Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 24 May 2015 16:24:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Caribbean Looks to France as Key Partner in Climate Financinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 13:20:32 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140764 Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the Caribbean would be better positioned to respond to climate change if France rejoins the Caribbean Development Bank. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the Caribbean would be better positioned to respond to climate change if France rejoins the Caribbean Development Bank. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, May 22 2015 (IPS)

By the time leaders of the international community sit down in Paris later this year to discuss climate change, at least two Caribbean leaders are hoping that France can demonstrate its commitment to assisting their adaptation efforts by re-joining the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

The CDB is the premier regional financial institution, established in 1969. It contributes significantly to the harmonious economic growth and development of the Caribbean, promoting economic cooperation and integration among regional countries.“The government of France has been taking a lead in relation to this matter in all fora and [President] Hollande has put his own personal prestige behind it." -- Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

Of the 19 regional member countries that are allowed to borrow funds from the CDB and also have voting rights, 15 are members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In addition, Canada, China, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom all enjoy voting rights but, like Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, they are not entitled to borrow funds from the bank.

France was once a non-regional member, but withdrew its membership about a decade ago, supposedly because of domestic politics.

Now, two Caribbean prime ministers say with the region being among the countries worst affected by climate change and struggling to find the resources to fund adaptation and mitigation efforts, it is time for France to rejoin the CDB.

The lobby began on May 9 in Martinique, when French President François Hollande visited the French overseas territory to chair a one-day Caribbean climate change summit ahead of the world climate change talks in Paris during November and December of this year.

During the plenary, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves raised with Hollande the issue of France’s CDB membership.

Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Timothy Harris, who is chair of the CDB’s Board of Governors, the bank’s highest policy making body, told the two-day 45th meeting of the board, which began on May 20, how Gonsalves raised the issue with his French counterpart.

“Caught by Gonsalves flighted googly, the president played just as Gonsalves had predicted and committed to have France returned as a member of the CDB,” Harris said, using an analogy from the Caribbean’s rich cricketing culture.

Harris further said that building resilience to climate change and natural disasters remains among the issues that “need critical attention in the context of reshaping a credible agenda for Caribbean development”.

He told IPS afterwards it would be “a significant win-win for us all” if Hollande follows through on his commitment to rejoin the CDB.

“It think it will enhance France’s own involvement in the region but beyond the region as a major country interested in bringing justice to small island developing states, many of which are found in the Caribbean region,” he said.

When France left the financial institution it raised issues such as the reputation of the bank, because France had been an important member and also had good credit ratings.

“Therefore, it coming back again will signal that it has renewed its confidence in the bank. Given France’s own standing as a member of the G20, that will be a positive in terms of the reputation for the CDB. And, therefore, when the bank wins, the people of the Caribbean, whom it serves, they also win and also all of us in the region,” Harris told IPS.

An economist, Harris said the Paris talks will “only bear fruits for us if in fact it makes special provisions for the vulnerabilities of small island developing states.

“… if a member of the G20 group such as France provide leadership in Europe and beyond, certainly it would be a good signal of that commitment for him to reinter into the CDB as a member,” he said, noting that climate change will continue to be high on the agenda of the CDB during his chairmanship.

“It has already been identified by the president of the bank as one of the areas in which the bank wants to have a forward thrust,” he told IPS.

CDB president Dr. William Warren Smith said that the Caribbean has already begun to experience “the damaging effects and associated economic losses of rising sea levels and an increase in the number and severity of natural hazards”.

He said that to participate effectively in climate change adaptation and mitigation, including exploiting the region’s vast renewable energy resources, the CDB must be able to access climate finance from the various windows emerging worldwide.

Smith, addressing the board of governors meeting, said that institutions from which climate finance can be accessed “understandably, have set the access bar extremely high”.

However, he stressed that the CDB has undergone reforms that will position the institution to gain wider access to climate resources.

“I am pleased to say that by the end of this year, we expect to be accredited to both the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund,” he said, adding that at a recent meeting of Caribbean foreign ministers in Berlin, he proposed the immediate establishment of a “Project Preparation Facility” for Caribbean countries.

This facility, to be managed by CDB, would enable the bank’s borrowing member countries to develop a pipeline of “bankable” projects that would be eligible for climate financing.

“These projects would climate-proof roads and other critical infrastructure. They would also address the vulnerability of our islands and coastal zones in order to protect vital industries, such as tourism, agriculture and fisheries,” Smith said.

Gonsalves told IPS that “there are several consequences, all of them positive, for France coming back to the CDB.”

He said France will be able to bring resources at the level of Germany, which currently holds a 5.73 percent stake in the capital of CDB, making Germany the third-largest non-regional, non-borrowing member.

“In relation to climate change particularly, given the agenda that the CDB has in terms of its strategic plan, and that’s a focal issue, France will bring its immense support resources and its intellectual clout and its political clout as an interlocutor for the Caribbean for the CDB, for developing countries in relation to climate change,” Gonsalves told IPS.

“More broadly, France, of course, as the host for the Paris Summit and what was promised at Fort-de-France as the steps we will take, they again are going to play an important role and to do some things conjoining with us.”

Gonsalves noted that the Caribbean will attend climate change related summits in Brussels, Addis Ababa, and at the United Nations ahead of the Paris Summit.

Gonsalves said he is confident that France is committed to an outcome that will benefit the Caribbean and other small island developing states that suffer the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change.

“The government of France has been taking a lead in relation to this matter in all fora and Hollande has put his own personal prestige behind it and France has had a good history in this matter and has been playing a leading role in the European Union and also at the United Nations on this matter. So I am very happy that they are engaged with us in the manner in which they are engaged,” he said.

He was also confident that France will rejoin the CDB.

“As Harris said, the manner in which I put it, it was very difficult for him to say no,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Germany’s Asylum Seekers – You Can’t Evict a Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:16:23 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140745 Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, May 21 2015 (IPS)

In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe’s ongoing debate on migration, Germany’s asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: “You Can’t Evict a Movement!”.

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

“We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal,” Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling."In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime. Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom" – Adam Bahar, Sudanese blogger and campaigner for Germany’s refugee movement

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin’s Oranienplatz square, known here as the O’Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

“That was a very sad moment for us,” said Napuli. “Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility,” she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O’Platz “protest camp”, which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a “lager” reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

“When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders,” Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany’s refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other “lagers”, starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany’s enforced residence policy, or “Residenzpflicht”, a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O’Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district’s Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school’s rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan “You can’t evict a movement”, which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  “The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century,” said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

Angela Davis (Flickr)

During her May 2015 visit to Berlin, Angela Davis brought a message of support to members of the German refugee movement outside an occupied school building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

“The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well,” Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement’s magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy “working” schedule.

“There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours,” Ulu told IPS.

“We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest.”

Germany’s problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement’s campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

“In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime,” he said. ”Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media’s often empty slogans of justice and freedom.”

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin’s Humboldt University, “colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry.”

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. “Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation’s wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world.”

Meanwhile, the refugee movement’s unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin’s local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of “immigration” for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in “asylum-worthy” categories. “In Germany there are three categories of refugees,” Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

“The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere.”

“This is unfair,” he said. “Human tragedy should not be classified.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: The Crisis of the Left and the Decline of Europe and the United Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-crisis-of-the-left-and-the-decline-of-europe-and-the-united-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-crisis-of-the-left-and-the-decline-of-europe-and-the-united-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-crisis-of-the-left-and-the-decline-of-europe-and-the-united-states/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 11:07:04 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140701

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that neoliberal thinking, which has failed to meet an adequate response from the left, and lack of political vision has led to the decline of Europe and the United States.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 19 2015 (IPS)

The victory of the Conservative Party and the debacle of the Labour Party in the recent British general elections is yet another sign of the crisis facing left-wing forces today, leaving aside the question of how, under the British electoral system, the Labour Party actually increased the number of votes it won but saw a reduction in the number of seats it now holds in Parliament (24 seats less than the previous 256).

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

If the proportional rather than uninominal system had been used, the Conservative Party with its 11 million votes would have won 256 and not 331 seats in Parliament (far short of the absolute majority of 326 needed to govern), while at the other extreme the United Kingdom Independence Party with nearly four million votes would have landed 83 and not just the one seat it ended up with – results that would be hard to imagine anywhere else and a good example of insularity.

To an extent, the recent British general elections mirrored the U.S. presidential elections in 2000 when Democratic candidate Al Gore won around half a million more popular votes than Republican candidate George W. Bush but failed to win the majority of electoral college votes on which the U.S. system is based. The outcome was eight years of George W.  Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the crisis of multilateralism, and all the paraphernalia of “America’s exceptional destiny”.

Let us venture now into an analysis that will have the politologues among us cringing.“The left has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 … it has had no real answer to the crisis”

It is now generally recognised that the end of the Soviet Union has given free way to a kind of capitalism without control, marked by an unprecedented supremacy of finance which, in terms of volume of investments, overwhelmingly exceeds the real or productive economy.

In its wake, neoliberal thinking has found the left totally unprepared, because part of its function had been to provide a democratic alternative to Communism, which was suddenly no longer a threat.

The left therefore has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 (with its bail-out cost so far of over four trillion dollars), it has had no real answer to the crisis.

Ever since the industrial revolution, the identity of the left had been to press for social justice, equality of opportunities and redistribution, while the right placed the emphasis on individual efforts, less role for the state and success as motivation.

Continuing with this brutal simplification, we have to add that the left, from Marx to Keynes, always studied how to create economic growth and redistribution – Marx by abolishing private property, social democrats through just taxation.

But it never studied the creation of a progressive agenda in the event case of an economic crisis such as the one we are now facing, with structural unemployment, young people obliged  to accept any kind of contract, new technologies which are making the concept of classes disappear, and rendering trade unions – erstwhile powerful actors for social justice – irrelevant.

It is unprecedented that the top 25 hedge fund managers received a reward in 2014 of 11.62 billion dollars, yet neither U.S. President Barack Obama nor Ed Miliband, then still leader of the Labour Party at the recent British general elections (until he resigned after election defeat), saw it fit to denounce this obscene level of greed.

Meanwhile, Europe as a political project is clearly in disarray, and now faces a “Grexit” on its southern flank and a “Brexit” on its northern flank.

In the case of a “Grexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Greece), Greece faces the prospects of having to make substantial concessions to Europe, thus reneging on the promises of Alexis Tsipras who was voted in as prime minister in rebellion against years of dismantlement of public and social structures imposed in the name of austerity.

What is at stake here is the very neoliberal model itself and not only is ordoliberal Germany supported by allies like Austria, Finland and the Netherlands erecting a wall against any form of leniency, but countries which accepted painful cuts and where conservatives are now in power, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, see leniency as giving in to the left.

A “Brexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Britain) is a different affair. It is a game being played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to negotiate a more favourable agreement for Britain with the European Union.

A referendum will be held before the end of 2017 and the four million people who voted for the UKIP in the recent elections, plus the country’s “Euro-sceptics”, threaten to push Britain out of the European Union, especially if Cameron does not manage to obtain some substantial concessions from Brussels.

Meanwhile, if Europe is in disarray, the United States has a serious problem of governance. Analyst Moisés Naím, who served as editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine from 1996 to 2010, has pinpointed a few examples of how this has translated into self-inflicted damage.

One concerns China which, after waiting five years trying to get the Republican-dominated Congress to authorise and increase in its stake in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from a ridiculous 3.8 percent to 6 percent (compared with the 16.5 percent of the United States), got fed up and established an alternative fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Washington tried unsuccessfully to kill the initiative by putting pressure on its allies but first the United Kingdom, then Italy, Germany and France announced their participation in the new bank, which now has 50 member countries and the United States is not one of them.

Another example was the attempt by the Republican-dominated Congress to kill the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) which has provided support for U.S exporters to the tune of 570 billion dollars since it was set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.  In just the last two years, China has provided 670 billion dollars in support for its exporters. Moral of the story: U.S. companies will be at a clear disadvantage.

As Larry Summers, a great proponent of U.S. hegemony, put it, “the US will not be in a position to shape the global economic system”.

The latest snub to the U.S. role of world leader came from four Arab heads of state who snubbed a U.S.-Gulf States summit at Camp David on May 14. The summit had been called by Obama to reassure the Gulf states that the ongoing negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement would not diminish their relevance, but the rulers of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain deserted the summit.

However, there is no more striking example of mistake-making than the joint effort by the United States and Europe to push Russian President Vladimir against the wall over his engagement in Ukraine by imposing heavy sanctions.

There was no apparent reflection on the wisdom of encircling a paranoid and autocratic leader, albeit one with strong popular support, by progressively also bringing in all Eastern and Central European countries. The result of this encirclement of Russia is that China has now come to the rescue of Russia, by injecting money into the country’s asphyxiated economy.

China will invest around six billion dollars in the construction of a high speed railway between Moscow and Kazan, is financing a 2,700 kilometre pipeline for the supply of 30 billion cubic metres of Russian gas over a period of 30 years, plus several other projects, including the establishment of a two billion dollar common fund for investments and a loan of 860 million dollars to the Russian Sberbank bank.

So, the net result is that Russia has been pushed out of Europe and into the arms of China, and the two are now starting joint naval and military manoeuvres.  Is this in the interest of Europe?

At the end of the day, the decline of Europe and the United States perhaps comes down to a decline of political vision, with democracy being substituted by partocracy, and the statesman of yesteryear being substituted by very much more modest and self-referential political leaders.

This is all taking place amid a growing disaffection with politics, which is now aimed basically at administrative choices, making corruption easy. At least this is what around one-third of electors now appear to believe when they are asked if they think that they can make a difference at elections … and this is why a rapidly growing number of people are deserting the ballot box. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Opinion: Edinburgh University Bows to Fossil Fuel Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-edinburgh-university-bows-to-fossil-fuel-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-edinburgh-university-bows-to-fossil-fuel-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-edinburgh-university-bows-to-fossil-fuel-industry/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 18:28:41 +0000 Kirsty Haigh, Eric Lai, and Ellen Young http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140674 Edinburgh Castle, symbol of the Scottish capital, whose university has just decided not to disinvest in fossil fuels. Photo credit: Kim Traynor/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Edinburgh Castle, symbol of the Scottish capital, whose university has just decided not to disinvest in fossil fuels. Photo credit: Kim Traynor/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Kirsty Haigh, Eric Lai, and Ellen Young
EDINBURGH, May 17 2015 (IPS)

The University of Edinburgh has taken the decision to not divest from fossil fuels, bowing to the short-term economic interests of departments funded by the fossil fuel industry, with little to no acknowledgement of the long-term repercussions of these investments.

The decision, which was announced on May 12, exemplifies the influence that vested interests have gained over academic institutions in the United Kingdom.“Our university has decided to take a reactionary approach to climate change, failing to make any statement of commitment to the staff and students who have been demanding divestment from fossil fuel companies for the past three years”

Collectively, U.K. universities invest over eight billion dollars in fossil fuels, more than 3,000 dollars for every student. The University of Edinburgh has the country’s third largest university endowment, after Oxford and Cambridge, totalling 457 million dollars, of which approximately 14 million is invested in fossil fuel companies, including Total, Shell and BHP Billiton.

Our university has decided to take a reactionary approach to climate change, failing to make any statement of commitment to the staff and students who have been demanding divestment from fossil fuel companies for the past three years.

Announcing it decision, the university said: ”The university will withdraw from investment in these [fossil fuel consuming and extracting] companies if: realistic alternative sources of energy are available and the companies involved are not investing in technologies that help address the effects of carbon emissions and climate change.”

However, given the fossil fuel industry’s continued destruction of the planet, the university’s approach leaves far too much to the imagination and indeed allows for the potential to not divest from harmful industries at all.

We are going to find our existence completely altered – and in a way that we do not want – if   we do not stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, and we know the big fossil fuel companies have no intention of stopping.

Climate change not only poses a massive economic threat but also presents the world’s biggest global health hazard – and its effects are hitting the poorest parts of the world hardest. The University of Edinburgh is fundamentally failing to acknowledge the part it is playing in funding climate chaos.

Our university claims to be a “world leader in addressing global challenges including … climate change” but if the university had any desire to take the moral lead, it would have divested. Divestment would have seen Edinburgh join a global movement of universities and numerous other forward-thinking organisations in divorcing itself from the tightening grip of the fossil fuel industry.

The University of Edinburgh came down firmly on the side of departments funded by the industry which have been scaremongering throughout the process

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have revealed, for example, that the university’s Geosciences Department has received funding from a range of fossil fuel companies over the past 10 years, including BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips, as well as grants and gifts of money from Total and Cairn Energy.

Sixty-five students in the university’s School of Engineering have already signed an open letter to the Head of the School, Prof Hugh McCann, angered by his public opposition to fossil fuel divestment.

Their letter states: “The School of Engineering has and will continue to have a pivotal role in the university’s future. It is after all engineers who will be on the frontlines of the transition to a low carbon society.

“By basing its argument against divestment on engineering students’ chances of employment in one dead-end industry, the school appears to be failing to prepare its students for careers in the rapidly changing energy markets of the 21st century, whilst neglecting the faculty’s broader responsibility to the student body as a whole. As a consequence, they gamble employment against our common future.”

Divesting is a way of taking on and dismantling the big fossil fuel companies and the power they hold over our society and governments. We rightly condemn companies that do not pay their taxes or who exploit their workers, and so we must do this to the companies who are threatening our very existence.

Divestment is also about creating more democratic institutions where those who are part of universities can have a say in how their money is spent and invested. The university’s announcement has shown that we still have a long way to go in creating transparent, democratic and ethical institutions. It brings into question the validity of the university’s decision-making process.

For the past three years, students, staff and alumni have supported full divestment – yet the University of Edinburgh has ignored their calls. The consultation run by the university found staff, students and the public in favour of ethical investment. A year later we still have zero commitment to change.

A process which began with promise has been allowed to descend into a complete breakdown in communication between students and the university. Serious questions need to be asked about why the decision was taken in favour of the views from the university’s Department of Geosciences, which freely admits its vested interested in maintaining the status quo for financial reasons.

The University of Edinburgh needs to invest in alternatives to dirty and unhealthy energy sources. These alternatives will create new jobs, so that when the fossil fuel industry ceases to exist there is something to replace it and our students are trained to work in it.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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The U.N. at 70: Is It Still Fit for the Purpose?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 11:48:04 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140625 A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Events are being organised around the world to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, but a recent seminar held in the Austrian capital was not held to applaud the body’s past contributions.

Rather, the 45th International Peace Institute (IPI) Seminar, held from May 6 to 7,  saw representatives from the political, NGO, media and military sectors come together to discuss the organisation’s capability to deal with the crises and challenges of the future.

There was consensus among participants that the difficulties in the realms of international peace and security are very different today from those that dominated the international community at the time of the foundation of the United Nations in 1945.The global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard

Not only has the number of member states quadrupled since then, the global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard.

At the same time, the planet is afflicted by other threats that do not stop at national borders, such as climate change, pandemics and wars, which have global dimensions and are extremely difficult to contain in our globalised world.

As Martin Nesirky, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Vienna, put it: “The UN grew from the ashes of World War Two and there has been no global conflict since then, but neither has there been global peace.”

This year, debate about reform of the United Nations comes at a time that represents a possibility for change and action on two major fronts.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), although they have not yet been fully realised, are being pushed forward in the spirit of adapting a new development agenda in the form of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Furthermore, there are hopes that a global agreement on climate change will finally be reached in Paris in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

According to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, “this is not just another year, this is the chance to change the course of history.”

However, the not all participants at the IPI seminar were convinced that the United Nations could fulfil its destined role without adapting to the fast changing circumstances that shape the world community.

A hotly debated issue was the long demanded reform of the U.N. Security Council and the power of veto held by its five permanent members – China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russian Federation – which were said not to represent the world community.

Some participants noted that the current geopolitical situation is marked by a breakdown of power relations which have complicated the work of the United Nations enormously.

Richard Gowan, Research Director at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), expressed his concern about the escalation of power struggles in recent years.

“Tensions between Russia and the West, and to some extent China and the West, have severely impaired the UN’s ability to deal with the Syrian crisis and stopped the UN having a serious role in the Ukrainian crisis altogether.”

He called for resolution of ongoing geopolitical competition to enable the United Nations to regain the strength to deal with pressing crises” and warned that “if the Security Council breaks down, the rest of the UN will ultimately break down.”

Meanwhile, as the world faces the most severe refugee crisis since the Second World War, it was stressed that the proper functionality of international institutions – and of the United Nations in particular – is of the highest importance. More than 53 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced today, a figure equal to the entire population of South Korea.

The last tragic incidents of hundreds of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean have shown that the international community is failing to ensure the security of those seeking a safe future in Europe. “Desperation has no measure and no cost,” said Louise Aubin, Deputy Director of the Department of International Protection at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

During her work for the U.N. refugee agency, Aubin came face to face with the situation of the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, situated some 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border, which houses an estimated 500,000 Somali refugees, some of whom are third generation born in the camp.

“It’s impossible for me to explain as a parent that I would actually accept that situation,” Aubin said.” There is no way I would not do anything in my power to try to send my children somewhere else. And that somewhere else is across the Mediterranean.”

In the light of the recent tragedies suffered by refugees, participants said that it is necessary to create safe access to asylum in order for refugees to enjoy the rights that are theirs under international law.

It is clear that this responsibility does not lie only with the United Nations, they agreed, pointing to the role of the European Union in dealing with refugee flows.

However, both the United Nations and the European Union are only as strong as their member states allow them to be.

If the UN at 70 turns out not be fit for the purpose, it has to take immediate measures to become so – otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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EU to Focus on Human Smuggling Amid Mediterranean Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-to-focus-on-human-trafficking-amid-mediterranean-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-to-focus-on-human-trafficking-amid-mediterranean-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-to-focus-on-human-trafficking-amid-mediterranean-crisis/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 23:32:02 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140566 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 2015 (IPS)

Speaking at the U.N. Security Council, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, called on the international community to take urgent steps to end the Mediterranean crisis and dismantle the human smuggling rings that facilitate it.

”The EU is united and we will work, but we cannot work alone. We need to share and act together, as it’s a EU responsibility and a global responsibility,” said Mogherini

In 2014, 3,300 migrants died while fleeing their countries of origin to enter Europe. Three people out of four perished in the Mediterranean Sea, and 2015 looks set to be even worse, added Mogherini.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) about 60,000 men, women and children have crossed the Mediterranean this year, and 1,800 of them have tragically died during the journey.

“Saving lives and preventing the loss of lives at sea is a top responsibility that we all share, not only as Europeans but globally,” Mogherini said at the Council briefing, adding that an exceptional situation requires an immediate strategy to solve the crisis.

The Mediterranean problem is a structural problem rooted in poverty, increasing inequality, conflicts and human rights violations in African and Middle Eastern countries and beyond, including the situation in Syria, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, said the European High Representative.

Also speaking at the Council was Antonio Tete, Permanent Representative Observer of the African Union to the U.N., who underlined that smuggling of migrants has emerged due to several factors that lead people in many African countries to escape from abject poverty, climate change, water scarcity, insufficient progress in employment and rising inequality.

Since April, the EU has been collaborating with the African Union in countries such as Tunisia, Niger, Mali, Sudan, but also with Egypt given the situation in Syria and Iraq, in order to strengthen cooperation and dialogue on a regional and international level.

“This humanitarian emergency is also a security crisis, since smuggling networks are linked to finance and terrorist activities, which contributes to instability in a region that is already unstable enough,” Mogherini said.

If the international community fails to frame its response to the crisis, it will be a “moral failure,” said Peter Sutherland, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration.

On May 13, the European Commission will present a new agenda on migration, drafted by member countries in April.

The EU is also calling for a U.N. resolution in order to disrupt smugglers’ networks and business by destroying vessels before their use, in accordance with international law.

On May 18, EU member states will discuss the possibility of launching a naval operation, in the framework of the EU common security and defence policy, Mogherini said.

“But we want to work with the U.N. Security Council and with the UNHCR […] we need a (global) partnership if we want to end this tragedy,” she said.

A military operation in the Mediterranean was rejected by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his last visit to Italy, who called it “potentially dangerous for migrants and local fishermen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Migrants Between Scylla and Charybdishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/migrants-between-scylla-and-charybdis-2/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 11:13:22 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140545 Mohammed (left) and Ahmed, two Somali migrants who survived crossing the Mediterranean and are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, although they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Credit:  Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Mohammed (left) and Ahmed, two Somali migrants who survived crossing the Mediterranean and are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, although they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
AUGUSTA, Syracuse, Italy , May 11 2015 (IPS)

Not even a month has passed since over 700 hundred migrants lost their lives in their attempt to reaching the shores of Italy and the media spotlights have already faded on the island of Sicily, Italy’s southern region and main gateway to Europe.

Yet, the migration flows have not stopped.

Five days ago, on May 3, 300 people arrived in the port of Augusta, in the province of Syracuse, and among them were 19-year-old Ahmed and 22-year-old Mohammed.“That boat trip was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m here, I’m OK and it will get better now” – Mohammed, a Somali migrant who survived crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italy

Both come from Somalia but they met in Libya, where they had worked for several months in order to save enough money to pay the smugglers running the traffic in migrants across the Mediterranean.

Ahmed and Mohammed are now hosted in one of Syracuse’s first aid and reception centres, but they are not planning to remain in Italy for long. Ahmed wants to go to Belgium, where some of his relatives already live, while Mohammed hopes to continue his trip towards Germany.

Crossing the Mediterranean was frightening, but they seem to have left all of their fears on the Libyan shores and their eyes are full of hope for the future.

“The sight of the sea from Libya was so scary, but when I look at it from here, it’s beautiful again,” says Ahmed, who is hoping to be able to study in Europe and become a doctor.

For Mohammed, “that boat trip was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I’m here, I’m OK and it will get better now.”

Before leaving Libya, Ahmed had heard about the tragedy of the 700 who lost their lives, but that did not stop him because, he says, the risks are higher in Somalia than on the boats.

“The weather has been bad these days, but look how calm the sea is today,” a carabiniere standing in front of the centre told IPS. “We are getting ready for many, many more to arrive.”

Despite the fact that more than 25,000 migrants have already made it to Italy this year, the actual ‘migration season’ is just about to start. Meanwhile, Europe is lurching to answer southern European states’ request for help.

Currently, the Mediterranean is patrolled under Operation Triton, a border security operation conducted by Frontex, the European Union’s border security agency, which aims to deter migrants. Operation Triton replaced Operation Mare Nostrum, which had been a broader Italian search and rescue initiative.

During an extraordinary European summit on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean held on Apr. 23, E.U. leaders agreed to triple funding for rescue operations in the Mediterranean, but this is far from being the ‘European solution’ to the migration crisis.

“Of course more capacity and more boats and early detection by planes increase the possibility of saving more people,” the Frontex press officer in Catania, Ewa Moncure, told IPS.

“But even with the best efforts, if people are put on these boats and sent to sea with no safety equipment, with not enough water, then nobody can guarantee that they will be found on time and that the rescue services will save everybody, because that would be simply a lie.”

While E.U. leaders continue to discuss possible naval blocks off Libyan territorial waters and southern European states try to open a debate on quotas of refugees to be shared among all member states, local authorities and Sicilian citizens are left with the task of handling the first aid and reception operations.

Augusta, a town of around 40,000 inhabitants, is one of the main bases of the Italian Navy in Sicily and it served as the headquarters of the Mare Nostrum operation, until it ended in October 2014.

Between April and October 2014, the town also hosted an emergency centre for unaccompanied minors, raising concerns and complaints of around 2,000 people who signed a petition to move the centre somewhere else and to propose naval blocks at the departure ports.

“This petition suggested exonerating from the allocation of migrants those municipalities that already suffer from economic insolvency and high unemployment levels, as is the case of Augusta,” Pietro Forestiere, local spokesperson for the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party and one of the initiators of the petition, explained to IPS.

“The logic behind it is that you cannot ask someone who is already struggling to deliver proper services to its citizens to take care of migrant reception as well.”

The emergency centre of Augusta was eventually closed in October, but its example could be easily extended to the whole region, which suffers from the highest levels of poverty and the second highest unemployment rate in the whole of Italy.

Yet, despite the voices calling for strong action against immigration, it is very common to hear people in Augusta sympathise with the migrants, especially when it comes to refugees.

“They are made of flesh and blood, just like us. We simply can’t let them drown,” Alfonso, who owns a stand in the fish market, told IPS. “They are escaping war and poverty. If we can’t prevent them from coming, once they approach the coast, we must help them.”

Most citizens in Sicily do not appear to fear future arrivals. The problem is rather the feeling of being abandoned in handling the situation, as a customer at the market pointed out:

“This is a port, we have always been used to seeing foreigners around. The impact on our daily life is quite limited. Yet, something needs to be done, not so much for us but rather to help them, and we can’t do it on our own. This is a European – if not global – issue, and Europe must act.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Caribbean Looks to Paris Climate Summit for Its Very Survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 20:50:22 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140534 French President François Hollande and President of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

French President François Hollande and President of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, May 9 2015 (IPS)

Caribbean leaders on Saturday further advanced their policy position on climate change ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties, also known as COP 21, scheduled for Paris during November and December of this year.

The position of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), 14 independent countries, was put forward by the group’s chairman, Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, during a meeting here with French President François Hollande.“For the Bahamas, which has 80 percent of its land mass within one metre of mean sea level, climate change is an existential threat." -- Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie

“The evidence of the impact of climate change within our region is very evident. Grenada saw a 300 percent loss of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a result of one storm,” Christie told IPS

“We see across CARICOM, an average of two to five percent loss of growth due to hurricanes and tropical process which occur annually.

“For the Bahamas, which has 80 percent of its land mass within one metre of mean sea level, climate change is an existential threat to our land mass. Indeed, that is the story across the region. And as I have said from place to place, if the sea level rises some five feet in the Bahamas, 80 percent of the Bahamas as we know it will disappear. The stark reality of that means, we are here to talk about survival,” Christie added.

The Caribbean Community comprises the Bahamas, Belize, Barbados, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the member states of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Saturday’s summit gathered more than 40 heads of state, governments and Caribbean organisations to discuss the impact of climate change on the nations of the region.

The president of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy, said the summit goal is to give a voice to Caribbean nations on climate change through a joint statement, to be called “The Martinique Appeal”, to be heard at COP 21.

“Caribbean Climate 2015 is a push,” said Letchimy, “to vigorously encourage the international community to reach an agreement at COP21 to keep global warming below 2 degrees C. This is a crucial goal for Caribbean island nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change and which only contribute 0.3 percent of global greenhouse emissions.”

Letchimy said Martinique is addressing the climate issue by aggressively implementing the Climate, Air and Energy Master Plan developed in cooperation with the French government.

In order to promote a more circular economy that consumes less non-renewable resources, the Regional Council of Martinique has also decided to go beyond the Master Plan with a programme called “Martinique – Sustainable Island.” The goal is to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy mix by 2030.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said climate change is having a huge impact on the environment of his country, which in turn impacts on agriculture and the country’s eco-system.

“As you know we promote heavily ecotourism, and if action is not taken by the international community to halt greenhouse gas emissions we’re going to have a serious challenge,” Skerrit told IPS.

“We’re a coastal country and as the years go by you are seeing an erosion of the coastal landscape. You have a lot of degradation taking place. That has resulted in us spending tremendous sums of money to mitigate against that.

“Clearly, small countries like Dominica, and indeed the entire OECS do not have the kind of resources required to mitigate against climate change. We are the least contributors but we are the most affected,” Skerrit explained.

He said that out of this summit, Caribbean countries are hoping for a partnership with France to drum up support for the concerns of small island states like those in the OECS.

For the director general of the OECS, Dr. Didicus Jules, the impacts of climate change can be seen everywhere across the region, ranging from the rapid onslaught events like floods in St. Lucia, to the severity of hurricanes and erosion of beaches.

“It’s beginning to pose a huge threat as we saw in the case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The last event there, the damage was equivalent of about more than 20 percent of their GDP,” he told IPS.

“So just a simple event can set us back so drastically and that is why the member states are so concerned because these events have all kinds of downstream impacts on the economy, not just the damage and loss caused by the events themselves.”

OECS Director General Dr. Didicus Jules. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

OECS Director General Dr. Didicus Jules. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The trough on Dec. 24, 2013 brought torrential rains, death and destruction not only to St. Vincent and the Grenadines but to St. Lucia and Dominica as well.

In the last three years, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been forced to spend more than 600 million dollars to rebuild its battered infrastructure. Landslides in April 2011, followed by the December 2013 floods left 13 people dead.

Jules said today’s meeting is unprecedented because France will be the chair of the COP meeting in Paris and it is perhaps the largest international event that the French president himself will personally chair.

COP21 will seek a new international agreement on the climate with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C. France and the European Union will play key roles in securing a consensus by the United Nations in these critical climate negotiations.

“He (President Hollande) wants this to be a success and use the opportunity to champion the voices of small island states given the French Republic’s presence in the OECS we felt that it was really a useful forum for having the voice of the Caribbean in this wider sense heard,” Jules said.

“That’s one of the reasons that we are now pressing hard with the French authorities to champion the cause of small island states so that the larger countries, those who are the biggest causes of the impacts on the environment take heed to what the scientists are saying.”

The CARICOM chairman said a satisfactory and binding agreement in Paris must include five essential elements.

These are, clarity on ambitious targets for developed countries, including a long-term goal for significant emission reductions; clarity on the adaptation measures and resources required to facilitate and enhance the sustainable development plans and programmes in small developing countries and thereby significantly reduce the level of poverty in these countries; and clarity on measures and mechanisms to address the development challenges associated with climate change, sea level rise and loss and damage for small island and low-lying coastal developing states.

Christie said it must also include clarity on how the financial and technological support both for mitigation and adaptation will be generated and disbursed to small developing countries.

“Further, it must be recognised that the existing widespread practice of using Gross Domestic Product per capita as the primary basis for access to resources simply does not address the reality of the vulnerability of our countries,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Bursting of Europe’s Biofuels Bubblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-bursting-of-europes-biofuels-bubble/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-bursting-of-europes-biofuels-bubble http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-bursting-of-europes-biofuels-bubble/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 08:01:47 +0000 Robbie Blake http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140505 Palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Palm plantations are being used for the production of biofuel under the guise of a new source of ‘green’ fuel, often displacing local communities and eradicating forests. Photo credit: Clare McVeigh/Down To Earth

Palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Palm plantations are being used for the production of biofuel under the guise of a new source of ‘green’ fuel, often displacing local communities and eradicating forests. Photo credit: Clare McVeigh/Down To Earth

By Robbie Blake
BRUSSELS, May 9 2015 (IPS)

Last week, the European Union reached a momentous decision to finally agree a reform to its disastrous biofuels legislation, signalling Europe’s U-turn on the burning of crops for biofuels.

In so doing, the European body has recognised what NGOs and scientists have long been warning – that using food and agricultural crops for transport fuel causes major side effects, including food price hikes and volatility, hunger, forest destruction, expanded land consumption, and climate change.“Using food and agricultural crops for transport fuel causes major side effects, including food price hikes and volatility, hunger, forest destruction, expanded land consumption, and climate change”

Six years of political wrangling has ultimately boiled down to a few percentage points. The European Union decided to limit biofuels from food crops like maize, rapeseed, soy and palm oil to 7 percent of transport energy in 2020 (compared with an expected 8.6 percent business as usual).

If that doesn’t sound much (and it should have gone further, given that it still means increasing consumption beyond today’s levels), it is worth knowing that this prevents emissions of an estimated 320 million tonnes of CO2 – equal to the total carbon emissions of a country like Poland in 2012.

The European Union has moreover committed to end policies and subsidies supporting crop-based biofuels after 2020.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) first heard that policies to incentivise biofuels might be causing serious problems a decade ago. Back then, biofuels were hyped as a silver bullet – backed by big agricultural industry interests and as an easy ‘drop-in’ alternative to fossil fuels.

But FoE partners in Indonesia, Paraguay, Brazil and elsewhere began reporting a pattern of massive new plantation developments for sugar cane, oil palm and soy, under the guise of a new source of ‘green’ fuel. These began to displace local communities and eradicate forests – and continue to do so today.

Meanwhile, studies began to show that many biofuels were helping to drive – not prevent – climate change. Extensive scientific research now shows that, on balance, diverting crops to fuel our transport often does more to contribute to climate change than to combat it, due to the deforestation that goes hand-in-hand with large-scale expansion of agricultural land for biofuels.

The results were also disastrous for food. In 2011, a global report on food price volatility by organisations including the OECD, the World Bank, FAO, and the IMF recommended that “governments remove provisions of current national policies that subsidize (or mandate) biofuels production or consumption.”

By turning its back on these biofuels, Europe sends a strong signal to global markets that the biofuels bubble has burst.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. Many countries, rightly or wrongly, see the European Union as a global leader on policies to tackle climate change, and are likely to follow this example in their own biofuels policies. The European Union is also the world’s biggest producer and importer of biodiesel, so this decision will be noticed on world biofuels and commodity markets.

Biofuels-producing countries should take note. Indonesia recently announced plans for new subsidies to expand biofuels plantations in Indonesian forests – which now seems like a serious misstep.

E.U. governments will now have to implement this reform, and they must set the course for phasing out the misguided blending of food crops into Europeans’ fuel tanks altogether. They should next take stock and ensure that other forms of bioenergy (for example, burning wood for electricity) do not cause unintended harm for citizens, the environment and the climate.

And to truly and effectively reduce carbon emissions from transport, they must urgently adopt readily available options like reducing fuel demand in cars, making trains and public transport better and cheaper, speeding up the electrification of our transport systems, and incentives to get people cycling and walking.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Living the Indigenous Way, from the Jungles to the Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 01:31:09 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140486 This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8 2015 (IPS)

In the course of human history many tens of thousands of communities have survived and thrived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Scores of these largely self-sustaining traditional communities continue to this day in remote jungles, forests, mountains, deserts, and in the icy regions of the North. A few remain completely isolated from modern society.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 370 million indigenous people are spread out over 70 countries worldwide. Between them, they speak over 5,000 languages.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction." -- Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
But as the fingers of economic development reach into ever more distant corners of the globe, many of these communities find themselves – and their way of life – under threat.

The march of progress means that efforts are being made both to extract the resources on which these communities rely and to ‘mainstream’ indigenous groups by introducing Western medical, educational and economic systems into traditional ways of life.

“There are two uncontacted communities near my home but there is the threat of oil exploration. They don’t want this. For them, taking the oil out of the ground is like taking blood out of their bodies,” Moi Enomenga, a Waorani who was born into an uncontacted community, told IPS.

The Waorani are an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador, in an area of oil drilling activity. No one knows how long they existed before the first encounter with Europeans in the late 1600s.

“Indigenous peoples will continue to work in our communities to strengthen our cultures and resist exploitation of our territories,” Enomenga stressed.

Although Ecuador has ratified the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants communities the right to consultation on extractive projects that impact their customary land, organisations say that mining and oil drilling projects have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to uphold these rights, and spurred protests by indigenous peoples.

Ecovillages: a step towards an indigenous lifestyle

Despite their long history all indigenous and local communities are under intense pressure to be part a globalised economic system that offers some benefits but too often destroys their land and culture.

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

Worse, it’s a system that is unsustainable, and has produced global threats including climate change, and biodiversity crises.

In the past four decades alone, the numbers of animals, birds, reptiles and fish on the Earth has declined 52 percent; 95 percent of coral reefs are in danger of dying out due to pollution, coastal development and overfishing; and only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activity have increased the global average temperature 0.85 degrees Celsius and will go much higher, threatening human civilization unless emissions are sharply reduced.

Modern western culture has only been in existence some 200 years and it’s clearly unsustainable, according to Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

For 20 years GEN has helped thousands of villages, urban neighbourhoods and intentional communities live better and lighter on the Earth.

“Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have,” Davies said in an interview with IPS.

GEN communities have high quality, low impact ways of living with some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialised world.

Findhorn Ecovillage in the United Kingdom is one of the best known and has half the ecological footprint of the UK national average.

It includes 100 ecologically-benign buildings, supplies energy from four wind turbines, and features solar water heating, a biological Living Machine waste water treatment system and a car-sharing club that includes electric vehicles and more.

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Ecovillages aren’t about technology. They are locally owned, socially conscious communities using participatory ways to enhance the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life.

Senegal has 45 ecovillages and recently launched an ambitious effort to turn more than 14,000 villages into ecovillages with full community participation.

Among its members, GEN counts the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya, a rural network that includes 2,000 active sustainable villages in the island nation of 20 million people.

“This is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples,” Davies said.

Simple communities, not big development projects

Life is hard for mountain-dwelling communities, especially as the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, according to Matthew Tauli, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the mountainous region of the Philippines.

“We need small, simple things, not big economic development projects like big dams or mining projects,” Tauli told IPS.

The Philippines is home to an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the population of 98 million people. A huge number of these peoples face threats to their traditional ways of life, particularly as a result of forcible displacement from, or destruction of, their ancestral lands, according to the United Nations.

As everywhere in the world, communities from the Northern Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines, to Mindanao, a large island in the south, are fighting hard to resist destructive forms of development.

Their struggles find echo in other parts of the region, particular in countries like India, home to 107 million tribal people, referred to locally as Adivasis.

“We resisted the government’s efforts to make us grow plantations and plant the same crops over wide areas,” K. Pandu Dora, an Adivasi from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told IPS.

Andhra Pradesh is home to over 49 million people. According to the 2011 census, scheduled tribes constituted 5.3 percent of the total population, amounting to just under three million people.

Dora’s people live on hilltops in forests where they practice shifting cultivation, working intimately with the cycles of nature.

Neighbouring tribes that followed government experts’ advice to adopt modern agricultural methods with chemical fertilisers and monocultures are suffering terribly, Dora said through a translator.

With over 70 percent of the state’s tribal and farming communities living below the poverty line, unsustainable agricultural practices represent a potential disaster for millions of people.

Already, climate change is wreaking havoc on planting and harvesting practices, disrupting the natural cycles that rural communities are accustomed to.

Unlike the farmers stuck in government-sponsored programmes, however, Dora’s people have responded by increasing the diversity of their crops, and remain confident in their capacity to innovate.

“We will find our own answers,” he said.

In drought-stricken Kenya, small farmers who relied on a diverse selection of crops continue to do well according to Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya.

“Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry,” Mangu told IPS as he described a local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land, which has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs.

It is this diversity, mainly from local varieties that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, that have buffered Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, he said.

Nearly half of Kenya’s 44 million people live below the poverty line, the vast majority of them in rural areas of the central and western regions of the country.

Embracing traditional farming methods could play a huge role in improving incomes, health and food security across the country’s vast agricultural belt, but the government has yet to make a move in this direction.

Protecting the people who protect the Earth

Traditional knowledge and a holistic culture is a key part of the longevity of many indigenous peoples. The Quechua communities in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, for instance, have used their customary laws to manage more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes.

“To have potatoes, there must be land, people to work it, a culture to support the people, Mother Earth and the mountain gods,” Alejandro Argumedo, a program director at the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), told IPS.

The communities developed their own agreement for sharing the benefits derived from these crops, based on traditional principles. Potatoes are more than food; they are a cultural symbol and important to all aspects of life for the Quechua, said Argumedo.

But preserving this way of life is no easy undertaking in Peru, where 632 native communities lack the titles to their land.

For Mexican Zapotec indigenous communities located in the Sierra Norte Mountains of central Mexico, there is no private property.

Rather than operating their community-owned forest industry to maximise profits, the Zapotec communities focus on job creation, reducing emigration to cities and enhancing the overall wellbeing of the community.

Protecting and managing their forestlands for many generations into the future is considered part of the community obligation.

Local people run virtually everything in the community as part of their ‘duties’ as community members. This includes being part of administration, neighbourhood, school and church committees, performing all vital roles from community policeman to municipal president.

What makes this all work is communal trust, deeply shared values that arise from long experience and knowledge, said David Barton Bray, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

“These kinds of communities will be more important in the years to come because they can address vital issues that the state and the market cannot,” Bray told IPS back in 2010.

Around the world the best-protected forests are under the care of indigenous peoples, said Estebancio Castro Diaz of the Kuna Nation in southeastern Panama. More than 90 percent of the forests controlled by the Kuna people, for instance, are still standing.

This does not hold true for the rest of Panama, which lost over 14 percent of its forest cover in just two decades, between 1990 and 2010.

“The forest is a supermarket for us, it is not just about timber. There are also broad benefits to the larger society for local control of forests,” Diaz said.

Since trees absorb climate-heating carbon dioxide, healthy forests represent an important tool in fighting climate change. Forests under control of local peoples absorb 37 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told IPS.

“In Guatemala forests managed by local people have 20 times less deforestation than those managed by the state, in Brazil it is 11 times lower,” said Tauli Corpuz.

However many governments neither recognise indigenous land tenure rights nor their traditional ways of managing forests, she added.

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

The overarching issue when it comes to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss and living sustainably requires changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she asserted.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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EU Calls for Paradigm Shift in Development Cooperationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-calls-for-paradigm-shift-in-development-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-calls-for-paradigm-shift-in-development-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-calls-for-paradigm-shift-in-development-cooperation/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 11:05:05 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140455 The European Commission is calling for SDGs to address poverty eradication and sustainable development together in three dimensions – economic, social and environmental. Photo credit: UNFPA Sudan

The European Commission is calling for SDGs to address poverty eradication and sustainable development together in three dimensions – economic, social and environmental. Photo credit: UNFPA Sudan

By Ramesh Jaura
BRUSSELS, May 5 2015 (IPS)

In the run-up to the international Conference on Financing for Development from Jul. 13 to 16 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the European Union has called for a “true paradigm shift” in global development cooperation.

The Addis Ababa conference will be followed by the U.N. post-2015 Summit in New York and the Climate Change conference in Paris in December. “These meetings will define our future and will set the level of ambition of the international community for the years and decades to come,” according to European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica.

The Addis Ababa conference on development financing in July and the Paris climate conference in December offer a “once in a lifetime” opportunity “to end poverty, achieve shared prosperity, transform economies, protect the environment, promote peace and ensure the respect of human rights” – Neven Mimica, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development
This, Mimica believes, offers a “once in a lifetime” opportunity “to end poverty, achieve shared prosperity, transform economies, protect the environment, promote peace and ensure the respect of human rights.”

The European Commission, which represents the interests of the 28-nation European Union, believes that the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be agreed in New York in September should not only cover “traditional” development challenges such as poverty, health and education, but go much further and address poverty eradication and sustainable development together in three dimensions – economic, social and environmental.

The Commission is pleading for “moving towards a universal agenda”. This means that the goals and targets to be agreed in New York will apply to all countries, challenging them to achieve progress domestically, while contributing to the global effort. “Such a far-reaching agenda can only be delivered through a true global partnership,” said Mimica.

The E.U. Development Commissioner is backed by an eminent group of experts from Finland. France, Germany and Luxembourg, who have authored the fifth edition of the European Report on Development (ERD), which focuses on ‘Combining Finance and Policies to Implement a Transformative post-2015 Development Agenda’.

Mimica wants the agenda to serve to mobilise action by all countries and stakeholders at all levels: governments, private sector and civil society, all of which would need to play their part.

The key message of the ERD report, launched on May 4, is that policy and finance go together and that they are both crucial to implement a transformative post-2015 development agenda.

Based on existing evidence and specific country experiences, the report shows that finance alone is not enough – it seldom reaches the intended objectives, unless it is accompanied by complementary policies, the right combination of financing and enabling policies, says the report.

According to Mimica, “the findings and analysis contained in the report provide a most valuable research-based contribution to the debate, particularly in view of the Addis Conference on Financing for Development – but also beyond”.

“In this crucial year for international development cooperation, the 2015 European Report on Development can serve as a key point of reference, not just for the European Union, but for the international community at large,” Mimica said at the launching of the report.

The findings of the report are in line with three major guidelines which would drive the E.U. Commission’s action to implement the new development agenda:

  • if it is not sustainable, it is not development
  • if it is not resilient, it is not development
  • if it is without women, it is not development

In many ways, the report complements and supports the work of the Commission in advocating a comprehensive approach to the means of implementation for the post-2015 development agenda. At the same time, it challenges the Commission to keep pushing our thinking forward, said Mimica.

The significance of the report is underlined by the fact that the European Union as a whole has consistently remained the biggest global aid donor, even in times of significant budgetary constraints.

According to latest figures, the European Union’s collective official development assistance (ODA) (by E.U. institutions and member states) has increased to Euro 58.2 billion (up by 2.4 percent from 2013) – growing for the second year in a row, and reaching its highest nominal level to date. Collective European Union ODA represented 0.42 percent of E.U. gross national income (GNI) in 2014.

A 0.7 percent ODA/GNI target was formally recognised in October 1970  when the U.N. General  Assembly adopted a resolution including the goal that “each economically advanced country will progressively increase its official  development  assistance  to  the  developing  countries  and  will  exert  its  best  efforts  to  reach  a minimum net amount of 0.7 percent of its gross national product at market prices by the middle of the decade.”

To date, the target has not been achieved but it has been repeatedly re-endorsed at the highest level at international aid and development conferences.

“We are committed to playing our full part in all aspects of the post-2015 agenda, including means of implementation,” Mimica stressed.

He added: “In our February Communication [on a Global Partnership for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development after 2015], the Commission was very clear. We proposed to the Member States a collective E.U. re-commitment to the 0.7 ODA/GNI target – and we hope indeed that there will be agreement amongst Member States on this ahead of Addis.”

Official development assistance will certainly remain important in a post-2015 context – in particular for the least developed countries (LDCs), according to Mimica.

“At the same time, we expect other partners – including other developed economies and emerging actors – to also contribute their fair share. The efforts of the European Union alone will not be enough.”

Aware that this is a rather controversial issue, he added: “To be able to speak of an ambitious outcome in Addis and New York, we will all need to raise our level of ambition. The EU is ready to engage with all partners to achieve this. We have been active and constructive in the negotiations so far, and we will continue to do so, taking a responsible, bridge-building approach.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Healthy Diets for Healthy Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:21:49 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140410

In this column, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), writes that in the last 50 years life expectancy has increased almost everywhere but has been accompanied by a rise in so-called non-communicable diseases which are increasingly causing deaths worldwide. The author says that much of the increase can be attributed to unhealthy diets, and takes the diets of Japan and the Mediterranean area as examples to follow for achieving higher life expectancy.

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, May 5 2015 (IPS)

In the last half-century, people’s lifestyles have changed dramatically. Life expectancy has risen almost everywhere, but this has been accompanied by an increase of so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, and diabetes – causing more and more deaths in all corners of the world.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

My distinguished colleague Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has called the worldwide rise of NCDs a “slow-motion catastrophe”. If NCDs were once considered the scourge of the developed world, this is no longer true; they now disproportionally affect low- and middle-income countries where nearly three-quarters of NCD deaths – 28 million per year – occur.

Much of the rise of NCDs can be attributed to unhealthy diets. WHO estimates that 2.7 million deaths every year are attributable to diets low in fruits and vegetables. Globally unhealthy diets are estimated to cause about 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancer, 31 percent of ischaemic heart disease, and 11 percent of strokes, thus making diet-related NCDs one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide.

In other words, diet determines health – just as bad diets can lead to disease, healthy diets can contribute to good health.

But what exactly is a healthy diet? This is a difficult question. Generally, a healthy diet must provide the right nutrients in the right balance and with sufficient diversity, limiting the intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy requirements, and keeping salt intake to less than 5 grams per day.“There is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences”

However, there is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences. For over 20 years, FAO, together with WHO, has worked with governments on national Food-Based Dietary Guidelines: short, science-based, tips on healthy eating, in accordance with local values, customs and tradition.

Healthy meals do not always taste or look the same. Take, for example, the Mediterranean and Japanese diets: very healthy and completely different.

The Mediterranean diet revolves around the consumption of legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish, and moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt). It emphasises unprocessed, plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in addition to the consumption of beans, nuts, cereals and other seeds; olive oil is the main source of (unsaturated) fat.

Japanese cuisine, on the other hand, is often associated with sushi (raw fish with rice), and sashimi (fresh raw seafood). The Japanese diet emphasises at least seven ingredients: fish as a major source of protein; vegetables including daikon radish and sea vegetables; rice; soya (tofu, miso, soya sauce); noodles; fruit; and tea (preferably green).

The Japanese and Mediterranean diets are examples of healthy diets. They use a great variety of ingredients; they are rich in plant foods including vegetables and fruit, legumes and fibres; they are modest in red meat; and they utilise many natural herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour food.

Both diets are linked to peoples and cultures as much as to their natural environment: it therefore comes as no surprise that both the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet have made it onto UNESCO’s World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

The health benefits of the Japanese and Mediterranean diets are promising. Japanese enjoy one of the longest average life spans in the world – 87 years for women and 80 for men. In Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain, women have a life expectancy of 85 years. The figure for Italian men is 80 years, the same as their Japanese counterparts. All of them are above the average of high-income countries: 82 years for women and 76 years for men.

Medical research also indicate that that the Japanese diet leads to the lowest prevalence in the world of obesity – only 2.9% for Japanese women – and other chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart ailments and some cancers. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet, if followed for a number of years, is known to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

In sum, adhering to a healthy diet helps you to not only to live longer, but also to have a better quality of life. Conversely, a bad diet causes malnutrition and can expose you to a range of NCDs.

A modern paradox is that many countries – including developing countries – suffer from undernourishment on the one hand, and obesity and diet-related diseases on the other. And while FAO’s chief concern is to eradicate hunger in this world, we cannot separate food security from nutrition. FAO – together with our U.N. agencies – considers food and nutrition security a basic human right.

In all cases, the cost of malnutrition goes beyond the health of the individual: it affects society as a whole in terms of public health costs and loss of productivity, and, therefore, is an issue that must be addressed through public and coordinated action.

Last year’s Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), organised jointly by FAO and WHO, sent a clear message in that direction. The two outcome documents of ICN2, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action that commit world leaders to establishing national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and making nutritious diets available to all.

A key message from ICN2 is: governments have a central role to play in creating a healthy food environment to enable people to adopt healthy dietary practices. Yes, it is consumers who choose what to eat, but it is the government’s role to provide the enabling environment that encourages and makes healthy choices possible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Opinion: The West and Its Self-Assumed Right to Intervenehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 16:31:34 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140445

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the West, led by the United States, has taken on itself the right to intervene in the affairs of others and, in the case of the Arab world, has created situations that justify subsequent military interventions which have had a high cost in both human and financial terms.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 4 2015 (IPS)

The ‘West’ is a concept that flourished during the Cold War. Then it was West against East in the form of the Soviet empire. The East was evil against which all democratic countries – read West – were called on to fight.

I recall meeting Elliot Abrams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State during the Ronald Reagan administration, in 1982. He told me that at the point in history, the real West was the United States, with Europe a wavering ally, not really ready to go up to the point of entering into war with the  Soviet Union.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

When I tried to explain to him that the East-West denomination dated back to Roman times, long before the United States even existed, he brushed this aside, saying that the contemporary concept was that of those standing against the Soviet Empire, and the United States was the only power willing to do so.

The Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington. The fact that United States had a manifest destiny and was therefore a spokesperson for humankind and the idea that God was American were the bases of his rhetoric.

In one famous declaration, he went so far as asserting that United States was the only democratic country in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, President George W. Bush took up the Reagan rhetoric again. He declared that he was president because of God, which justified his intervention in Iraq, albeit based on false data about weapons of mass destruction (Abrams was also by his side). Now it turns out that he has an indirect responsibility for the creation of the Islamic State (IS).“The [Ronald] Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington”

All this starts in Iraq.  The first governor at the end of the U.S. invasion was retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner who did not last very long because his ideas about how to reconstruct Iraq were considered too lenient. He was replaced by U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer.

Bremer took two fateful decisions: to eliminate the Iraqi army, and to purge all those who were members of the Baath party from the administration, because they were connected to Saddam Hussein. This left thousands of disgruntled officers and a very inefficient administration.

Now we have learned that the mind behind the creation of IS was a former Iraqi colonel from the secret services of the Iraqi Air Force, Samir Abed Al-Kliifawi. The details of how he planned the takeover over of a part of Iraq (and Syria), have been published by Der Spiegel, which came to have access to documents found after his death. They reveal an organisation which is externally fanatic but internally cold and calculating.

After the invasion of Iraq, he was imprisoned by the Americans, and there he connected with several other imprisoned Iraq officers, all of them Sunnis, and started planning the creation of the Islamic State, which now has a number of former Iraqi army officers in its ranks. Without Bremer’s fateful decision, Al-Kliifawi would probably have continued in the Iraqi army.

What we also have to remember here is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was rendered useless by the Cold War, and many saw its demise. However, it was given the war against Serbia as a new reason for existence, and the concept of the West, embodied in a military alliance, was kept alive.

According to a report by scholars with the ‘Costs of War’ project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the terrible cost of the Iraqi invasion had been 2.2 trillion dollars by 2013, not to speak of 190,000 deaths. If we add Afghanistan, we reach the staggering amount of 4 trillion dollars – compared with the annual 6.4 trillion dollar total budget of all 28 members of the European Union – for “resolution” of the conflict.

One would have thought that after that experience, Europe would have desisted from invading Arab countries and aggravating its difficult internal financial balance sheet. Yet, Europe engaged in the destabilisation of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, leading to the explosion of Jihadists from there, 220,000 deaths and five million refugees.

In the case of Libya, under the prodding of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the United Kingdom’s David Cameron, both for electoral reasons, Europe entered with the aim of eliminating Mu’ammar Gheddafi, then leaving  the country to its destiny. Now thousands of migrants are using Libya in the attempt to reach the shores of Europe and Cameron has decided to ignore any joint European action.

For some reason, Europe always follows United States, without further thinking. The case of Ukraine is the last of those bouts of somnambulism. It has invited Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO, prodding a paranoiac Putin (with the nearly unanimous support of his people), to act to finally stop the ongoing encirclement of the former Soviet republic.

The problem is that Europeans are largely ignorant of the Arab world. A few days ago, Italian police dismantled a Jihadist ring in Bergamo, a town in northern Italy, arresting among others an imam, or preacher, No Italian media took the pain to ascertain which version of Islam he was preaching. All spoke of an Islamic threat, with attacks being planned on the Vatican.

If they had looked with more care, they would have found out that he preached the Wahhabi version of Islam, which is the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and which consider all other Muslims as apostates and infidels. This is very similar to IS, which has adopted its Wahhabi version of Islam, but is a far cry from equating Wahhabism with terrorism – all terrorists may be Wahhabis but not all Wahhabis are terrorists.

Saudi Arabia has already spent 87 billion dollars in promoting Wahhabism, has paid for the creation of 1,500 mosques, all staffed with Wahhabi imams, and continues to spend around three billion dollars a year to finance Jihadist groups in Syria, along with the other Gulf countries. This has made Assad an obliged target for the West, and he has succeeded in his claim: better me than chaos, a chaos that he has been also fomenting.

Now the debate is what to do in Libya and NATO is considering several military options. The stroke of luck this time is that U.S. President Barack Obama does not want to intervene. However, with the 28 countries of the European Union increasingly reclaiming their national sovereignty and seldom agreeing on anything, a military intervention is still in the air.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees try crossing the Mediterranean every day (with the known number of deaths standing at over 20,000 people) to reach Europe, thus strengthening support for Europe’s xenophobic parties which are exploiting popular fear and rejection.

It is a pity that, according to United Nations projections, Europe needs at least an additional 20 million people to continue to be competitive … but this is politically impossible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Opinion: Don’t Sell Sweden’s Vattenfall, Keep Coal in the Groundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-dont-sell-swedens-vattenfall-keep-coal-in-the-ground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-dont-sell-swedens-vattenfall-keep-coal-in-the-ground http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-dont-sell-swedens-vattenfall-keep-coal-in-the-ground/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 07:37:00 +0000 Hanna Leghammar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140397 Vattenfall’s lignite-fired power plant in Jaenschwalde, Germany, is Europe’s fourth biggest CO2 emitter. Credit: ©Paul Langrock/Zenit/Greenpeace

Vattenfall’s lignite-fired power plant in Jaenschwalde, Germany, is Europe’s fourth biggest CO2 emitter. Credit: ©Paul Langrock/Zenit/Greenpeace

By Hanna Leghammar
STOCKHOLM, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

The Swedish government is in the process of pondering an important decision — whether to sell the vast lignite reserves of the state-owned Vattenfall energy giant or ensure that they stay in the ground. The decision will define Sweden’s commitment to tackling climate change.

Just a few days ago, on Apr. 27, Vattenfall stockholders gathered for their Annual General Meeting where the issue of selling the company was high on the agenda, according to Swedish radio station Ekot.“States have a responsibility to start leaving their fossil fuel reserves in the ground. What people all over Sweden and Europe are demanding is not only an end to expansion, but also the action of leaving them untouched” – Annika Jacobson, Greenpeace Sweden

“We are in the middle of a process to sell,” Vattenfall’s executive director Magnus Hall, who hopes to reach a deal already this year, was reported as saying. According to Hall, the Swedish government has given a clear mandate and support to Vattenfall in its plan to sell its ‘dirty’ operations.

‘Vattenfall’ translates into ‘waterfall’ and the company’s logo is an image of a sun and beautiful waves. While it plays on this imagery to build its brand, Vattenfall is emitting huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere every day.

The company’s lignite mines and power plants in Germany – including the Jänschwalde coal power plant which is Europe’s fourth biggest CO2 emitter – are responsible for twice the amount of Sweden’s total annual carbon emissions.

The Swedish government is committed to keeping the rise in global temperature below 2℃ which, at global level, requires leaving 82 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Through Vattenfall, the Swedish state is the owner of more than one billion tonnes of carbon.

Now is the time for Sweden to assume responsibility and ensure that emissions from these unburnable reserves are never released.

Over recent years, Sweden’s actions have shown that it has the potential to play a leading role in transforming our economies to power the renewable future we need. But Vattenfall’s conduct – clinging on to an outdated business model – taints this picture.

Aerial view of Vattenfall’s brown coal (lignite) open pit mine in Jaenschwalde, Germany. Credit: ©Greenpeace/J Henry Fair

Aerial view of Vattenfall’s brown coal (lignite) open pit mine in Jaenschwalde, Germany. Credit: ©Greenpeace/J Henry Fair

When Germany decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Vattenfall faced a major loss of potential profits and sued the German state. The company’s coal operations across Europe are also taking a financial hit as the coal industry worldwide has entered a huge slump. More than half of Vattenfall’s coal power stations are old and particularly polluting.

In the run-up to the Swedish general elections last year, the parties that now make up Sweden’s ruling coalition committed themselves to stop the lignite expansion of Vattenfall, thanks to pressure from Greenpeace and Swedish environmental groups.

“States have a responsibility to start leaving their fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” says Annika Jacobson from Greenpeace Sweden, who has just launched a Europe-wide petition to that effect with partners at 350.org and Skiftet [Democracy in Motion]. “What people all over Sweden and Europe are demanding is not only an end to expansion, but also the action of leaving them untouched.”

In this crucial year for climate action – with the next U.N. Climate Change Conference scheduled in Paris in December – Sweden has the opportunity to raise its head and translate ambition into action by stranding its dirty coal assets.

Not selling Vattenfall and focusing on achieving a just transition to renewable energy would be a bold and unprecedented move by a nation state which has built up its own wealth and climate resilience on a fossil-fuelled economy. This would pose a challenge to other states, considering the impending deflation of the carbon bubble.

If, as Ekot reported, Vattenfall is about to be sold, this would be flying in the face of the overwhelming majority of Swedish people who want strong climate leadership from their government, giving the country the opportunity to act on its moral responsibility to keep fossil fuels underground.

A majority of Germans also want coal to be phased out – and there is fierce resistance to Vattenfall’s lignite mining and power plants in Germany’s Lusatia region.

“The earlier promise by Sweden not to expand lignite mining in Lusatia has given hope to a community of around 3,500 people that faced forced relocations as their villages stood to be destroyed,” says Falk Hermenau, a grassroots activist from Cottbus, the largest town in the region.

“By committing now to keep its coal in the ground, Sweden has the opportunity to be a driving force for a coal phase out in Germany and inject new momentum for climate action across the world,” he argues

The rapidly growing movement against fossil fuel extraction and climate disruption – and a steady flow of news reports indicating the end of the fossil fuel era – have injected a momentum that can change the dynamics in the months before the U.N. climate talks in December.

Any meaningful deal in Paris will need to require all nations to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground – and people from all over the world are demanding this kind of leadership. Sweden can and must lead the way by committing itself not to sell Vattenfall’s lignite operations and rather #keepitintheground.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140382 Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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European Biofuel Bubble Burstshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/european-biofuel-bubble-bursts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-biofuel-bubble-bursts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/european-biofuel-bubble-bursts/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 14:24:17 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140366 By Sean Buchanan
BRUSSELS, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

Ten years of debate in the European Union over the detrimental effects of the demand for biofuels for transport on food prices, hunger, forest destruction, land consumption and climate change have come to an end.

The European Parliament finally agreed new E.U. laws on Apr. 28 to limit the use of crop-based biofuels, setting a limit on the quantity of biofuels that can be used to meet E.U. energy targets.

With Europe the world’s biggest user and importer of biodiesel – from crops such as palm oil, soy and rapeseed – the vote is expected to have a major impact around the world, notably in the European Union’s main international supplier countries Indonesia, Malaysia and Argentina. It is likely to signal the end to the expanding use of food crops for transport fuel.

“Let no-one be in doubt,” said Robbie Blake, Friends of the Earth Europe’s biofuels campaigner, “the biofuels bubble has burst. These fuels do more harm than good for people, the environment and the climate. The EU’s long-awaited move to put the brakes on biofuels is a clear signal to the rest of the world that this is a false solution to the climate crisis. This must spark the end of burning food for fuel.”

With the vote, the European Union has agreed to put a limit on biofuels from agricultural crops at seven percent of E.U. transport energy – with an option for member states to go lower. Before the vote, the expected ‘business as usual’ scenario was for biofuels to account for 8.6 percent of E.U. transport energy by 2020. Current usage stands at 4.7 percent, having declined in 2013.

Indirect greenhouse emissions released by expanding biofuels production will be reported every year by the European Commission and by fuel suppliers in an attempt to increase the transparency of the impacts of the policy.

Commenting on the vote, Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth International’s food sovereignty coordinator, said: “While the EU has not gone far enough to stop the irresponsible use of food crops for car fuel, this new law acknowledges a reality that small-scale food producers worldwide know – that biofuel crops cripple their ability to feed the world, compete for the land that provides their livelihood, and for the water that sustains us.”

Around the world, 64 countries have policies 64 countries have policies to increase or maintain the amount of biofuels used in transport fuel, including most recently Indonesia, which has been criticised by environmentalists as promoting a policy that will accelerate deforestation in the country.

Kurniawan Sabar, campaign manager for WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, said: “The people of Indonesia will be relieved to hear that the EU has taken some action to limit Europe’s demand for palm oil for biofuels, which has escalated deforestation, land grabbing, and conflicts in Indonesia. The Indonesian government should take note and abandon its own plans for new subsidies to expand biofuels plantations in Indonesian forests.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Expo 2015 Host City Promotes Urban Food Policy Pacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/expo-2015-host-city-promotes-urban-food-policy-pact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expo-2015-host-city-promotes-urban-food-policy-pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/expo-2015-host-city-promotes-urban-food-policy-pact/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 11:44:32 +0000 Maurizio Baruffi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140363 As part of Milan’s drive to promote a sustainable urban food policy, schoolchildren are being encouraged to take home leftovers of non-perishable food, armed with doggy bags bearing the slogan “I DON’T WASTE”. Credit: Municipality of Milan

As part of Milan’s drive to promote a sustainable urban food policy, schoolchildren are being encouraged to take home leftovers of non-perishable food, armed with doggy bags bearing the slogan “I DON’T WASTE”. Credit: Municipality of Milan

By Maurizio Baruffi
MILAN, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

How can we provide healthy food for everyone, without threatening the survival of our planet? This is the fundamental issue at the centre of Expo 2015 – which has ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’ as its central theme – and a huge challenge for cities. 

More than 50 percent of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas – a proportion that is projected to increase to 66 percent by 2050 – and ensuring the right to food for all citizens, especially the urban poor, is key to promoting sustainable and equitable development.

As the city hosting Expo 2015, Milan has great visibility and an extraordinary political opportunity for working to build more resilient urban food systems. This is a vision that the City of Milan has decided to fulfil by formulating its own Food Policy, and by bringing together as many cities as possible to subscribe to an Urban Food Policy Pact: a global engagement to “feed cities” in a more just and sustainable way.

How we can provide healthy food for everyone, without threatening the survival of our planet, is the fundamental issue at the centre of Expo 2015 and a huge challenge for cities
The food policy, which will be implemented by Milan’s city government over the next five years, is being drafted through a wide participatory process, starting with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the city’s food system.

This is a complex picture with some bright spots and some shadows highlighting several thematic areas that the food policy should take into consideration: from access to food to the environmental and social impact of food production and distribution, from food waste to education.

Milan has more than 1.3 million inhabitants, but almost two million people come to the city every day for work, study, leisure or, health care.

Through its public catering company Milano Ristorazione, the City of Milan prepares and delivers more than 80,000 meals each day for schools, retirement homes and reception centres. Thus, there is a lot the City can do to enhance and spread good practices – for example, by tackling food waste and improving the sustainability of the food supply chain.

Many projects are already in place. More than one-third of the fruit and vegetables served by Milano Ristorazione is organic, 57 percent is supplied from short distance, and children at school are encouraged to take home a doggie bag with leftovers of non-perishable food.

Every year, families in Milan still waste the equivalent of one month of food consumption, but several non-profit organisations are saving the food surplus from supermarkets and cafeterias and delivering it to more than one hundred of the city’s charities.

Meanwhile, with poverty on the rise as a result of the prolonged economic crisis, civil society and public institutions are working actively to help those in need. Soup kitchens offer around two million meals each year and the City of Milan itself delivers almost 250,000 meals to the elderly and the disabled.

The Office of the Mayor is currently asking citizens, civil society organisations, scholars, innovative entrepreneurs and chefs, among others, to have their say on the issues that the city’s food policy should address. The purpose is to draw up a strategic document that will be discussed in a town meeting in May, when a number of planning panels (Food Malls) will be launched. Their task is to turn the guidelines into pilot projects.

The process will culminate in the adoption of the food policy by the City of Milan and the launch of a number of pilot projects that will address some of the issues outlined in the food policy over coming years.

In the meantime, progress on the Urban Food Policy Pact is proceeding swiftly. The idea of an international protocol on local food policies was launched in February 2014 by the mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia, at the summit of the C40 (Cities Climate Leadership Group) in Johannesburg.

A few months later, Milan and more than 30 cities around the world started to discuss the Pact, exchanging data, goals and best practices through webinars carried out under the Food Smart Cities for Development project financed by the EU Commission-DEAR (Development, Education, Awareness Raising) programme.

It is thrilling to see very different urban areas such as New York, São Paulo, Ghent, Daegu, Abidjan and Melbourne sharing projects, ideas, problems and solutions with a common goal: to build  a network of cities willing to work together to transform their future, placing the issue of food high on the political agenda.

A group of international experts is currently working on a draft of the Pact’s protocol that will be submitted to an advisory council and cities. The task of the advisory council – which is made up of international organisations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Health Organisation (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Commission – is to review the pact and ensure that it is consistent with other international initiatives on the similar subjects.

Many cities have expressed their interest in subscribing to the Urban Food Policy Pact – to be signed in October this year on the occasion of World Food Day – and its proponents expect it to be one of the most significant legacies of Expo 2015.

Looking forward, the Pact will also feature at the U.N. Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December.

Agriculture and food production are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and our ability to produce food will be highly affected by climate change – building a more resilient world, where the right to food is ensured for everyone, is a process that need to start from cities, and from their ability to develop sustainable policies.

Edited by Phil Harris    

More information about Milan’s Food Policy and the Urban Food Policy Pact can be found at www.cibomilano.org/

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UNDP and Turkey Partner on New Regional Hubhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/undp-and-turkey-partner-on-new-regional-hub/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=undp-and-turkey-partner-on-new-regional-hub http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/undp-and-turkey-partner-on-new-regional-hub/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:56:34 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140286 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

On Thursday, the United Nations and the government of Turkey launched a new Istanbul Regional Hub, which provides support to the countries and territories in which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Attending the ceremony were Helen Clark, the chair of the U.N. Development Group and UNDP administrator, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Turkey, and Kadir Topbaş, mayor of the city of Istanbul.

Congratulating Turkey on this initiative, Clark emphasised the importance of launching the Hub, which also hosts the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Women regional offices, in the city.

“By locating this knowledge and technical expertise in Istanbul, UNDP will be well positioned to support and engage with partners in Europe and CIS on the post-2015 development agenda, which is due to be agreed in September of this year,” she said.

According to an analysis recently published by the UNDP, Poverty, Inequality and Vulnerability in the Transition and Developing Economies of Europe and Central Asia, developing and transition economies of Europe and Central Asia show remarkable inequality and poverty, even among the upper middle-income countries, as well as declining life expectancy relative to global averages.

Climate change and the exposure to possible disasters create other challenges for the region.

The support of the Istanbul Regional Hub allows countries to pursue developmental paths by taking into account issues such as sustainable growth, governance and peace-building, gender equality and women’s empowerment, energy, disaster resilience and climate change, and children’s rights.

According to the Daily Sabah Istanbul press, Çavuşoğlu remarked at the event, “Above all, this hub is a reflection of our multidimensional foreign policy which prioritizes providing support to regional and international organisations.”

Turkey has played crucial roles in global development with many co-chairmanships with various countries, said Çavuşoğlu, highlighting the need to focus on current conflicts including merciless terrorist organisations, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, the Daily Sabah Istanbul reported.

This strategic partnership between Turkey and the UNDP recognises the increasing role of Turkey as an emerging donor for development cooperation worldwide. Turkey will collaborate with the Istanbul Regional Hub to promote south-south cooperation and share Turkey’s development experience with other countries.

The Daily Sabah Istanbul reported that Turkey will offer annually three million dollars for the next five years to support the UNDP Istanbul Hub.

The Istanbul Regional Hub is co-located with other U.N. agencies, including the U.N. Population Fund, which will strengthen coordination within the U.N. development system. The UNDP has other regional offices in Amman, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Cairo, Dakar, and Panama.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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In One Terrible Weekend, ISIL Beheads Christians and Hundreds Drown in a ‘Mass Grave’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:32:39 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140254 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

As Europeans debated their policies towards the leaky flotillas steaming out of Libya, carrying most to a certain death at sea, members of ISIL were streaming a video of captured Ethiopian Christians on a beach.

One group of Christians is on their knees and shot to death. Another group is beheaded. The video bore the official logo of the ISIL media arm Al-Furgan and resembled previous videos released by the group, Al Jazeera reported.

A masked fighter is seen delivering a long statement between pieces of footage of the slaughter. The victims were identified as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.

Earlier this year, fighters pledging allegiance to ISIL released a video purporting to show the killing of 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Ghanaian abducted in Libya.

According to a release by the group Coptic Solidarity, the Christians were killed for refusing to pay a tax, imposed on non-Muslims in an Islamic state who refuse to convert.

Since the U.S.-assisted removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a hotbed of Islamist violence with no central government.

With security denied in Libya, some 900 migrants made their way to the sea last week, hoping to reach Malta. When the boat capsized after a few days, many were trapped behind doors locked by their smugglers. Between 28 and 50 survivors have been found.

The Italian Coast Guard is collecting statements from other survivors, prosecutors said. Passengers were from Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Bangladesh and Ghana.

The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the incident could be worse than an incident last week in which 400 refugees and migrants died in the Mediterranean.

Human Rights Watch urged the European Union to act quickly. “The EU is standing by with arms crossed while hundreds die off its shores,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These deaths might well have been prevented if the EU had launched a genuine search-and-rescue effort.”

In a statement released Sunday, the U.N. said that it planned action down the road but didn’t detail any immediate plans to help with the search for the victims of this accident.

Doctors Without Borders also had strong words for the tragedy. “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said the group’s president, Loris De Filippi. He compared the high number of deaths to “figures from a war zone.”

“Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea,” he said. “This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”

Doctors Without Borders will begin its own rescue effort, he added, because “as a medical, humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Europe’s Unregulated Lobbying Opens Door to Corruption, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 23:48:34 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140162 By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Lobbying is an integral part of democracy, but multiple scandals throughout Europe demonstrate that a select number of voices with more money and insider contacts can come to dominate political decision-making – usually for their own benefit.

In a report titled ‘Lobbying in Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access’ released Apr. 15, Transparency International said that the lack of clear and enforceable rules and regulations is to blame and called for urgent lobbying reform.

The report from the global civil society coalition against corruption found that of 19 European countries assessed, only seven have some form of dedicated lobbying law or regulation, allowing for nearly unfettered influence of business interests on the daily lives of Europeans.

“In the past five years, Europe’s leaders have made difficult economic decisions that have had big consequences for citizens,” said Elena Panfilova, Vice-Chair of Transparency International. “Those citizens need to know that decision-makers were acting in the public interest, not the interest of a few select players.”

Using international standards and emerging best practice, the report examines lobbying practices as well as whether safeguards are in place to ensure transparent and ethical lobbying in Europe and three core European Union institutions – European Commission, European Parliament and Council of the European Union.

Slovenia comes out at the top with a score of 55 percent, owing to the dedicated lobbying regulation in place, which nevertheless suffers from gaps and loopholes. Cyprus and Hungary rank at the bottom with 14 percent, performing poorly in almost every area assessed, especially when it comes to access to information.

Eurozone crisis countries Italy, Portugal and Spain are among the five worst-performing countries, where lobbying practices and close relations between the public and financial sectors are deemed risky.

Noting that the three E.U. institutions on average achieve a score of 36 percent, Transparency International said that “this is particularly worrying, given that Brussels is a hub of lobbying in Europe and decisions made in the Belgian capital affect the entire region and beyond.”

According to the report, none of the European countries or E.U. institutions assessed “adequately control the revolving door between public and private sectors, and members of parliament are mostly exempt from pre- and post-employment restrictions and ‘cooling-off periods’, despite being primary targets of lobbying activities.”

“Unchecked lobbying has resulted in far-reaching consequences for the economy, the environment, human rights and public safety,” said Anne Koch, Transparency International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. The research highlights problematic lobbying practices across a wide range of sectors and industries in Europe, including alcohol, tobacco, automobiles, energy, finance and pharmaceuticals.

“Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe,” said Panfilova. “European countries and E.U. institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence – directly or indirectly – any political decisions, policies or legislation. Otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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