained that the authorities have undertaken many initiatives in planning for climate change but did not have the funding for adaptation measures.

“Starting in 2016, just to get prepared to adapt to climate change, we will need to spend 40 to 50 million East Caribbean dollars a year,” she said.

“Political will is not what we lack here in Antigua and Barbuda. We lack financing and low cost financing which is something that we are now working on aggressively.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, who is the present chairman of OECS, boats of an outstanding record on recognising the importance and taking action on climate change.

But he said Antigua and other SIDS face challenges originating from their small size and economies, geographical location, limited infrastructure and high vulnerability to environmental disasters.

Spencer said these challenges are exacerbated by the projected impacts of global climate change coupled with increasing competition for limited resources, which combine to erode the ability of member states to meet their development aspirations on a sustainable basis.

“This reality was manifested between the evening of Dec. 24 and the morning of the Dec. 25, 2013 when severe rains and high winds impacted significantly on the islands of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and to a lesser extent Dominica, resulting in dozens of lives lost,” Spencer told IPS.

The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines declared a national level two disaster. In its rapid damage and loss assessment of Jan. 16, it reported total damages and losses of at least 279.3 million East Caribbean dollars, equivalent to 15 percent of the country’s GDP. Most of the damage sustained was in the infrastructure sector, placed at some 97 percent; followed by the social sector, three percent.

St. Lucia’s post disaster needs assessment estimated that the total impact on the economy was at 224.7 million East Caribbean dollars in damage and losses to physical assets.

“While this represents a moderate 6.3 percent of GDP, the severe infrastructure, environmental and social fallout, coupled with the cumulative effect from the recent 2010 battering by hurricane Tomas means that in reality the impact was significant,” Spencer said.

In its most recent fifth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that it has long been recognised that greenhouse gas emissions from small islands are negligible in relation to global emissions but that the threats of climate change and rising sea levels are very real to small islands.

“There is no doubt that on the whole the impacts of climate change on small islands will have serious negative effects especially on socio-economic conditions and bio physical resources including the land,” Spencer said.

The number of hurricanes passing through the Caribbean has risen from about five percent in the early 20th century to more than 25 in part of the 21st century.

“One study prepared for the World Bank estimates the potential economic impact of such related climate change on CARICOM [Caribbean Community] countries could be as much as 10 billion dollars,” he said.

The EU funding is being made available through its Global Climate Change Alliance  (GCCA) project.

In the Caribbean, the GCCA is active in Jamaica, Belize, and Guyana as well as within the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre.

Barford hopes the project will strengthen the bonds between the EU and the OECS countries in the joint efforts in international climate change negotiations.

“There is clear evidence that climate change is having an effect on the region,” Barford pointed out. He said that only recently, two OECS member states, St. Lucia as well as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, signalled that they had severe water problems.

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Agroecology Movement Addresses Challenges of Food Security Wed, 21 May 2014 09:52:14 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero Vendors at the organic farmers' market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Courtesy: Tillie Castellano.

Vendors at the organic farmers' market in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Courtesy: Tillie Castellano.

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 21 2014 (IPS)

Agriculture in this Caribbean island is going through its worst moment. Whereas this sector accounted for 71 percent of its gross domestic product in 1914, now it amounts to no more than one percent. 

A century ago, local agriculture employed over 260,000 workers, nowadays it employs 19,000. Over three billion dollars leaves the island through food imports, according to data published in the local press.

Puerto Rican Agriculture Secretary Myrna Comas, who has been in office since last year, is widely regarded as the island’s top food security scholar. Prior to directing the agriculture department, she conducted extensive research into local food security issues as professor at the University of Puerto Rico.“We want to double the farmers that we buy from on a weekly basis, from 10 to 20. And we also aim at setting up drop off points for our produce all over Puerto Rico.” -- Departamento owner Tara Rodriguez

According to her research, Puerto Rico imports over half of its dairy products, around 70 percent of its coffee, over 80 percent of its meat, over 90 percent of its fruit, and all of its sugar and cereal grains. The island’s food insecurity is further compounded by the fact that 76 percent of these food imports come from one single country: the United States. Almost all of this food comes from the ports of New Jersey and Florida, with 75 percent of all the food coming from the latter. Food imported from the U.S. travels an average of 1,310 miles.

But Comas found that Puerto Rico imports food from 57 other countries. Imports also come from China (four percent of total food imports), Canada (three percent) and the Dominican Republic (two percent). Food is also imported from other distant countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Poland. Food from Asia to Puerto Rico has traveled over 16,000 kms, and can take up to 47 days to arrive as it is unloaded on the U.S. west coast, trucked across to the east coast, sent through distribution centres, and finally loaded into ships headed to Puerto Rico.

The agriculture secretary has made it her business to increase agricultural production in order to reduce reliance on imports and thus assure Puerto Rico’s food security. But the island’s budding organic farming movement faults Comas for not questioning the prevailing industrial agriculture model, which critics claim poisons the environment with toxic agrochemicals, contributes to climate change, is harmful to the health of both agricultural workers and consumers, and cannot insure food security.

The United Nations International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) found that the dominant model of modern agriculture is undermining the planet’s ecological and social systems and endangering the future of humanity. The report was written by over 400 scientists and went through two peer reviews.

“Modern agriculture, as currently practised, is devouring our capital. It is mining the soil, our natural resource base, and it is unsustainable, because it is both fossil energy- and capital-intensive and because it is not based on a full accounting of the externalities,” said IAASTD co-chairman Hans Herren. “Continuing with current trends would exhaust our resources and put our children’s future in jeopardy.”

The report endorses small-scale sustainable agriculture as an alternative. The U.N. Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, and a recent report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, both reached similar conclusions.

Ian C. Pagán, a young agronomist, farmer, writer, activist and educator, runs the El Josco Bravo Agroecology Project in the municipality of Toa Alta. Pagán, who has a Master’s Degree in soil restoration and sustainable agricultural practices, is a passionate advocate of agroecology and is not afraid to debate advocates of industrial agriculture.

“There are many myths about alternative agricultural production systems,” Pagán told IPS. “These myths are propagated precisely by multinational agribusinesses that profit from farming systems that are highly dependent on external inputs.”

“Science itself has demonstrated the productive potential of agroecology versus conventional agriculture. For starters, over half of world food production is in the hands of small campesino farmers, most of whom are practicing agroecologically based farming.”

Pagan’s farm produces tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, yautia, fruits and cabbage, among many other crops.

“Furthermore, agroecological production has greater resilience to climate change and is more energy efficient. These two aspects are ever more important in a world that is now facing environmental and energy crises.”

Local organic farmers get their produce to consumers through various innovative ventures, such as El Departamento de la Comida (The Food Department), an alternative retailer located in the working class urban neighborhood of Tras Talleres in San Juan.

The Departamento is switching to non-profit status. To fund this transition, it is raising money through Antrocket, a Puerto Rican online crowdfunding platform.

“We aim at creating Puerto Rico’s first ecological food hub,” said Departamento owner Tara Rodriguez in an interview. “We will work with the entire food production cycle, and that includes consumer education, services for farmers, and various aspects of sustainability.”

“The money we are raising will go into improvements in our equipment that will make it possible to scale up our operations and become an NGO [non-governmental organisation] with a business model, a community non-profit corporation,” said Rodríguez, whose mother, Silka Besosa, quit her lucrative job managing a shopping mall to become an organic farmer. Besosa died of cancer in 2011.

“We want to double the farmers that we buy from on a weekly basis, from 10 to 20. And we also aim at setting up drop off points for our produce all over Puerto Rico.”

The Departamento’s offerings include kale, squash, avocados, eggplant, arugula, bananas, tomatoes, sprouts, cucumbers and tangerine oranges, as well as seeds, seedlings and artisanal locally made marmalade, bread and soap. It also delivers weekly boxes of produce to restaurants and residential customers.

Rodriguez emphasises that education is very important. “We educate consumers as to why everything we sell is organic and local, and and explain to them the importance of paying our farmers a fair price for their product.”

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