Inter Press ServiceGlobal – Inter Press Service News and Views from the Global South Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:32:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Pakistan, Facing Military Aid Cuts, One Step Ahead of US Tue, 16 Jan 2018 14:27:11 +0000 Thalif Deen When the United States abruptly cuts off military supplies to its allies for political or other reasons, the reaction has been predictable: it drive these countries into the arms of the Chinese, the Russians and Western European weapons suppliers. So, when the Trump administration decided recently to withhold about $2.0 billion in aid to Pakistan, […]

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'Rafale B', French Air Force combat jets.

By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

When the United States abruptly cuts off military supplies to its allies for political or other reasons, the reaction has been predictable: it drive these countries into the arms of the Chinese, the Russians and Western European weapons suppliers.

So, when the Trump administration decided recently to withhold about $2.0 billion in aid to Pakistan, the government in Islamabad was one step ahead: it had already built a vibrant military relationship with China and also turned to UK, France, Sweden, Turkey and Italy for its arms supplies.

In the Middle East, some of the longstanding US allies, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Kuwait, are known not to depend too heavily on American weapons systems—and their frontline fighter planes include not only F-15s and F-16s (US-supplied) but also Rafale and Mirage combat jets (France), the Typhoon (a UK/France/Italy joint venture) and Tornado and Jaguars (UK), all of them in multi-billion dollar arms deals.

The primary reason for multiple sources is to ensure uninterrupted arms supplies if any one of the suppliers, usually the US, withholds military aid – as it did in the 1990s when Washington suspended security assistance to Pakistan under the so-called Pressler amendment which called for a certification that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons. (It did)

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest data for 2012-2016, the US accounted for about a third of the entire global market in major conventional weapons.

SIPRI reports that Pakistan has received significant quantities of weapons from both the United States and China in recent years. Deliveries from China in the last several years reportedly include combat aircraft, tanks, submarines, and other naval vessels.

US deliveries have included armored personnel carriers and systems to modernize US F-16s that were previously supplied to the Pakistani military.

Derek Bisaccio, Middle East/ Africa & Eurasia Analyst at Forecast International Inc., a US-based defense research company, told IPS the two primary arms suppliers to Pakistan are the United States and China.

American arms agreements with Pakistan, he said, have totaled between $5-6 billion since 2001; much of this stems from the sale of F-16 fighter planes.

“Although Chinese arms sales to Pakistan are more difficult to put a dollar figure to– owing to a lack of transparency on both sides– it is expected that Chinese arms sales have eclipsed American arms sales on an annual basis in recent years as Pakistan and China have deepened their military-technical cooperation,” he noted.

In the past decade, China has sold naval patrol vessels, submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to Pakistan. The two have partnered on projects like the JF-17 fighter jet, assembled and manufactured locally by the Pakistanis.

Other arms suppliers include Ukraine, with whom Pakistan has partnered on its fleet of battle tanks, and Turkey.

Pakistan and Turkey have negotiated in the past few years over Pakistan’s possible purchase of attack helicopters and corvettes. Pakistan has purchased airborne early warning & control aircraft from Sweden and may well acquire more in the coming years, Bisaccio said.

In the past, Pakistan has contracted the United Kingdom, France and Italy for some of its purchases; many naval vessels and aircraft operated by Pakistan are French-origin, he added.

According to a report in the Washington Times last week, China is planning to build a military base in Pakistan, which would be its second overseas military base, after Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

The naval installation will be erected in a key strategic location: the Pakistani town of Jiwani, a port near the Iranian border on the Gulf of Oman and near the Straits of Hormuz, which resides at one of the six proposed economic corridors of the One Belt One Road Initiative, commonly called the Silk Road Economic Belt, the Times said.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Trump administration’s decision to halt military aid to Pakistan is long overdue. Pakistan’s human rights record is deplorable, as documented in annual reports from the State Department.”

However, that decision was not justified on human rights grounds, she noted. Instead, the administration argues that the Pakistani government is not doing enough to combat terrorism.

“This argument that Pakistan is harboring terrorists is not new. The US-Pakistani relationship frequently features policy cycles that include critical statements by US officials, attempts to reduce or halt aid, and an eventual return to the status quo,” said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy at the United Nations, on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

“Ironically, the Trump decision to put a hold on military assistance to Pakistan comes at the same time as Reuters reports that the administration is planning to be even more aggressive in pursuing global arms sales. Embassy staffs are apparently going to be asked to promote US arms sales more actively to their host governments. This is reminiscent of similar moves during the Reagan administration.”

She also pointed out that advocates of arms sales often argue that countries can find other suppliers if the US government refuses a sale.

“Yet by avoiding selling sophisticated US weapons to unstable regimes, we may significantly reduce the risk that members of our armed forces will end up fighting our own weapons. And in the end, the US government needs to set ethical standards for arms sales, not merely economic ones.”

Reacting to the US aid cuts, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif was quoted as saying: “We do not have any alliance” with the US. “This is not how allies behave.”

Trump said on Twitter that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies and deceit” and accused Islamabad of providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

But Islamabad may still retaliate by closing down US supply routes to Afghanistan which goes through Pakistan. Currently, there are over 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

Bisaccio of Forecast International Inc told IPS that due to decades of partnership, the Pakistani military has a large amount of U.S.-supplied equipment, either provided directly from the U.S. or a third party, in its force structures, either in active use or in storage.

Much of the Army’s aviation wing is composed of Western-supplied aircraft, with a lot of American systems.

Asked if the Pakistani military can survive if the US suspends military aid– and halts maintenance, servicing and spares to US-made equipment—Bisaccio said it can certainly survive, but in some areas of the military such moves to end cooperation would be painful.

He said the suspension of maintenance, servicing, and the provision of spare parts– should the U.S. decide to enact such a move– would be particularly problematic for the Pakistani F-16 fleet.

Pakistan has already encountered difficulty acquiring new F-16s, as the U.S. Congress blocked Pakistan from using foreign military financing to purchase eight jets in 2016. Inability to acquire maintenance or armaments would impact fleet readiness, especially over time as the F-16s face attrition. Posturing against rival India would suffer as a result, he added.

Moreover, the ability of the Army to carry out counter-insurgency operations could be impacted should Pakistan not be able to obtain servicing for the Army’s aviation assets, especially the AH-1 attack helicopters.

“Pakistan, in recognition that reliance on one supplier could create vulnerability, has over the years diversified its supplier base and worked to build up its own defense industry, which does have the effect of lessening its military dependence on the U.S,” Bisaccio pointed out.

The dispute with President Trump, he pointed out, is a symptom of the longer-running tension between the U.S. and Pakistan, but, in Pakistan’s view, the latest row with the Trump administration provides further validation for this policy.

In an interview with the Financial Times in September 2017, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reiterated that his country would like to purchase F-16s from the U.S., but could seek alternatives from France or China if need be.

Pakistan’s missile deterrent against India is a key element of the country’s national security and Pakistan was able to develop its missile program without American assistance.

“The gradual fraying of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan has occurred amid a deepening of relations between China and Pakistan. Their joint cooperation on a range of matters, including military-technical issues, will help blunt the impact of the U.S. cutting off aid to Pakistan.”

The volume of security assistance provided to Pakistan from China is unknown but is likely to increase moving forward, offsetting to some extent the temporary or permanent loss of American assistance, he added.

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Sustainable Energy Critical for Achieving Overall Goals of Paris Climate Agreement Mon, 15 Jan 2018 16:06:58 +0000 Miroslav Miroslav Lajčák, President of the UN General Assembly, speaking at the 8th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi

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Miroslav Lajčák, speaking at the 8th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi. Credit: UN Photo

By Miroslav Lajčák
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

The Paris Agreement ushered in a new global approach to climate change. At the core of this agreement are the Nationally Determined Contributions. We are now implementing these pledges.

Over the last few days we have heard much about challenges and opportunities. Challenges are nothing new. It is how we respond that determines our fate.

That being said, the size and extent of the climate change threat is new. It is arguably the biggest challenge humanity faces today. This means that we must act urgently and seize opportunities quickly. One such opportunity is renewable energy.

We are now implementing the pledges. And we are more than halfway to the 2020 finish line. There will be checkpoints along the way. Later this year, there will be the 2018 facilitative dialogue. This is a much-needed chance to assess how far we have come and how much further we have to go.

We already know that the current pledges are not enough to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. We have the tools, the plan and will submit new and more ambitious pledges in 2020. But we need urgent action now.

So where do we stand today?

First, access to energy remains a major development concern. The importance of access to modern and affordable energy lies in the impact it has on people’s lives.

Billions of people around the world still lack access to affordable and modern energy. For example, in Africa just under 50% of the population had access to electricity.

The energy challenge is many-sided. But with the right energy policies we can provide energy to everyone without creating additional burden on our planet. Many developing countries are investing in low-carbon energy sources and energy efficiency measures. This can ensure that economic growth is not coupled with pressure on the environment. Likewise, the share of renewable energy in the mix is growing steadily.

To make this transition to sustainable energy, many countries need support –such as capacity building and transfer of technology. Inclusion of renewable energy plans in nationally determined contributions can help attract the financing needed to implement them. Which brings me to my next point:

Nationally determined contributions are critical tools for saving our planet.

As we are all aware, the current pledges will carry us over the 2 degree Celsius precipice, and far beyond, our 1.5 degree aspiration. On one hand, we must commend the 165 countries that made pledges. These pledges form a good basis for action. But at the same time, we cannot afford to ignore the reality that they are far from enough. We should consider the pledges as a floor rather than as a ceiling.

We need urgent and far-reaching pre-2020 action. Time is running out for the woman losing her livelihood to climate-induced desertification. For the child who will have to abandon her home to a rapidly-rising sea level.

And for the communities that will have to build back only to be washed away again. Time is already up for many lives lost in heatwaves, droughts, extreme weather events and public health crises – all due to climate change.

Simply put: We must do what we have pledged to do. We must pledge to do more. And we must take urgent action to fulfil these promises. This is our joint and individual responsibility to our people and our planet.

My third point is that SDG 7 is pivotal for the achievement of Agenda 2030. It calls on us to provide energy for all by 2030, and to do so sustainably. This means increasing access, efficiency, renewables and the means with which to do it. Sustainable energy is also critical for achieving the overall goal of the Paris Agreement – to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

Development does not necessarily equal more carbon emissions. In fact, sustainable development, creating a decent life for all on a sustainable planet, involves less carbon emissions. Instead of a vicious cycle involving development for some and increased carbon emissions, we have the chance to create a “virtuous circle” of raising ambition, development and renewable energy deployment.

In conclusion, we live in a time of challenges, opportunities and high stakes. Our failure to act decisively and unequivocally at this critical moment in history will determine our future.

The Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals are our plans. The climate pledges manifest our collective promise to the people of this world, and it is the lives of these people that should spur us into action.

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Thousands Still Dying at Sea En Route to Europe Mon, 15 Jan 2018 07:39:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places. Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe. “[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach […]

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Somali refugees on the Tunisian desert. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places.

Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe.

“[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean,” said spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler.

On Monday, the Italian coastguard picked up 60 survivors and recovered eight corpses. Up to 50, including 15 women and 6 children, are feared to have drowned.

Most recently on Wednesday, an inflatable boat carrying 100 refugees sank off the coast of Libya. Libya is among the major countries of departure for refugees.

Approximately 227,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in 15 priority countries of asylum and transit along the Central Mediterranean route.

Despite appealing for just 40,000 resettlement places last year, UNHCR has thus far received 13,000 offers of resettlement places.

“Most of these are part of regular established global resettlement programmes and only a few represent additional places,” Spindler said.

After stories of migrants being sold at an auction and being held in horrific conditions in detention centers were revealed, both UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped evacuate hundreds of vulnerable refugees from Libya to Niger.

However, the European Union has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU’s policy is “inhuman.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” he continued, calling for the decriminalization of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants’ human rights.

Human rights officials have also criticized the EU-Turkey deal which returns migrants who have entered the Greek islands to Turkey. Many have found that asylum seekers are also not safe in Turkey as the country does not grant asylum or refugee status to non-Europeans.

UNHCR called for efforts to strengthen protection capacity and livelihood support in countries of first asylum, provide more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety through resettlement or family reunification, and address the root causes of refugee displacement.

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UN Chief Calls for Collective Global Response to Migration Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:53:41 +0000 Antonio Guterres António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, speaking at the launch of his report on Migration

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António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, speaking at the launch of his report on Migration

By António Guterres

I am very pleased to present this report, “Making Migration Work For All”, which serves as my principal input to the zero draft of the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The adoption of this Compact stands as one of our most important collective priorities for 2018.

As we look forward to the zero draft, I would like to commend your efforts to date under the wise stewardship of Mexico and Switzerland, aided by the President of the General Assembly and my Special Representative, Louise Arbour. Allow me to express a very deep gratitude to Louise Arbour and her team – your extraordinary contribution was absolutely vital for me to be able to present a report that, I hope, you will find both bold and constructive.

We have an opportunity to fashion, for the first time, a truly global response to migration. It is an opportunity to maximize the contribution that millions of migrants are already making to our societies and to agree a set of actions to ensure that the rights of all migrants are fully respected.

My report describes the reality of migration today. It outlines what a system of safe, orderly and regular migration could realistically look like. It identifies key challenges and possible solutions.

And it calls for more concerted collective action to deal with the unbearable limbo in which many migrants find themselves trapped.

Let me emphasize: migration is a positive global phenomenon. It powers economic growth, reduces inequalities, connects diverse societies and helps us ride the demographic waves of population growth and decline.

It is also a source of political tensions and human tragedies. But the majority of migrants live and work legally.

Unfortunately, others live in the shadows, unprotected by the law and unable to contribute fully to society. And a desperate minority put their lives at risk to enter countries where they face suspicion and abuse.

Globally, migration remains poorly managed. The impact can be seen in the humanitarian crises affecting people on the move; and in the human rights violations suffered by those living in slavery or enduring degrading working conditions.

It can be seen, too, in the political impact of public perception that wrongly sees migration as out of control. The consequences include increased mistrust and policies aimed more at stopping than facilitating human movement.

In my report, I call for us to focus on the overwhelming positives of migration and to use facts not prejudice as the basis for addressing its challenges. Above all, I urge a respectful discourse that places our collective humanity at the centre of the debate.

Migrants make a major contribution to international development – both by their work and by sending remittances to their home countries. Remittances added up to nearly $600 billion last year, three times all development aid.

The fundamental challenge is to maximize the benefits of this orderly, productive form of migration while stamping out the abuses and prejudice that make life hell for a minority of migrants.

States need to strengthen the rule of law underpinning how they manage and protect migrants – for the benefit of their economies, their societies and migrants themselves.

Authorities that erect major obstacles to migration – or place severe restrictions on migrants’ work opportunities – inflict needless economic self-harm, as they impose barriers to having their labour needs met in an orderly and legal fashion.

Worse still, they unintentionally encourage illegal migration. Aspiring migrants, denied legal pathways to travel, inevitably fall back on irregular methods. This not only puts them in vulnerable positions, but also undermines governments’ authority itself.

The best way to end the stigma of illegality and abuse around migrants is, in fact, for governments to put in place more legal pathways for migration. This will remove incentives for individuals to break the rules, while better meeting the needs of markets for foreign labour.

It will also aid in efforts to clamp down on smugglers and traffickers and to assist their victims. Simultaneously, development cooperation policies must take human mobility into account.

It is essential to provide more opportunities for people to be able to live in dignity in their own countries and regions. Migration should be an act of hope, not of despair.

We must also address the drama we witness in mixed flows of refugees and migrants. What happens all too often with these movements represents a humanitarian tragedy and an abdication of our human rights commitments.

They are reflective of acute policy failures: of emergency response; of conflict prevention; of good governance; of development; and of international solidarity. I call for greater international cooperation to remove those failures and to protect vulnerable migrants.

In parallel, we must re-establish the integrity of the refugee protection regime in line with international law. My report addresses a number of elements for consideration in shaping the Global Compact on Migration.

I will highlight three: the need for action, the need for engagement and the need for a UN that is fit for purpose.

First, our focus must be on implementation. The past decade has seen an enriching development of both our understanding of migration and its grounding in human rights. It is time now to build on these declarations rather than simply reiterate them.

Second, everyone has a part to play. On this, let me pay particular credit to the incomparable contribution of Peter Sutherland, whose death last week is such a loss for us all.

Improving the management of migration is pre-eminently a matter of State responsibility. But it demands, also, the knowledge, capacity and commitment of many others.

The consultation phase of the Global Compact has benefitted hugely from the participation of a wide range of actors.

Municipalities, parliaments, civil society, the private sector, regional organizations, the media, academia and migrants themselves all have vital roles. Moving forward, I urge you to maximize the space for their contributions.

Third, as the United Nations finally ensures that migration is an issue squarely on its agenda, we have the responsibility to ask ourselves whether we are best organized and equipped to support the Compact’s implementation.

For you, the Member States, this will require consideration of how to ensure ongoing review of the impact of the Global Compact. What we focus on in 2018 may not be what we need to focus on in 10 or 15 years’ time.

We will also need to reflect on how best to ensure oversight of migration within the UN system. There are many fora addressing migration, but none with comprehensive oversight. This merits consideration.

I am committed to ensuring that the UN system is best organized to ensure that it can support you in following through on the Compact.

In my report, I stress my determination to strengthen how we work on this issue, consistent with my proposed management reforms and strengthening of the UN development system, taking full advantage of the IOM’s important and welcome move, in 2016, towards the UN System.

It is a phenomenon that touches on all our collective priorities – from the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals to the promotion and protection of peace and universal human rights.

I urge all Member States to engage openly and actively in the negotiations ahead.

I encourage you to work towards the adoption of a solution-oriented Global Compact on Migration at the International Conference in Morocco later this year.

I stand ready to assist however best I can.

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The Reality of North Korea as a Nuclear Power Thu, 11 Jan 2018 11:12:46 +0000 Thalif Deen With a track record of six underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, North Korea is desperately yearning to be recognized as the world’s ninth nuclear power – trailing behind the US, UK, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel. But that recognition seems elusive– despite the increasing nuclear threats by Pyongyang and the continued […]

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Credit: UN photo

By Thalif Deen

With a track record of six underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, North Korea is desperately yearning to be recognized as the world’s ninth nuclear power – trailing behind the US, UK, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel.

But that recognition seems elusive– despite the increasing nuclear threats by Pyongyang and the continued war of words between two of the world’s most unpredictable leaders: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Arguing that North Koreans have little reason to give up their weapons program, the New York Times ran a story last November with a realistically arresting headline which read: “The North is a Nuclear Power Now. Get Used to it”.

But the world’s five major nuclear powers, the UK, US, France, China and Russia, who are also permanent members of the UN Security Council, have refused to bestow the nuclear badge of honour to the North Koreans.

North Korea, meanwhile, has pointed out that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, were perhaps facilitated by one fact: none of these countries had nuclear weapons or had given up developing nuclear weapons.

“And that is why we will never give up ours,” a North Korean diplomat was quoted as saying.

Dr M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, told IPS there is, however, hope in the recent placatory moves by North and South Korea.

“I think that the situation can return to a calmer state, although it is entirely possible that this calmer state would involve North Korea holding on to nuclear weapons. I suspect that for the time being the world will have to live with North Korea’s nuclear arsenal,” he added.

“Although that is not a desirable goal, there is no reason why one should presume that North Korea having nuclear weapons is any more of a problem than India, Pakistan, or Israel, or for that matter, China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, or the United States,” said Dr Ramana, author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India, Penguin Books, New Delhi (2012).

“I think the greater problem is the current leadership of the United States that has been making provocative statements and taunts. I think it is for the powerful countries to start the process of calming down the rhetoric and initiate negotiations with North Korea.”

Also, any peace process should be based on reciprocal moves: one cannot simply expect North Korea to scale down its programs without corresponding moves by the United States, he declared.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003), told IPS there is little doubt that North Korea, (also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), has acquired a nuclear weapon capability and the means of delivering it to the mainland of the USA.

That this is clearly in defiance of international norms and a violation of international law and Security Council resolutions is also clear, he noted.

Those norms, quite apart from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), now include the recently negotiated Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.

It was adopted on 7 July 2017, but neither the USA nor the DPRK have acceded to it, said Dhanapala a former President of Pugwash (2007-17),

He also pointed out that the persistent efforts of the DPRK since the end of the Korean War to conclude a just and equitable peace with the USA have been rebuffed again and again.

“Past agreements and talks both bilateral and multilateral have failed and we are now witnessing the puerile antics of two leaders engaged in the mutual recrimination of two school-yard bullies asserting that one man’s nuclear button is bigger than the other’s while tensions reminiscent of the Cold War build up alarmingly.”

Such escalation reached dangerous proportions at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis where the historical record proves that the world was saved from nuclear catastrophe by sheer luck.

“We cannot trust to luck anymore,” he warned.

“Some small steps between the two Koreas hold promise of a dialogue beginning on the eve of the Winter Olympics. This must be the opportunity for all major powers to intervene and resume negotiations. The Secretary-General of the UN must act and act now,” he added.

The number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined significantly since the end of the Cold War: down from approximately 70,300 in 1986 to an estimated 14,550, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

According to US intelligence sources, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is anywhere between 20 to 50 weapons. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimates a total of over 50 weapons.

Joseph Gerson, President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, told IPS that successive North Korean governments have pursued their nuclear weapons program for two primary reasons: to ensure the survival of the Kim Dynasty and to preserve the survival of the North Korean state.

“As Scott Snyder (a Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy Council on Foreign Relations) taught us years ago, there is a logic – potentially deadly as is the case with any nuclear weapons program – to the development of North Korea’s deterrent nuclear arsenal.”

Beginning with the Korean War, the United States has threatened and or prepared to initiate nuclear war against North Korea. These threats have added resonance for North Koreans as a consequence of the United States military having destroyed 90% of all structures north of the 38th parallel during the Korean War.

Gerson said it is also worth noting that in the wake of the 1994 U.S.-DPRK nuclear crisis, North Korea was prepared to trade its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees, normalization of relations and economic development assistance.

The United States failed to fulfill its commitments under the 1994 Agreed Framework, by refusing to deliver promised oil supplies and endlessly delaying its promised construction of two light water nuclear reactors in exchange for the suspension of the DPRK nuclear weapons program.

In 2000, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright negotiated a comprehensive agreement with North Korea. And President Clinton was to travel to Pyongyang to finalize the agreement, but with the political crisis caused by the disputed outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election, he did not make that trip.

Among the first disastrous orders of business of the Bush Administration was the sabotaging of that agreement. This, in turn, led to North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test, said Gerson, author of “Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World”, “The Sun Never Sets…Confronting the Network of U.S. Foreign Military Bases”, and “With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination”.

While expectations for the meeting of North and South Korean officials, currently underway, are low, said Gerson, the world should be celebrating South Korean President Moon’s winter Olympic-related diplomatic initiatives and the resulting functional Olympic Truce.

By welcoming North Korean athletes to participate in the Olympics and by postponing threatening U.S.-South Korean military “exercises,” President Trump’s “my nuclear button is bigger than yours” –ratcheting up of dangers of war have been sidelined– he pointed out.

Following his inauguration last year, President Moon announced that he had a veto over the possibility of a disastrous U.S. initiated second Korean War. Having exercised that veto and forced Trump’s hand, he has opened the way for deeper diplomacy and peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Gerson said: “There remains, of course, the danger the Olympic Truce will simply serve as a temporary reprieve, with President Trump, beleaguered by the Muller investigation and seemingly endless scandals, again ratcheting up tensions. Disastrous war remains a possibility should the nuclear monarch opt for a desperate and deadly maneuver in his struggle for political survival.”

There never was, nor will there be, a military solution to the U.S.-North Korean nuclear crisis, and as U.S. military authorities have repeated warned, given Seoul’s proximity to North Korean artillery, even a conventional U.S. military attack against North Korea would result in hundreds of thousands of South Korean casualties and could escalate to uncontrollable and genocidal nuclear war.

The way forward requires direct U.S.-North Korean negotiations, possibly in multi-lateral frameworks like the Six Party Talks, Gerson noted.

As the growing international consensus advocates, resolution of the tensions will necessitate some form of a “freeze for freeze” agreement, limiting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for halting U.S. threats to destroy or overturn the North Korean government and to implement previous commitments to normalization of relations.

With this foundation in place, future diplomacy can address finally ending the Korea War by replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty and building on numerous proposals for the creation of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

In the end, Gerson said, the only way to prevent similar nuclear weapons proliferation crises is for the nuclear powers to finally fulfill their Article VI Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to negotiate the complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

As the Nobel Peace Laureate and senior Manhattan Project scientists Joseph Rotblat warned, humanity faces a stark choice. “We can either completely eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons, or we will witness their global proliferation and the nuclear wars that will follow. Why? Because no nation will long tolerate what it perceives to be an unjust hierarchy of nuclear terror.”

The writer can be contacted at

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UN Urges Comprehensive Approach to Sexuality Education Wed, 10 Jan 2018 19:31:18 +0000 UNESCO Close to 10 years after its first edition, a fully updated International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education published today by UNESCO advocates quality comprehensive sexuality education to promote health and well-being, respect for human rights and gender equality, and empowers children and young people to lead healthy, safe and productive lives. “Based on the latest […]

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PARIS, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

Close to 10 years after its first edition, a fully updated International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education published today by UNESCO advocates quality comprehensive sexuality education to promote health and well-being, respect for human rights and gender equality, and empowers children and young people to lead healthy, safe and productive lives.

“Based on the latest scientific evidence, the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education reaffirms the position of sexuality education within a framework of human rights and gender equality,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “It promotes structured learning about sexuality and relationships in a manner that is positive and centred on the best interest of the young person. By outlining the essential components of effective sexuality education programmes, the Guidance enables national authorities to design comprehensive curricula that will have a positive impact on young people’s health and well-being.”

The Technical Guidance is designed to assist education policy makers in all countries design accurate and age-appropriate curricula for children and young people aged 5 – 18+.

Based on a review of the current status of sexuality education around the world and drawing on best practices in the various regions, the Guidance notably demonstrates that sexuality education:

• helps young people become more responsible in their attitude and behaviour regarding sexual and reproductive health
• is essential to combat the school dropout of girls due to early or forced marriage, teenage pregnancy and sexual and reproductive health issues
• is necessary because in some parts of the world, two out of three girls reported having no idea of what was happening to them when they began menstruating and pregnancy and childbirth complications are the second cause of death among 15 to 19-year olds
• does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour, or STI/HIV infection rates. It also presents evidence showing that abstinence-only programmes fail to prevent early sexual initiation, or reduce the frequency of sex and number of partners among the young.

The publication identifies an urgent need for quality comprehensive sexuality education to:

• provide information and guidance to young people about the transition from childhood to adulthood and the physical, social and emotional challenges they face.
• tackle the challenges posed by sexual and reproductive health issues, which are particularly difficult during puberty, including access to contraception, early pregnancy, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV and AIDS
• raise awareness of HIV prevention and transmission, of which only 34 per cent of young people around the world can demonstrate accurate knowledge
• complement or counter the large body of material of variable quality that young people find on the internet, and help them face increasingly common instances of cyberbullying.

The Guidance was produced in collaboration with UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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Can Uganda Reduce Financial Exclusion to 5% in 5 Years? Wed, 10 Jan 2018 19:06:11 +0000 Nathan Were Nathan Were, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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A financially excluded smallholder farmer in northern Uganda opens the lock box where he keeps his savings. Credit: Allison Shelley for CGAP

By Nathan Were
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

In October 2017, Uganda launched a new five-year National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The strategy seeks to reduce financial exclusion from 15 to 5 percent by 2022 by ensuring that all Ugandans have access to and use a broad range of quality and affordable financial services.

But what are some of Uganda’s key challenges, and how is the strategy supposed to achieve this ambitious goal?

Uganda has made a lot of progress in financial inclusion as a result of financial sector reforms that started in the 1990s, such as interest rate liberation, reductions in directed credit and legal and regulatory changes. These reforms have improved people’s access to financial services through banks, regulated microfinance institutions and mobile financial services providers (FSPs).

According to FinScope 2013, 54 percent of Ugandans are now formally financially included, while 32 percent use informal financial services like savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOs).

These are important gains, but Uganda still faces significant financial inclusion challenges. Here are a few of those challenges and some thoughts on how the new strategy aims to tackle them.

Reduce access barriers to financial services

According to the 2013 FinScope Survey, only 16 percent of Ugandans live within 1 km of a point of service for a bank. The situation is better when it comes to mobile money, as 54 percent of the population lives within 1 km of a point of service. Yet even when people make it to a bank branch or mobile money agent, there are other barriers to confront, particularly in rural areas.

These include know-your-customer (KYC) requirements, lack of liquidity at agents, GSM network coverage and high interest rates that can range from 22 to 25 percent per annum. Uganda’s new strategy takes aim at these challenges with an emphasis on making it easier for youth (ages 15 – 17) to open accounts.

KYC is especially difficult in Uganda, so it is nice to see that the strategy calls for an electronic payments gateway to facilitate digital KYC. In 2016, CGAP’s nationally representative smallholder household survey found that only 61 percent of smallholder families had a national ID. Current KYC rules also make it difficult for small businesses, many of which are unregistered, to become merchants, further limiting the growth of the digital financial services ecosystem. Digital KYC will enable FSPs to access businesses’ and individuals’ identity information.

The government’s recognition that a one-size-fits-all KYC requirement doesn’t work is a positive development and a promise that we might see tiered, custom KYC requirements for excluded segments.

Build up the digital infrastructure

Roughly 74 percent of Ugandans live in sparsely populated rural areas where FSPs do not have an incentive to build costly brick-and-mortar branches. The lack of competition in these areas means the rural poor often face limited access to financial services, high transaction fees, poor customer service and loss of money through fake financial institutions.

Uganda plans to address these gaps by supporting companies to provide low-cost, interoperable digital services. Interoperability will make payments easier and produce cost efficiencies for providers. Uganda will also encourage financial-sector players to design customer-friendly interfaces for products and services, such as USSD code menus in local languages.

The strategy’s focus on simple user interfaces and on educating customers throughout the customer journey will be key to increasing the use of digital financial services, especially given the low levels of digital literacy in Uganda. The focus on USSD is especially important given the low smartphone penetration. However, the issue of mobile money transaction fees needs to be addressed, as it remains one of the biggest barriers in mobile money use cases.

Deepen and broaden formal savings, investment and insurance use

According to Uganda’s National Social Security Fund, 11 million Ugandans (26 percent of the population) don’t have any form of social security. Insurance penetration is also low at just under 3 percent, and the ratio of domestic savings to GDP is only 13 percent. These challenges mean that many Ugandans have few ways to deal with financial shocks, such as poor harvests or family illnesses.

The new financial inclusion strategy proposes a host of strategies to tackle these challenges, from adopting a national policy on insurance and pension sector liberalization to strengthening rural financial intermediaries through regulation. SACCOs can become strong delivery mechanisms for reaching people in rural areas, but they face liquidity challenges, governance issues, low skills capacity, fraud and political interference. Limited innovation in products is also a major challenge. FSPs will need support to adopt more human-centered design approaches to design relevant products.

Increase the availability of agricultural credit

In Uganda’s mostly agricultural economy, micro, small and medium enterprises and smallholder families often struggle to get credit, which limits their ability to grow and create jobs. According to the Bank of Uganda’s state of the economy report 2016, credit flow to agriculture stands at a paltry 10 percent of total credit. Uganda’s strategy recognizes that agriculture is the engine for the economy.

To make credit more available in the sector, the strategy addresses a few key barriers such as credit reference bureaus’ limited coverage of smallholders, sparse rural access points, weak public awareness about the importance of credit history and challenges around communal property rights. Beyond addressing these issues, Uganda will need to find a way to tap into the vast amount of informal credit input data available at large agricultural buyers to further strengthen smallholders’ credit histories and position smallholders for easy access to credit and other financial services.

Empower and protect individuals with enhanced financial capability

Issues like low digital literacy and data protection are becoming more urgent as poor people make the leap from traditional to digital financial services. Uganda’s new strategy proposes a review of the national financial literacy strategy and FSPs’ consumer protection practices, as well as routine regulatory checks on providers.

Other measures include periodic demand-side needs studies and data sharing among FSPs to improve product development. Greater consumer literacy will empower customers to understand product terms and conditions and help them to make informed choices about financial products and services.

Will these measures get Uganda to its 5 percent goal?

Overall, Uganda’s new strategy clearly addresses the key financial inclusion challenges it faces. The strategy focuses on the most important financial inclusion enablers, such as progressive regulation, flexible and custom KYC, infrastructure to support scale at low cost and customer centricity. Considering these strengths and the progress Uganda has already made with recent financial sector reforms, cutting financial exclusion to 5 percent by 2022 is achievable.

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How Low-Income Bangladeshis Use Loans Mon, 08 Jan 2018 17:07:55 +0000 Stuart Rutherford Stuart Rutherford, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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Stuart Rutherford, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

By Stuart Rutherford

Bangladeshis have a long tradition of borrowing from family, neighbors and other informal sources. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) have proliferated over the past three decades and offer a more formal loan service that has been taken up with enthusiasm, and today some 25 million Bangladeshis borrow from MFIs.

Rickshaw driver Ram Babu took MFI loans so that he’d have cash on hand to pay medical bills for his sick mother. Credit: Stuart Rutherford

But how are these MFI loans used? Do people take them for the same reasons they borrow from informal sources, or do they use MFI loans differently?

To help answer questions like these, the Hrishipara daily diaries project tracks all the daily money transactions of a group of poor respondents in central Bangladesh. For 40 of our diarists, we have data for more than two years.

We recorded them borrowing between them 954 times from both MFIs and informal sources, for a total value of 6.7 million Bangladesh taka (about PPP$210,000). Then we watched what happened next. Here are two key observations from the exercise.

Borrowers spend informal loans more swiftly

MFI loans are rarely less than $300 in value, whereas informal loans range from a few dollars up to several thousand. To make sure we compared like with like, we took 50 loans of each kind with a value of at least $300 and for which we have records of the borrower’s subsequent transactions.

Perhaps the most striking difference between MFI and informal loans is how soon they are used. Informal loans are spent quickly: Our data show a major expenditure of at least 80 percent of the value of the loan on the same day that an informal loan was taken in almost half the cases, and within one week in all but 18 percent of cases. Two-thirds of MFI loans, by contrast, show no clear corresponding expenditure in the week following receipt of the loan.

When were loan proceeds spent? (%)

Informal loans are used for a single purpose, while MFI loan use is more nuanced

To understand why informal loans are used faster, it helps to look at the uses to which the loans are put. Informal loans are most often used for a single purpose, like paying for a ceremony, setting up a business, buying land, dealing with an emergency or paying for work migration. Some MFI loans are taken for these purposes, of course, but they also have other uses. Here are some of them:
On-lending to others. Seven of the 50 MFI loans, but only one informal loan, were on-lent to others. MFIs usually disburse loans on an annual cycle, so borrowers may get a loan at a time when they have no immediate use for it, leading them to on-lend. It may take time to find a good borrower. The pressure MFI fieldworkers put on clients to accept loans may also lead borrowers to lend them out to others, for lack of other profitable uses for them. This was observed in two of the seven cases.

Repaying debt. Twelve of the MFI loans were used to repay other private or MFI debt, but only six informal loans were used that way (and then only in part). This is often because of the annual loan disbursement rhythm of MFIs. Clients borrow privately for some urgent need at the time it arises, and then, when they are next eligible for an MFI loan, they take it to “refinance” the private loan. MFI loans are cheaper than some private on-interest loans, and some borrowers find it easier to repay MFI loans week-by-week than to find a large lump sum to repay a private loan in full.

Held in reserve. We were surprised to find how often MFI loans are held at home (or in a shop) as a liquidity reserve, rather than spent. At least 18 of the 50 MFI loans were used in this way, as opposed to two informal loans. For example, Ram Babu is an extreme-poor rickshaw driver with three daughters, a wife and a sick mother to support. He kept taking MFI loans to ensure he would have cash on hand should his mother’s health take a turn for the worse. After his mother died, he stopped taking MFI loans. The MFI repayment schedule — small weekly amounts over many months — makes this behavior possible and may well encourage it. It imitates the “little and often” set-asides of regular savings accounts or of informal deposit-takers like the susu collectors of West Africa.

The MFI loan – a substitute for savings?

Informal loans are usually taken for a single purpose and used quickly. Some MFI loans are used in the same way, but MFI loans serve other purposes, like refinancing private debt and ensuring that cash reserves are always available. As such, they offer an expensive but attractive substitute for a savings regime.

Our findings show how Bangladeshis have learned to use MFI and informal loans in tandem, exploiting the best features of each. Far from consigning informal borrowing to the history books, formal innovations like MFI lending tend to strengthen informal practices.

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Why the #MeToo Movement Disrupts the Creeping Commodification of Feminism Mon, 08 Jan 2018 16:43:12 +0000 Rangita de Silva de Alwis Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School & Advisor, UN SDG Fund

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Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School & Advisor, UN SDG Fund

By Rangita de Silva de Alwis

As the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York draws near, women from every corner of the world will convene to deliberate on the theme of CSW 2018: Challenges and Opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. This year, the theme of empowerment has added significance. The #MeToo movement has shocked our collective conscience and made it impossible to ignore that empowerment goes far beyond economic agency.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis

Women’s economic empowerment has enormous consequence. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that gender equality adds U.S. $12 trillion to the global economy, yet women are conspicuously absent from board rooms and in some communities, school rooms. The evidence is now clear, when women are absent from the market place, the market suffers.

Although the cost analysis is important, the #MeToo movement has helped unmask the way in which sometimes women’s economic participation pays lip service to women’s power, while serving those in power. Feminism’s urgent charge is not to commodify women through glossy stories and data, but to pierce those veils to identify the underlying power structures and structural barriers that prevent women’s access to and retention in the market.

Feminism’s latest incarnation, “economic feminism,” poses a complicated challenge to the pursuit of gender equality around the world. By providing legal economic rights to women empowerment is thus framed as voluntary, and structural barriers are normalized.

Herein the champions of economic feminism proudly parade entrepreneurial women as proof of gender equality, a byproduct of a transformation in a society that sees value in women. In this cultural shift, if a woman is not in the marketplace, it is because she has made a choice not to work – and not because of debilitating structural inequalities.

However, this thinking masks patriarchy’s power over women. Economic feminism, in its unquestioned authority, can pose a threat to women’s advancement around the world. The importance attached to economic instrumentalist arguments for women’s rights can hide unexamined challenges.

Without a doubt, the plethora of recent research confirming gender equality significantly boosts economic growth from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), as well as the aforementioned McKinsey study, is to be celebrated for giving a tangible economic reason for countries to improve the status of women.

Unfortunately, this message has been warped by some economies, and economic policies such as Abenomics in Japan supplant important social change policies on sexual abuse and hold back feminism’s goal of full realization of gender equality under law. The reality is that women continue to face inequality that goes beyond just economic opportunity.

Several countries, notably Japan, have put forward “win-win” economic policies, but they ignore controversial and difficult social policies such as violence against women. This approach is similar to the nations that peddled the “Asian Values” theory in the 1990s. The better approach is to reveal the interconnectedness of women’s economic participation with equal protection of laws.

For example, in many corners of the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, women have unequal access to property and land. Globally, women’s unequal access to citizenship, residency, inheritance, and decision-making in public and private often subordinate women’s economic participation.

Gender equality in all laws, most importantly family laws, have a profound impact on shaping and advancing women’s economic participation. In many countries, laws that regulate women in their families require women to get permission from their husbands to travel and disallow married mothers to confer citizenship on their children. Several nations have legislation that do not recognize women as heads of household and control their free movement.

Further, laws around the world permit underage and forced marriage for girls. Every two seconds, a girl is forced into marriage. Women married as children will reach one billion by 2030, according to UNICEF.

Martha Minow, the former Dean of Harvard Law School, has argued that the rules of family law construct not only roles and duties of men and women, but can shape rules about employment and commerce, and perhaps the governance of the state.

And not to be forgotten is that violence is one of the most insidious barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Where a woman suffers sexual and other forms of abuse, her capacity to work and function are severely impaired – Fortune estimates that it costs the US $500 billion, but the human cost cannot be computed.

Fortune argues that when talking about equality, the focus should include violence, or more specifically, violence against women. And according to McKinsey, violence is one of the biggest factors holding American women and all other women back.

Feminism’s and the #MeToo movements’ power lies in its potential to disrupt seemingly immutable gender norms. The international women’s rights community, as it convenes in New York in March, should not be swayed by the promise of economic opportunity alone, it must continue to press on issues of violence, sexual abuse and discrimination that disallow women from participating in economic activity, and inhibit women’s full empowerment.

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Tourism Should Be Regulated, Before It Is Too Late… Mon, 08 Jan 2018 16:19:12 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 8 2018 (IPS)

This year, we will have 3 million tourists each day wandering the world. This massive phenomenon is without precedent in human history and is happening (as usual), with only one consideration in mind: money. We should pause and take a look at its social, cultural and environmental impact and take remedial measures, because they are becoming seriously negative if things are left as they are.

Roberto Savio

Sameer Kapoor listed for Triphobo Trip Planner a list of 20 places that have been ruined, due to excess of tourism. Antarctica is getting an alarming level of pollution. The famous Taj Mahal, a monument of love from the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to the memory of his wife, Mumtaz, has changed its shining milky white marble into a yellow shade. Mount Everest is strewn with trash from invading visitors.

The Great wall of China has been so mistreated by the massive invasion of tourists that it has begun to crumble in places The famous beaches of Bali are littered with trash; traffic is in a gridlock and roads and footpaths are in a dangerous state of disrepair.

Macchu Picchu has a such large number of visitors that archaeologists are worried about preservation of the site. Once there was a train to a small village, Aguas Calientes, to then continue by foot or mules. Now you can reach the enigmatic and sacred Inca citadel by air conditioned bus, and Aguas Calientes is now a town of 4.000 people with five star hotels. The famous Australian Coral Reef Barrier, has lost already one third of the corals.

The Galapagos islands, where Charles Darwin conceived his famous theory of natural selection, has so many visitors impinging on his fragile eco balance that in 2007 UNESCO placed it on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites but to no avail. The Parthenon has many visitors taking pieces of rocks and ruins, and drawing or carving on ancient pillars, that special police squad had to be created.

The wonders of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is suffering the same fate, together with the Colosseum in Rome, where every week somebody gets caught for chipping away pieces of columns, or graffiting the pillars.

But maybe the best example of the negative impact of tourism is Venice. The town has now officially 54.000 residents. They were 100.000 in 1970. Every year 1.000 residents leave for the mainland, because rents and cost of life keeps going up, and the hordes of tourist make life impossible for the residents. The number of sweepers and cleaners employed by the city has to go up continuously. Giant ships continue to go over the delicate microsystem of the lagoon and their lobby is very strong. They insist that without their megaships landing at the centre of the town, 5.000 jobs would be in danger.

There is now a clear conflict between those who live off tourism and those who have other jobs. Like in Barcelona, residents now stage demonstrations against mass tourism. Venice will become a ghost town, like the village of Mont Saint Michel, the medieval village in Normandy, jammed by thousands of visitors, to see the famous high-speed sea tide. At night, 42 people sleep there.

What is impressive is the speed of the phenomenon since 1950 when the total tourist numbers were 25 million, two thirds to Europe meant 29.76%of the tourists , Africa a mere 1.98% and the Middle East 0.79%, like Asia and Pacific. 66 years later, tourist numbers rose to 1.2 billion, Europe is down to 50%, Americas to 16.55%, Africa is at 4.52%, while the Middle East is at 4.7%. And Asia Pacific? It is now at 24.2%.

What is more impressive is to look further – at 2030, for which we have all the data (from the United Nations World Tourism Organization). Well, in a short time, we will go up to 1.8 billion: 5 million tourists every day. Europe is again down, to 41%, Americas down to 14%, Asia up to 30%, Africa to 7% and Middle east to 8 %. A totally inverted world in respect to 1950.

Tourism is already today the largest employer in the world: 1 person every 11. China has surpassed the US as the largest nationality. In 2016, they have spent 261 billion US dollars, and they will spend 429 billion in 2020.

UNWTO points to the fact that in 2025, China will have 92.6 million families with an income between 20.000 and 30.000 dollars per year; 63 million with an income between 35.000 and 70.000 dollars per year; and 21.3 million, with an income between 70.000 and 130.000 dollars. A large part of them is expected to travel and spend money. How many people speak Chinese and know anything about their idiosyncrasis ?

But any other consideration beside money, is totally absent in this debate. For instance, a large part of the jobs is in fact only seasonal, and poorly paid. Most of the money does not stay in the place where it is spent, but goes back to big companies and food imported for the tourist’s habits.

It is calculated that in the Caribbean, a full 70% goes back to US and Canada. Culture and traditions are influenced as outsiders come. Local culture and traditions become just a show for foreigners, and can lose roots. Hotels are built just for tourism in the most beautiful spots, degrading habitat and nature.

Price increases in local shops, because tourists are often wealthier than the local population. It is sufficient to go to a town which is out of the tourist’s circuits, to see the difference. In fact, now there is a growing search for “intact” places, different from “tourist’s places.

Tourist restaurants have become synonymous with poor food and high prices. And a tourist place is one that has lost its identity to conform with the demands of tourists. It has been the proliferation of Mc Donalds, Pizza Huts and other fast food joints, often in the most beautiful parts of towns, that pushed Petrini, in an old village with gastronomic tradition, Bra in Piedmont, to start a movement called Slow Food movement. The movement defends the freshness of materials, that must be local, preserving the original and traditional cuisines, and defending local products form the ongoing homogenization. It has now over 100.000 members in 150 countries, which defends identity against globalization.

Florence can well be a good example of how tourism is uprooting the locals’ identity and tradition. It was since the Renaissance, a place of art and culture. It was a must for cultured tourists and the forebearers of today’s tourists: German, British and French visitors, until the Second World War. A city of elegance, antique dealers, art shops, handcrafts and a very recognized Florentine cuisine.

Now it is full of tourist’s shops, jeans places, cheap standardized handcraft, a lot of pizzeria and tourist restaurants. The concierge of the classical Hotel Baglioni, when questioned about the decay of the town, had a simple answer: “Sir, we are a town of merchants. We did create the letter of change, the banks, and the international trade. Here come people who looked for art and antiques. Today we are awash with people who want to buy blue jeans and cheap stuff. We provide with what people want.” And for those living, in Rome, the main street via del Corso has suffered the same transformation.

It is scary to think what will happen when in the not so far 2020, 100 million Chinese will travel worldwide, with Europe as their first destination. Anybody who had a Chinese visitor (or from a different culture),knows how difficult it is for him to understand what he sees.

One of the main artistic European buildings are churches, and for a totally different religion they are strange places. It makes no sense to a Chinese what is Romanesque or Baroque, as they do not have any equivalent at home. And the classical tourist tour is now for about a week, in which they see at least 5 towns. This is the equivalent for a European to visit the temples in Tibet, without having studied Tibetan Buddhism, which is very different from other branches of Buddhism. Or, for that matter, visit the Egyptian temples without some knowledge at least of the Egyptian cosmology, the reigns of death, and the Pantheon of Gods. What will be remembered is the size of the pyramids, the smell of the incense in Buddhist temples, and other mere esthetical impression. That has nothing to do with culture and art.

To talk about the negative impacts of tourism, opens inevitably the question of classism. The more cultured you are, the more you can get from your travels. Does that mean that only cultured people (that until the second world war, also meant affluent: today the two concepts have split, may be for ever), should travel? Is tourism not a way to enrich and educate, so it should be on the contrary an important tool for the less cultivated?

I do not think that there is an easy answer to this issue. What I know, is that only a small minority of those visiting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, or the Potala Palace in Lhasa, or the valley of the kings in Egypt, have a book in their hands, that they have bought to prepare themselves. They depend on their tour guides, who confess that they do not even try to teach, but only to show what their tourists can all understand. That means that when you are in the Sistine Chapel, you are nearly unable to move, while the custodians try to move people on, so to make space for the waiting line of visitors. Among that crowd, there are some people who can place the difference between Michelangelo and Matisse, and would certainly benefit from some more time, while this is irrelevant for others.

It is clear that we cannot let 1.8 billion people wander in the world, without introducing some global regulations on how to limit the negative aspects of tourism, and relating it not only to money, but to education, culture and personal development.

To come in touch with different cultures, civilizations, foods, habits and realities should be an occasion that should not be left only to money. A paradox is that we are fighting against immigrants, because of different cultures, but we accept gladly the same people if they come as tourist and not as refugees. And the other paradox is the two parallel words which coexist: one, the real, about poverty and violence that we read in newspapers; and another of the same place, which exists only for tourists, about the beautiful beaches, wonderful nature, and fantastic hotels.

Right now, you can visit the Vatican after its closing, with a modest fee of 100 Euro per person, in quiet and small numbers. Is the future of tourism made with two tracks, where money will be the dividing factor ?

It is obvious that we should link tourism to education and culture. A proposal is simply to ask every tourist, when he buys a tour, an airline ticket, or asks for a visa, to buy and read a very simple and schematic book (they do not exist until now), which can be read and understood in no more than 10 hours about what he or she is going to visit.

A small commission formed by one teacher of history, one of geography, and one of art, is established in any small or large cities, where now lives the large majority of the population. In all of them there are schools with these studies. They conduct a small exam, and charge a small fee for a certificate, to justify their extra work.

Tourists can choose to go to the commission or not. Few extremely simple questions such as – which is the capital of the countries you are going to visit ? Is the country independent ? Is it a monarchy or a republic ? How does it makes its money ? Its monument and art have different moments in history? The commission would give two certificates. One would give access to museums and monuments for the first two hours of the day, and only those with the certificate could then enter. After those two hours , everybody with the two certificates can enter. But this would enable those who can understand and enrich themselves, to have some time in peace and quiet.

This would make two tracks of tourism, not based on money. And this could generate a demonstration effect, where tourists would probably dedicate sometime to prepare themselves. I asked one former director general of UNESCO what he thought of a such proposal. His answer was – it is a great idea, but where is the political will to support this or, for that matter any international agreement ?

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2017 Was a Year of Record-Breaking Climate Events Sat, 06 Jan 2018 07:51:23 +0000 Kelly Levin Kelly Levin, World Resources Institute, Washington DC
We’re only a few days into the new year, but it’s already off to an extreme start.

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South Carolina National Guard clears debris from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Credit: Capt. Tammy Muckenfuss/U.S. Army

By Kelly Levin

Parts of the United States are experiencing blizzard and record low temperatures, with sharks freezing in the Atlantic and cold-snapped iguanas falling from trees in Florida.

The frigid, snowy conditions could be related to climatic changes—recent studies show that melting Arctic sea ice can disrupt the jet stream and push cold air south. Meanwhile, other parts of the world are currently experiencing warmer-than-average temperatures.

It’s reminiscent of the kinds of extremes we saw over and over last year. Across the world, extreme events hammered communities and smashed records, while scientists gained a better understanding of just how much climate change is fueling many of the disasters we’re witnessing.

We took stock of some of the most noteworthy impacts and scientific advances of 2017. One thing was clear: Climate change is creating conditions that put all of us at risk.

Texas National Guard soldiers help citizens evacuate during Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD/The National Guard


• Although the year-end data have yet to be released, 2017 will likely be the third-warmest year in the 138-year record (possibly even the second-warmest, according to one report). Notably, it is on track to be the warmest year without an El Niño, a weather pattern that typically boosts average global temperatures.

Extreme Events

• As of early October, there had already been 15 weather and climate disaster events in the United States with losses of more than $1 billion, tying 2016’s total and only one shy of 2011’s record number of “billion-dollar disasters.”

• California just experienced its largest-ever wildfire, causing at least 50,000 people to evacuate. This came on the heels of a wildfire in northern California only a few weeks earlier, which killed more than 40 people and destroyed at least 8,400 homes.
• Hurricanes came in rapid succession, including Hurricane Harvey (with flooding from storm surge and extreme rainfall that left nearly 800,000 people in need of assistance), Hurricane Irma (the strongest in the Atlantic since Wilma in 2005) and Hurricane Maria (the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928). Scientists are at work researching the role of climate change in these events, but have already found that human-induced climate change likely increased the chances of Harvey’s heavy rainfall by at least 3.5 times and its intensity by almost 20 percent.
• East Africa fell deeper into a humanitarian crisis due to devastating drought, compounded with conflict, with millions going hungry.
• Australia broke more than 260 heat and rainfall records and witnessed its warmest winter on record.
• The 2017 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that scientists are increasingly able to discern whether climate change is impacting extreme events. The report reviewed work from 116 scientists from 18 countries and found that multiple extreme events in 2016—such as the extreme heat across Asia and a marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska—could not have even been possible without human influence to the climate. Another noteworthy publication found a connection between the severity of a number of extreme events and climate impacts to the jet stream.

Sea Level Rise

• Scientists mapping Greenland’s coastal seafloor and bedrock found that 2 to 4 times as many coastal glaciers are at risk of accelerated melting than previously considered.
• In Antarctica, scientists for the first time documented widespread movement of meltwater and large-scale surface drainage systems, which could send water to areas of ice shelves already vulnerable to collapse and accelerate future ice-mass loss.

Glaciers in Disko Bay, Greenland. Credit: twiga269 ॐ FEMEN/Flickr


• Scientists determined that the extent and rate of Arctic sea ice decline is unprecedented for at least the past 1,500 years.

Graphic by NOAA, Kinnard et al., 2011

• Arctic sea ice dipped to its smallest maximum extent ever recordedduring the month of March (it has been dropping about 2.8 percent each decade since 1979). Additionally that month, there was less than one percent of older sea ice (lasting longer than four winters), which is much more resistant to melt than new ice.
• Although summer ice extent in Antarctica has been generally growing over the past years, in 2017, scientists recorded the lowest summer ice extent ever. Scientists will need several more years of data to understand whether this was due to variation alone or indicative of more systemic changes.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

• The World Meteorological Bulletin found that concentrations of carbon dioxide – 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016 – were the highest in at least 800,000 years and were 45 percent higher than pre-industrial levels. The last time Earth experienced comparable concentrations of carbon dioxide was when sea level was 10-20 meters higher than today and global average temperature was 2-3°C warmer. While it’s too early to tell what 2017’s annual concentrations will be, for the first time, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded readings exceeding 410 ppm.
• The Global Carbon Project and University of East Anglia found that 2017 experienced the highest levels of carbon pollution on record, reversing course on a flattening of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry over the past three years.

Scotland oil rig. Photo by Steven Straiton/Flickr

Ecological Disruption

• Scientists discovered that tropical forests may have reached a critical threshold — turning from a carbon sink, where they suck up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, to a carbon source, thanks to deforestation, degradation and other land use changes.

• Permafrost temperatures were warmest on record in 2016, and preliminary data suggest they will be for 2017 as well. This warming could cause permafrost ecosystems to thaw, destabilize and release greenhouse gases locked inside.
• A study published in Nature found that ecosystems have taken longer to recover from droughts, especially in the tropics and northern high latitudes, than ever before. Recovery time is a signal of ecosystem resilience; compromised recovery could lead to widespread tree death.
• Scientists found that previous estimates of climate change’s impacts on species were highly underestimated — almost 1 in 2 threatened mammals and 1 in 4 threatened birds have already been negatively impacted by climate change in at least some part of their range.

We Need to Reverse Course

It’s clear that trends are headed in the wrong direction. But 2018 brings a fresh start, and an opportunity to learn from 2017 and the record-breaking years that came before it. May this new year bring a new resolve to reverse course and take actions that move toward a low-carbon future.

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‘Red Alert’ 2018 – Global Unity, Media & Humanitarian Action Fri, 05 Jan 2018 06:50:49 +0000 Purnaka de Silva Dr Purnaka L. de Silva is Director, Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD) Malta

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Nigerian refugees leave their camp in Ngouboua, on the coast of Lake Chad. Credit: UNHCR/Olivier Laban-Mattei

By Purnaka L. de Silva
NEW YORK, Jan 5 2018 (IPS)

“Unity is the path. Our future depends on it,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, as he issued an unequivocal global ‘Red Alert’ in his New Year message on December 31, 2017.

He listed the rise of nationalism and xenophobia foremost among many new dangers to global peace and stability – that included deepening conflicts, possible nuclear war, negative impact of climate change worsening at an ever-alarming rate, growing societal inequalities and appalling violations of human rights.

Underpinning his optimistic hope that the planet can be made more safe and secure, Guterres called for unity among the global community to tackle these overwhelming challenges, settle conflicts, overcome hatreds and defend values shared by all human beings.

Secretary-General Guterres’ ‘Red Alert’ underlines a stark reality, where over 135 million crisis-affected people globally require humanitarian assistance.

On December 22, 2017 he launched the UN-OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data (a major initiative of the Agenda for Humanity) in The Hague to provide humanitarian actors secure access to critical and sensitive information needed to make responsible, informed and timely decisions and interventions.

The Centre concentrates on four key areas: (a) data services; (b) data policy; (c) data literacy; (d) network engagement. Guterres noted that: “Accurate data is the lifeblood of good policy and decision-making. Obtaining it, and sharing it across hundreds of organizations, in the middle of a humanitarian emergency, is complicated and time-consuming – but it is absolutely crucial.”

Obtaining and sharing real time data to assist humanitarian action is critical, as are responsible media, research and scholarship. The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action co-edited by me and Professor Robin Andersen (published September 2017) focuses on the nexus between media and humanitarian action, and delves deep into some of the manifold contexts of these unprecedented humanitarian crises – where representations of global disasters are increasingly common media themes globally.

The Preface to this timely volume is written by Sir Peter Sutherland, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration (January 2006 to March 2017) on combating the scourge of human trafficking and forced migration – with more than 240 million migrants every year and almost 20 million people forced from their countries by conflicts and disasters.

Not since the Second World War, have so many people fled their homes to escape persecution, conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations.

UNHCR’s report on global trends in forced displacement estimated that by the end of 2016, 65.6 million individuals would be forcibly displaced worldwide, including 40.3 million people uprooted within the borders of their own countries; 2.8 million seeking asylum; and 22.5 million people seeking safety across international borders as refugees.

UNHCR also estimated that in 2016 there were 10.3 million people newly displaced by conflict or persecution, with an average of 20 people driven from their homes every minute, or one every three seconds.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) notes that 49,310 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 7 May, with the vast majority arriving in Italy and the rest in Greece, Cyprus and Spain. More than 1,200 people lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the European Borders and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the majority of refugees and migrants now “irregularly residing” in Europe, fled their homes because their lives were at risk. In many cases, they may have escaped situations where they were at risk of atrocity crimes or where these crimes were ongoing.

The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action was launched at the UN Bookshop, hosted by UN-DPI, and moderated by Assistant Secretary-General Maher Nasser – where the two coeditors and fellow chapter contributor Under-Secretary-General Adama Dieng (Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide) addressed attendees with support from other chapter contributors who were present during the proceedings, which were broadcast online by UN Publications:

The contributors to the volume include media professionals, international development cooperation specialists, emergency medical experts and humanitarian actors, many working for the UN, some at the highest echelons – providing privileged access and insights to the inner-workings of the Security Council and other key decision making bodies and organs of that august institution.

Responsible journalism, detailed research and scholarship on critical subject matter dealing with media and humanitarian action has never been at a greater premium than in the current geopolitical climate – where facts appear to have a diminished value, and anti-intellectualism and fake news is on the rise – to the detriment of humanitarian laws and basic freedoms.

The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action contributes to existing data and knowledge necessary to inform politicians, policymakers, media professionals and humanitarian actors across the globe, and thereby to the work of the Centre for Humanitarian Data.

Unity has never been at a greater premium in these dystopian times, where extrajudicial (e.g. Myanmar, Russia, Venezuela), anti-humanitarian (e.g. Yemen, Syria, Eritrea), nationalist and xenophobic (e.g. USA, Austria, Hungary) policies are being enacted and implemented by would-be-dictators, autocrats and rightwing populists – harking back to darker times like during the pre-World War Two era.

In contrast, Secretary-General Guterres has urged leaders everywhere to resolve in the New Year: “Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals.”

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Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’ Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:53:29 +0000 Azza Karam Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Azza Karam. Credit: UN photo

By Azza Karam

In 1994, Dr. David R. Hawkins wrote a book positing the difference between power and force (Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior – the latest revised version came out in 2014).

Basing his hypothesis on the science of kinetics, Dr. Hawkins made a case for how human consciousness – and the physical body – can tell the difference between power, which is positive, and force, which is not. An example of power over force is illustrated as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the force of British colonialism.

Power is slow, steady, and long lasting, whereas force is moving, fast, and tends to both create counter-force, and eventually exhaust itself. Dr. Hawkins’ argument, often labeled as ‘spiritual’, lays the groundwork for how faith, or belief, is a source of power, and, to coin a phrase, it’s all good.

Historically, from the first century’s Lucretius, to 16th Century Machiavelli, to 18th Century’s Voltaire and David Hume, through to modern day Richard Dawkins and others among the New Atheists, it has long been argued, in different ways, that religion —particularly as manifested through religious institutions — is, in Hawkins’ terms, more pertinent to the realm of ‘force’.

And yet, it is still largely towards these religious leaders, and religious institutions, that the international community (now increasingly shepherded by many governments) is looking, as a means to (re)solve a myriad of human development and humanitarian challenges.

These challenges include poverty, migration, environmental degradation, children’s rights, harmful social practices, ‘violent extremism’ (often narrowed down only to the religious variety), and even armed conflict. Religious leaders, and occasionally faith-based organizations, are posited as the panacea to all these, and more.

The notion of partnering with religious actors as one of the means to mobilise communities (socially, economically and even politically), to seek to (re)solve longstanding human development challenges, has evolved significantly inside the United Nations system over the last decade. But the intent of the outreach from largely secular institutions towards religious ones, has changed in the last couple of years.

The rationale for partnership, as argued by the diverse members of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Partnership with Religious Actors for Sustainable Development (or the UN Task Force on Religion, for short) in 2009, was based on certain facts: that religious NGOs are part of the fabric of each civil society, and therefore bridging between the secular and religious civic space is key to strong advocacy and action for human rights (think the Civil Rights Movement in the USA); that religious institutions are the oldest and most long-standing mechanisms of social service provision (read development including health, education, sanitation, nutrition, etc.); and that some religious leaders are strong influencers (if not gatekeepers) of certain social norms – including especially some of the harmful social practices that hurt girls and women.

Thus, the UN Interagency Task Force developed guidelines for engagement with religious actors, based on a decade of learning, consultations and actual engagement among 17 diverse UN entities and almost 500 faith-based NGOs. These guidelines stipulate, among other aspects, engagement with those who are committed to all human rights. Thus, there is to be no room for cherry-picking, or so-called ‘strategic’ selectivity about which rights to honour, and which to conveniently turn a blind eye to.

When the specific religious actors who are committed to all human rights, are convened, even around one development or humanitarian issue, the ‘power’ in the convening space is palpable, and the discourse can – and does – move hearts and minds. This was evident as far back as 2005 when UNDP started convening Arab faith leaders around the spread of HIV.

Some of the very same religious leaders who held that HIV was a ‘just punishment for sexual promiscuity’, when confronted with the scientific realities of the spread of the disease, and its very human consequences on all ages and all social strata, signed on to a statement which remains one of the most ‘progressive’ (relatively speaking) in religious discourse of the time, and some went so far as to ask for forgiveness from those living with HIV among them.

The ‘power’ of religious actors who are systematically convened together for the human rights of all, at all times, was repeatedly witnessed over the course of several UN initiatives over the years, in different countries, and at the global level. Notably, UNFPA and UNICEF convened religious leaders with other human rights actors, to effect a social transformation as witnessed in a number of communities committed to stopping the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in several sub-Saharan African countries.

The latest event took place as 2017 wound to an end, in December, when the UN Office for the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, after two years of convening religious actors – using the UN systems vetted partners and it’s Guidelines — as gatekeepers against hate speech, responded to a request from some of the religious leaders themselves, to come together from several South Asian countries (including Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka).

Sharing respective experiences of protecting religious minorities and standing in solidarity with the rights of all, across religions and national boundaries, created a sense of shared purpose, and above all, of possibility, hope – and yes, of power. Not a minor achievement in a time of a great deal of general confusion and sense of instability around, and with, religion.

Can the same be said of convening religious actors who are prepared to uphold a particular set of rights, even at the expense of ignoring other rights, ostensibly for the ‘greater good’? Or are we then, very possibly, inadvertently mobilising the ‘force’ of religion?

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Trade Multilateralism Set Back yet Again Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:32:06 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia); he held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The International Trade Organziation (ITO) sought to make finance the servant, not the master of human desires’ the world over. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

As feared, the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 10-13 December 2017, ended in failure. It failed to even produce the customary ministerial declaration reiterating the centrality of the global trading system and the importance of trade as a driver of development.

Driven by President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ strategy and his preference for bilateral trade deals, instead of multilateral or even plurilateral agreements, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer was key to the outcome. The USTR also refused to engage in previously promised negotiations on a permanent solution to the use of food reserves by India and other countries. Most importantly, the failure of MC11 undermines prospects for orderly trade expansion to support robust global economic recovery.

India’s National Food Security Act, the most ambitious food security initiative in the world by far, buys food grains from small-scale farmers for distribution to some 840 million poor, two-thirds of its people. Since 2013, US and other OECD countries, all subsidizing their own farmers, have frustrated WTO acceptance of Indian efforts.

In fact, US rejection of the WTO Doha Round began much earlier. The Obama administration undermined the 2015 Nairobi WTO ministerial. Then USTR Michael Froman derailed the Doha Round of trade negotiations by demanding inclusion of previously rejected agenda items which WTO members could not agree to after 14 years of negotiation. He claimed that the then recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was the new gold standard for free trade agreements (FTAs), and insisted on including corporate-promoted issues, such as broadened intellectual property rights and investor-state dispute settlement arrangements.

Following the 1999 Seattle WTO ministerial failure, Doha Round negotiations began in late 2001 after 9/11, with the OECD promising to rectify the previous Uruguay Round outcomes inimical to developing country interests. Ending the Doha Round inconclusively will enable WTO members to renege on promised concessions to keep all countries at the negotiating table. Not surprisingly, most developing countries want the Doha Round to continue, hoping to finally realize the 2001 post-9/11 promises to rectify Marrakech outcomes which have undermined food security and development prospects.

ITO stillbirth due to US corporate lobby
The US had previously killed the attempt to create a pro-growth and development International Trade Organization (ITO) after the Second World War to complement the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), better known as the World Bank. These two international financial institutions were created at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference with broad supervisory and regulatory powers to provide short- and long- term finance to stabilize the international order.

A third international multilateral economic organization was deemed necessary for the regulation of trade, including areas such as tariff reduction, business cartels, commodity agreements, economic development and foreign direct investment. The idea of such an international trade organization was first mooted in the US Congress in 1916 by Representative Cordell Hull, later Roosevelt’s first Secretary of State in 1933.

In 1946, the US proposed to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) to convene a conference to draft a charter for an ITO. The US State Department prepared a draft charter for the UN Conference on Trade and Employment. US officials then made significant concessions to accommodate ‘underdeveloped’ countries. Underdeveloped countries then were generally unwilling to guarantee the security of foreign investments, widely seen as a means for foreign exploitation.

The Havana Charter’s rule that the foreign investments could not be expropriated or nationalized except with “just”, “reasonable”, or “appropriate” conditions was seen by US business as weakening the protection that US investments previously enjoyed. US concessions on the use of quantitative restrictions for economic development were also seen as undermining free trade. Thus, the Havana Charter lost crucial support from US business.

The ITO Havana Charter’s final text was signed by 53 countries, including the US, on 24 March 1948. Sceptical observers viewed such efforts as part of a grand strategy to extend US hegemony, even if at the expense of its closest ally, Great Britain.

However, by 1949, US political elites and corporations believed that American interests and investment interests were not well protected by the Havana Charter. What had begun as an American project was out of control. Thus, the Republican-dominated Congress opposed ratification. What seemed a certainty only months earlier, ended in failure by December 1950.

Thus, the ITO did not survive American trade politics despite initial US sponsorship and signing the Draft Charter in Havana. A coalition of protectionist and ‘perfectionist’ critics of the Charter convinced President Truman to withdraw the draft treaty from Congress, reneging on his administration’s undertaking to support the ITO.

Different trade order
As envisioned, the ITO was quite different from the WTO, created almost half a century later. The ITO Charter was committed to full employment and free market cornerstones for multilateralism, and ‘sought to make finance the servant, not the master of human desires’ internationally. It was much more than a defence of investor rights.

Clearly, this strong commitment to achieving full employment was the glue for the post-war global consensus underlying the new post-colonial economic multilateralism. This global new deal became the basis for the post-war Keynesian Golden Age quarter century when inequality declined among nations as well as within many economies.

Negotiators at the Conference recognized the need for domestic and international measures, including international policy coordination, for “attainment of higher living standards, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress development”, as envisaged by Article 55 of the UN Charter. Security of employment would have become a critical international benchmark for international trade promotion. Thus, the ITO’s collapse represented a significant setback to prioritizing full employment, accelerating the transition to the imperial ‘free trade’ canon.

Richard Toye, a leading economic historian, has suggested a different order had the ITO survived: “The ITO might have been a more attractive organization for underdeveloped countries to join, which might, in turn, have promoted less autarchic/anarchic trade policies among them with additional growth benefits. This development might, in its turn, have given a further boost to the impressive post-Second World War growth in world trade … At the same time, the Havana charter’s exceptions to free-trade rules, especially those made in the interests of the economic development of poorer countries, might have helped to reduce global inequalities.” Thus, the ITO could have enabled a more inclusive, productive, orderly and just world economy.

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Billionaires, Fiscal Paradise, the World’s Debt, and the Victims Tue, 02 Jan 2018 14:22:59 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Money, coins and bills. Credit: IPS

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

Among Bloomberg’s many profitable activities is a convenient Bloomberg Billionaires Index that has just published its findings for 2017. It covers only the 500 richest people, and it proudly announces that they have increased their wealth by 1 trillion dollars in just one year. Their fortunes went up by 23% to top comfortable 5 trillion dollars (to put this in perspective, the US budget is now at 3.7 trillion). That obviously means an equivalent reduction for the rest of the population, which lost those trillion dollars. What is not widely known is that the amount of the circulation of money stays the same; no new money is printed to accommodate the 500 richest billionaires!

In fact, Forbes, the magazine for the rich, states that there are over 2.000 billionaires in the world, and this number is going to increase and increase fast. China has now overtaken the US, by having 594 billionaires as compared to the US’s 535 – and every three days a new millionaire is born. There is even an exclusive club of billionaires, the China Entrepreneur Club, which admits members only by the unanimity of its 64 members at present. Together they have 300 billion dollars, the 4.5% of the Chinese GNP. As a norm, the Chinese wealth is a family affair, which means that in 10 years they will leave a heritage of 1 trillion dollars, most probably to their sons; and the amount of inherited wealth is going to rise to three trillion dollars in 20 years.

We know from a large study by the French economist Thomas Piketty covering 65 countries during modern times, that the bulk of wealth comes from inherited money. That because, as we all know, money begets money. And Reagan started his campaign: “Misery brings misery, wealth brings wealth”: therefore, we must tax rich people less than poor people. But Trump’s tax law just adopted in the US, cuts taxes to companies, increasing the US deficit by 1.7 trillion dollars over ten years. Nobody is noticing that the US deficit is already at $18.96 trillion or about 104% of the previous 12 months of the Gross Domestic (GDP).

This tax reform will have a deep impact on Europe, by shifting there many of the costs of the reform, through balance of payments and trade. The five most important ministers of finance of Europe, UK included, have written a letter of protest, obviously much to the glee of President Trump, who perceives only the US as winner, and all others as losers.

Roberto Savio

All this staggering amount of money in a few hands (8 people have the same wealth as 2.3 billion people), brings us to three relevant considerations: a) what is happening with the world debt b) how are governments helping the rich to avoid taxes; c) the relation between injustice and democracy. None of those perspectives gives space for hope, and least of all trust in our political class.

Let us start with the world’s debt. I do not remember to have seen a single article on that in the closing year. Yet the International Monetary Fund has alerted: gross debt of the non-financial sector has doubled in nominal terms; since the end of the century to 152 trillion dollars. This is a record 225% of the world GDP. Two thirds come from the private sector, and one third from the public sector. But this increased from below 70% of the GDP last year now to 85%, a dramatic rise in such a short time.

In fact, the respected Institute for international Finance estimates that at the end of this year the global debt, private and public added, would have reached a staggering 226 trillion dollars, more than three times global annual economic output… This doesn’t seem to interest anyone. But let us take the state of the American economy, and a proud President boasting about the index of growth, now estimated at 2.6%. Well, this shows the inadequacy of the GDP as a valid indicator. Growth is a macroeconomic index. If 80% goes to a few hands, and the crumbs to all the others, who pay most of taxes, it is not an example of growth, it is just a problem waiting to explode.

What is more, nobody is thinking about the increase in deficit. The total private debt at the end of the first quarter of 2017 was 14.9 trillion, with an increase of 900 million dollars in three months. While salaries increased from 9.2 billion dollars in 2014 to 10.3 billion dollars in the second quarter of 2017, the debt of families rose from 13.9 billion dollars to 14.9, an increase of one billion dollars, in just four months.

Which growth are we talking about? In fact, we have 86% of the population facing an increasing debt, but poorer at the same time, because of the concentration of wealth in just 1% of the population’s hands. This should be a cause of concern for any administration, left wing or right-wing: in fact, it is not surprising that the 400 richest men of the US, led by Warren Buffet, have written to Trump telling him that they are doing fine and that they do need a tax rebate; and that he should worry about the poorest part of the population.

Now a favourite way of avoiding taxes, is to place money in tax havens, where between 21 and 30 trillion dollars are ensconced. The Tax Justice Network reports that this system is “basically designed and operated” by a group of highly paid specialists from the world’s largest private banks (led by UBS, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs), law offices, and accounting firms and tolerated by international organizations such as Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD, and the G20.

The amount of money hidden away has significantly increased since 2005, sharpening the divide between the super-rich and the rest of the world. And this is why there was a lot of pressure to oblige banks to open their accounts to fiscal inspector, and pressure on the Bahamas, Hong Kong, Panama and other third world countries.

Now, another good example of the reigning hypocrisy: The last meeting of the Ministers of Finance of the European Union (Ecofin), has not been able to take a decision on something heinous: several member countries (Luxemburg, UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Malta and Cyprus), host tax havens on their territories. The Queen of England has invested 10 million pounds in an English tax heaven. And two US states, in particular Delaware, have tax havens that are impenetrable even to the CIA and FBI. Tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey and the Bahamas were far less permissive, researchers found, than states such as Nevada, Delaware, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and New York. “[Americans] discovered that they really don’t need to go to Panama”, said James Henry of the Tax Justice Network. Ecofin has decided that they will continue to bang Third World countries, until they decided what to do at home.

So, the West proclaims principles of transparency and accountability, as long as it can impose these on others. But there is a paradox for the western governments: if those tax havens were closed, as the majority of the deposit comes from the West, they would be able to get much more taxes. To take just the case of the US: Reed College economist Kim Clausing estimates that inversions in tax havens and other income-shifting techniques reduced Treasury revenues by as much as $111 billion in 2012. And, according to a new Congressional Budget Office projection, the corporate base erosion will continue to cut corporate tax receipts over the next decade. It must be clear therefore that if governments let their revenues from the corporations and high earners shrink, they are not acting in the interest of the average citizen.

So, let us draw our conclusions. Nobody is paying attention to the world debt. It is increasing beyond control, but we are leaving the problem to the next generations, hoping that they will address it. We are mortgaging them with debt, with climate change, and whatever else is possible, to avoid any sacrifices on our part now. Our motto seems to be: Let us protect the riches, and expect less from them and more from the others. In 1952, corporate income taxes funded about 32 percent of the US government. That shrank to 10.6 percent by 2015. While tax havens aren’t the sole cause of this shift, it’s worth noting that the share of corporate profits reported in tax havens has increased tenfold since the 1980s. And now comes from Trump the giant tax gift for companies.

This policy, hidden to citizens, and never legitimized by any formal act of law, is now becoming evident because of the giant increase of inequality, which has no precedence in history. According to Oxfam, Great Britain will have more social injustice in 2020, that at the times of Queen Victoria. The world is moving faster to financial investments and transactions, and not the production of goods and services, which do not fetch instant rewards. It is estimated that with one trillion dollars you can buy the world production of a day of goods and services. That same day, the financial transactions reach 40 trillion dollars. That means, that for every dollar generated by human hands, there are 40 dollars created by financial abstractions.

Globalization is obviously rewarding capitals, not human beings. Well, this is having an impact in politics, and not the best one. There is everywhere an increasing number of losers, especially in rich countries, also because of technological development, and shift in consumption. A classic example are the coal mines that Trump wants to resurrect, to make America great again. But coal is inexorably being phased out because of climate concerns (even if not fast enough), and automatization reduces considerably the number of workers to be employed. Robots will in 2040 be responsible for 42% of production of goods and services, up from the present 16%. Which means around 86 million of new unemployed, in the West alone, according to the International Labour Organization. Those left out from the benefits of globalizations look at the winners, whom they see well connected to the system. This results in the globalization of resentment and frustration, which in a few years has led to the rise of the rightist parties in all European countries, triggered Brexit, and Trump. Once upon a time, the left was the banner-bearer of the fight for social justice. Now it is the right!

Finally, globalization has lost its shine – but not its power. Now, the debate is about how to de-globalize, and what is worrying is that the debate is not about how to bring the process to the service of humankind, but how to deploy populism and nationalism, and xenophobia, to “let us make US great again”, to the increase in clashes and conflicts.

International organizations like the IMF and the World Bank – who have been claiming for two decades that market is the only basis for progress, that once a totally free market is in place, the common man and woman would be the beneficiary – have switched the reverse gear. Now they are all talking about the need for the state to be again the arbiter for regulations and social inclusion, because they have found out that social injustice is a brake not only for democracy, but also economic progress. But despite all the mea culpa, they are rather late in the day. The genie is out of the bottle, and the powers that be do not even try to put it back. Utter hypocrisy, vested interests, and the lack of vision have regrettably replaced policy.

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Critical Issues to Watch in 2018 Tue, 02 Jan 2018 11:27:44 +0000 Martin Khor Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva

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More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold in the world in 2016, in 2018 we can expect international cooperation to reduce the use of plastic and how to treat plastic waste. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold in the world in 2016, in 2018 we can expect international cooperation to reduce the use of plastic and how to treat plastic waste. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

Another new year has dawned, and on a world facing serious disruption on many fronts.  What are the trends and issues to watch out for in 2018?

One obvious answer is to anticipate how Donald Trump, the most unorthodox of American Presidents, will continue to upset the world order.  But more about that later.

Just as importantly as politics, we are now in the midst of several social and environmental trends that have important long-lasting effects.  Some are on the verge of reaching a tipping point, where a long-term trend produces critical and sometimes irreversible events. We may see some of that in 2018.

Who would have expected that 2017 would end with such an upsurge of the movement against sexual harassment? Like a tidal wave it swept away famous or important persons from their posts, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film star Kevin Spacey, TV talk-show host Charlie Rose, US Senator Al Franken, and UK Minister Michael Fallon.

The #MeToo movement took years to gather steam, with the 1991 Anita Hill testimony against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas being a trailblazer.  It paved the way over many years for other women to speak up until the tipping point was reached last year. In 2018, expect the momentum to continue and in more countries.


Clicktivism & Real Life Activism Potent Instruments Against Sexual Violence

Another issue that has been brewing is the rapid growth and effects of digital technology.  Those enjoying the benefits of the smartphone, Google search, Whatsapp, Uber and on-line shopping usually sing its praises and wonder what life would be like without them.

But the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  It has many benefits such as more convenience and choice for consumers and higher efficiency and reduced costs for businesses.  But it also has serious downsides, and the debate is now picking up.

First, automation with artificial intelligence can make many jobs redundant.  Uber displaced taxis, and has now booked thousands of driver-less cars which will soon displace its army of drivers.

The global alarm over job losses was sounded a few years ago and is gathering speed.  Scholarly studies warn that as many as half of jobs or work tasks in industries including electronics, automobiles and textiles, and professional services such as accountancy, law and healthcare, will be replaced by robots within one or two decades.

New country-based estimates are being produced. An estimated 44% of jobs in the United Kingdom could feasibly be automated, equating to 13.7 million people who together earn about 290 billion pounds sterling, according to a 28 December 2017 article in The Guardian (London), citing a new study by the UK  think tank IPPR.

In Malaysia, 54% of jobs is at high risk of being displaced by technology in the next 20 years according to a 2017 study by government-owned think-tank Khazanah Research Institute, citing a International Labour Office report.

The global alarm over job losses was sounded a few years ago and is gathering speed. Scholarly studies warn that as many as half of jobs or work tasks in industries including electronics, automobiles and textiles, and professional services such as accountancy, law and healthcare, will be replaced by robots within one or two decades.

Second is a recent chorus of warnings, including by some of digital technology’s creators, that addiction and frequent use of the smartphone are making humans less intelligent (as time and interest traditionally used to acquire broad and in-depth knowledge is now replaced by the narrow skills and short span attention required by social media) and socially deficient (as relations through social media replace direct human relationships).

Third is the loss of privacy, as personal data obtained from our internet use is collected by tech companies like Facebook and Google and sold to advertisers.  The companies have the data on personal details and preferences of millions or even billions of individuals which can be used for commercial, and possibly non-commercial, purposes.

Fourth is the threat of cyber-fraud, other cyber-crimes and cyber-warfare as data from hacked devices can be used to damage computers and websites; empty bank accounts; steal information from governments and companies;  send out false information; and engage in high-tech warfare.

Fifth is the worsening of inequality and the digital divide as those countries and people with little access to digital devices will be left behind or even lose their livelihoods.  The internet can be used by big companies or tech-savvy small and medium sized firms to establish growing markets for their products, which is one of the major attractions of the digital economy.

But firms, individual entrepreneurs and the self-employed that cannot adapt or keep pace with the new internet technologies, or that operate in places that do not even have access to the internet, are unable to take advantage of internet marketing and are also at increasing risk of their business being taken over by the big wave of on-line shopping.

The developing countries will be most badly hit by the inequities of the digital revolution; except for a few, they have much less capacity to gain.  Even in developed countries, the digital revolution will widen the rich-poor gap.  According to the IPPR study, low-paid job-related roles are in greatest danger as automation threatens jobs generating wages worth 290 billion pounds.

The usual response to these points is that people and governments must be prepared to take advantage of the benefits of the digital revolution and offset  the ill effects.  Suggestions include that laid-off workers should be retrained, companies be taught to use e-commerce, and a tax can be imposed on using robots (an idea supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates).

But the technologies are moving ahead faster than policy makers’ capacity to understand or keep track of them, let alone come up with policies and regulations.

Expect this debate to move from conference rooms to the public arena in 2018, as more technologies are introduced and more effects become evident.

In 2018, the environmental crisis will continue to attract great public concern. On climate change, scientists frustrated by the lack of action, will continue to raise the alarm that the situation is far worse than earlier predicted.

In fact the tipping point may well be reached already.   On 20 December, the United Nations stated that the Arctic has been forever changed by rapidly warming climate.  The Arctic continued in 2017 to warm at double the rate of the global temperature increase, resulting in loss of sea ice, and other effects.  “The Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region it was decades ago,” said the Arctic Report Card authored by 85 scientists.

The Arctic phenomenon is only one of the signs of accelerating global warming.  Last year saw many extreme weather events including hurricanes, tropical storms, wild fires and drought which climate change likely exacerbated; and 2015-2017 have been the three warmest years on record.

The target of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a benchmark just two years ago by the IPCC (the UN’s climate change scientific panel) and the Paris Agreement, now seems out of date and a new target of 1.5 degrees will be considered in 2018.

But it is much harder to meet this new target than the existing one, especially since the rise in average global temperature has already passed the 1 degree level.    Will political leaders and the public rise to the challenge, or will this coming year see a wider disconnect between what scientists say needs to be done, and a lack of response, and what will be the impact of the bad example of the US under President Trump?

And will the developing countries get the financial resources and technologies needed by them to take climate action, as pledged as commitments by the developed countries?


Credit: UNEP


Air pollution has now gained recognition as one of the world’s top killers.  With urban smog proliferating worldwide, including in the two big capital cities of New Delhi and Beijing, a tipping point may have been reached in public consciousness of its threat to human life and health. In 2018, there should be a big jump in policy measures to tackle this danger.

Plastic pollution in the world’s seas and oceans has also reached alarming proportions with the head of the UN environment programme Erik Solheim describing it as “Armageddon in the making” and predicting there will be the same weight of plastic as fish in the seas by 2050 if this continues.

Last year there was a lot of publicity given to this problem, including estimates there were 480 billion plastic bottles in the world in 2016, and we can expect international cooperation to reduce the use of plastic and how to treat plastic waste.

Another issue reaching tipping point is the continuing rise of antibiotic resistance, with bacteria mutating to render antibiotics increasingly ineffective to treat many diseases.   There are global and national efforts to contain this crisis, but these are only beginning in most countries, and far from adequate. Yet there is little time left to act before millions die from once-treatable ailments.

Finally, back to President Trump.  Since he showed last year that his style and policies are disrupting the domestic and global order, and he does seem to  care but even thrives on this, we can expect more of the same or even more shocking pronouncements and measures from him in 2018.

The opposition to his policies from foreign countries will mean little to him. But Trump has many enemies domestically who consider him a threat to the American system.   So long as the Republicans control both houses in the US Congress, the President may feel his position is secure.  But this may change if he commits what is perceived by his Party as a major blunder, or if the Democrats capture enough seats in the mid-term Congressional elections in November.

At this moment, it looks unlikely that a tipping point will be reached regarding Trump’s presidency and we will probably still be discussing what new policies he will unleash, this time next year.  But in politics today, as in other areas, nothing can be really reliably predicted.

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The Political Responsibility in the Collapse of Our Planet Wed, 27 Dec 2017 20:47:28 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

The post The Political Responsibility in the Collapse of Our Planet appeared first on Inter Press Service.


The premises of a school inundated by floodwater. Shibaloy in Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 27 2017 (IPS)

On 20 December, Europe’s 28 Ministers of Environment met in Brussels, to discuss the plan for reducing emissions prepared by the Commission, to comply with the Paris Agreement on climate change. Well, it is now clear that we have lost the battle in keeping the planet as we have known it. Now, of course, this can be considered a personal opinion of mine, devoid of objectivity.

Therefore I will bring a lot of data, history and facts, to make it concrete. Data and facts have good value: they focus any debate, while ideas do not. So those who do not like facts, please stop reading here. You will escape a boring article, as probably all of mine are, because I am not looking to entertain, but to create awareness. If you stop reading, you will also lose a chance to know our sad destiny.

As common in politics now, interests have won over values and vision. The ministers decided (with some resistance from Denmark and Portugal), to reduce Europe’s commitment. This is going in the Trump direction, who left the Paris Agreement, to privilege American interests, without any attention to the planet. So, Europe is just following.

Of course, those alive now will not pay any price: the next generations will be the victims of a world more and more inhospitable. Few of the people who made to Paris in 2015, solemn engagements in the name of all humankind to save the planet, will be alive 30 years from now, when the change will become irreversible. And it will be also clear that humans are the only animals who do not defend nor protect their habitat.

While we talk on how to reduce the use of fossils, we are doing the opposite. At this very moment, we spend 10 million dollars per minute, to subsidize the fossils industry. Just counting direct subsidies, they are between 775 billion dollars to 1 trillion, according to the UN

First of all, the Paris’ Agreement was adopted by the 195 participating countries, of which 171 have already subscribed to the treaty, in just two years. Which is fine, except that the treaty is just a collection of good wishes, without any concrete engagement.

To start with, it does not set up specific and verifiable engagements. Every country will set its own targets, and will be responsible for its implementation. It is like to ask all citizens of a country to decide how much taxes they want to pay, and leave to them to comply, without any possible sanction.

Europe engaged in Paris in 2015, to reach 27% of renewable energies (by scaling down the use of fossils), fixing a target of 20% for 2020. Well, from 27%, it went down to 24.3%. In addition, the ministers decided to keep subsidies for the fossils industry, until 2030 instead of 2020, as planned. And while the proposal of the Commission was that fossils plants would lose subsidies if they did not cut their emissions to 500 grams of CO2 per ton by 2020, the ministers extended subsidies until 2025.

Finally, the Commission proposed to cut biofuels (fuels made with products for human consumption, like palm oil) to 3.8%. Well, the ministers, in spite of all their declarations about the fight against hunger in the world, decided to double that, at 7%.

Now let us go back to the real flaw of the Paris Agreement. Scientists took two decades to conclude with certitude that climate change is caused by human activities, despite a strong and well financed fight by the coal and fuel industry, to say otherwise.

The International Panel on Climate Change, is an organization under the auspices of the UN, whose members are 194 countries, but its strength comes from the more than 2.000 scientists from 154 countries who work together on climate. It took them from 1988, (when the IPCC was established), to 2013, to reach a definitive conclusion: the only way to stop the planet deteriorating more rapidly, emissions should not exceed 1.5 centigrade over what was the Earth’ temperature in 1850.

In other words, our planet is deteriorating already, and we cannot revert that. We have emitted too much gas and pollution, that are at work already. But by halting this process, we can stabilize it, but never cancel what we did cause, at least for thousands of years.

The Industrial revolution is considered to start in 1746, when industrial mills replaced individual weavers. But it started in great scale in the second half of the 19th century, with the second industrial revolution.

This involved the use of science in the production, by inventing engines, railways, creating factories, and other means of industrial production. We started to register temperatures in 1850, when this was done with thermometers.

So, we can see how coal, fossils and other fuels started to interact with the atmosphere. What the scientists concluded was that if we went over 1,5 centigrade of the 1.850’s temperature, we would irreversibly cross a red line: we will not be able to change the trend, and climate will be out of control, with very dramatic consequences for the planet.

Roberto Savio

Paris conference is a final act of a process who started in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with the Conference on Environment and Development, where two leaders have now passe away, Boutros Boutros Ghali and Maurice Strong, ran the first summit of heads of state on the issue of environment.

Incidentally, it is worth remembering that Strong, a man who spent all his life to make environment a central issue, did open up the conference for the first time to representatives of civil society, beyond governmental delegations. Over 20.000 organizations, academicians, activist come to Rio, starting the creation of a global civil society recognized by the international community.

In 1997, as a result of Rio Conference, the Kyoto Treaty was adopted, with the aim to reduce emissions. The results show that during the nearly two decades bringing to Paris, the results are very modest. Coal went from 45,05% in 1950, to 28.64 in 2016, also because of new technologies, but petrol increased from19.46, to 33.91 and renewables were a negligible reality.

So, Paris was left with a very urgent task, after having lost already two decades. And according to the World Bank, in 2014 , there are 1,017 billion people without electricity, with Africa where only 20% of people has access to electricity. For all these people we should provide renewable energy, to avoid a dramatic increase of emissions.

Paris was supposed to be really a global agreement, unlike Tokyo. So, to bring as many countries as possible on board, it is a little known dirty secret that the UN decided to put as a goal not the very tight 1,5 centigrade as a target, but a more palatable 2 centigrade. But unfortunately, the consensus is that we have already passed the 1.5 centigrade. And the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), has estimated that the engagements taken by the countries in Paris, if not changed, will bring us to 6 centigrade, an increase that according to the scientific community would make a large part of the earth inhabitable.

In fact, in the last four years we had the hottest summers since 1850. And in 2017 we have the highest record of emissions in history, because they have reached 41.5 gigatons. Of those, 90% comes from activities related to human actions, while renewables (cost for which has now become competitive with fossils), still cover only 18% of the energy consumed in the world. And now let us move to another important dirty secret.

While we talk on how to reduce the use of fossils, we are doing the opposite. At this very moment, we spend 10 million dollars per minute, to subsidize the fossils industry.

Just counting direct subsidies, they are between 775 billion dollars to 1 trillion, according to the UN. The official figure just in the G20 is 444 billion. But then, the International Monetary Fund accepted the economists’ view that subsidies are not only cash: it is the use of the earth and society, like destruction of soil, use of water, political tariffs (the so-called externalities, the cost which exists but are external to the budget of the companies).

If we do that, we reach the staggering amount of 5.3 trillion: they were 4.9 trillion in 2013. That is 6.5% of the global Gross National Product…and that is what it costs to governments, society and earth, to use fossils.

That was nowhere in in the news media. Few know the strength of the fossils industry. Trump wants to reopen the mines, not only because that brings him votes by those who lost an obsolete job, but because the fossils industry is a strong backer of the Republican party.

The billionaire Koch brothers, the largest owners of coal mines in the US, have declared that they have spent 800 million dollars in the last electoral campaign. Someone might say: these things happen in the US but according to the respected Transparency International, there are over 40.000 lobbyists in Europe, working to exercise political influence.

The Corporate Europe Observatory, which studies the financial sector, found out that it spends just in Brussels 120 million a year, and employs 1.700 lobbyists. It found that they lobbied against regulations, with more than 700 organizations, which outnumbered trade unions and civil society organizations, by a factor of seven.

The power of the fossils industry explains why in 2009 governments helped the sector with 557 billion dollars, and only 43 to 46 billion dollars to all renewable industry (International Energy Agency estimates).

It is clear that citizens have no idea that a part of their money is going to keep alive, with good profits, a sector which is well aware that they are key in the destruction of our planet.

A sector that knows well that they are now emitting 400 particles of CO2 per million, when the red line was considered 350 particles PM. But people do not know, and this is a spectacular feast of hypocrisy that goes on.

The UN, in 2015, conducted an extensive poll, with the participation of 9.7 million people. They were asked to choose as their priorities six themes out of 16. The first of the themes presented was climate change. Well, the first one chosen, with 6.5 million of preferences, was “a good education”. The second and third, with over 5 million of preferences, were “a better health system”, and “better opportunities for work”. The last of the 16 themes, with less than 2 million, was the “climate change. “And this was also in the preferences of the least developed countries, who are going to be the major victims of climate change.

The 4.3 millions poorest participants, from the least developed countries, put again education first (3 million preferences); climate change was last, with 561.000 votes…Not even in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, islands which could disappear, climate change was at the first place. This is an ample proof that people do not realize where we are: at a threshold of the survival of our planet, as we have known it for several thousand years.

So, if citizens are not aware, and therefore not concerned, why should the politicians be? The answer is because they are elected by citizens to represent their interests, and they can make more informed decisions.How does this ring in your ears? With lobbyist all over fighting for interests, what can be well sold as jobs and stability?


Holstein cows in a feedlot. Credit: Bigstock


And now, let us bring a last dirty secret, to show how far we are from really addressing the control of our climate. In addition to what we said, there is a very important issue, that has even been discussed in Paris: the agreements are entirely about the reduction of emissions by the fossils’ industry. Other emissions have been left entirely out.

Now, a new documentary, the Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, produced by Leonardo di Caprio, has ordered several data presented by vegans, on the impact of animals in the climate change. They are considered somehow exaggerated. But their dimensions are so big, that they add anyhow another nail to our coffin.

Animals emit not CO2, but methane which is at least 25 % more damaging than C02. There is recognition by the UN, that while all means of transportation, from cars to planes, contribute to 13% of emissions, cows do with 18%…

And the real problem is the use of water, a key theme that we have no way to address in this article. Water is considered even by military strategist to be soon the cause of conflicts, as petrol has been for a long time.

One pound of beef uses 2.500 gallons of water. That means that a hamburger is the equivalent of two months of showers…! And to have 1 gallon of milk, you need 100 gallons of water. And people worldwide, use one tenth of what cows need.

Cattle uses 33% of all water, 45% of the earth, and are the cause of 91% of the Amazon deforestation. They also produce waste 130 times more than human beings. Pig raising in the Netherlands is creating serious problems because theirs waste acidity is reducing usable land. And consumption of meat is increasing in Asia and Africa, very fast,it is considered a mark of reaching the choices of rich societies.

Beside this serious impact on the planet, there is also a strong paradox of sustainability for our human population. We are now 7.5 billion people, and we will reach soon 9 billion. The total food production worldwide could feed 13 to 14 billion people. Of this a considerable part goes wasted, and does not reach people (theme for an article by itself). But the food for animals could feed 6 billion people.

And we have one billion people starving. This is proof how far we are from using resources rationally for the people living on earth. We have enough resources for everybody, but we cannot administer them rationally. The number of obese has reached the number of those starving.

The logical solution in this situation would be to reach an agreement on a global governance, in the interest of the planet of humankind. Well, we are going in the opposite direction. The international system is besieged by nationalism, who make increasingly impossible to reach meaningful solutions.


Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock


Let us conclude with a last example: overfishing. Its now two decades that the World Trade Organization (which is not part of the UN, and was built against the UN) tries to reach an agreement on over- fishing with mega nets, who scoop up an enormous quantity of fishe: 2.7 trillion, of which they keep only one fifth, and they throw back four fifth.

Well, at the last WTO conference on the 13 December in Buenos Aires, governments were again not able to reach an agreement on how to limit illicit fishing. Big fishes are now down at 10% of 1970.And we are exploiting one third of all stocks.

It is estimated that illegal fishing puts between 10 billion and 23 billion on the black market, according to a study by 17 specialized agencies, with a full list of names. And again, governments spend 20 billion per year to finance the increase of their fishing industry…another example of how interest win on the common good.

I think now we have enough data, to realize the inability of governments to take seriously their responsibilities, because they have the necessary information to know that we are going toward a disaster.

In a normal world, Trump’s declaration that Climate control is a Chinese hoax, and it is invented against the interest of United States, should have caused more global emotion.

Also, because while Trump’s internal policies are an American question, climate is affecting all the 7.5 billion in the planet, and Trump was elected by less than a quarter of eligible voters: nearly 63 million. Too little to take decisions which affect all humankind.

And now European ministers are following, as a proverb says, money speaks and ideas murmur.. And there are many who are preparing to speculate on climate change. Now that we have lost 70% of the ice of the North Pole, the maritime industry is gearing to use the Northern Route, which will cut cost and time by a 17%.

And the British wine industry, since the warming of the planet, is increasing production by 5% each year. The vineyards planted in Kent or Sussex, with a calcar soil, are now bought from producers of Champagne, who plan to move there. The UK is already producing 5 million bottles of wine and sparkling wines, which are all sold. This Christmas, local sparkling wine will exceed champagnes, caves, prosecco and other traditional Christmas drinks.

We have all seen, at no avail, the increase of hurricanes and storms, also in Europe, and a record spread of wildfires. The UN estimates that at least 800 million people will be displaced by climate change making uninhabitable several parts of the world. Where they will go? Not to the United States or Europe, where they are seen as invaders.

We forget that the Syrian crisis came after four years of drought (1996-2000) which displaced over a million peasants to the towns. The ensuing discontent fuelled the war, with now 400.000 dead and six million refugees.

When citizens will awake to the damages, it will be too late. Scientists think that it will become clearly evident after thirty years. So why do we worry now ? That is a problem for the next generation, and companies will continue to make money until the last minute, with complicity of governments and their support,so, let us ride the climate change tide.

Let us buy a good bottle of British champagne, let us drink it on a luxury cruise line over the Pole, and let the orchestra play, as they did in the Titanic until the last minute!

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“Only Our Youth Can Save the Planet” – Kumi Naidoo Wed, 20 Dec 2017 16:44:46 +0000 Pascal Laureyn “Today’s youth should think of new solutions for old problems like climate change and social injustice.” That’s the strong message of the South African activist Kumi Naidoo. The former executive director of Greenpeace says young people need to be more innovative and visionary, “because the solutions of my generation have failed.” After battling apartheid in […]

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Kumi Naidoo

By Pascal Laureyn
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

“Today’s youth should think of new solutions for old problems like climate change and social injustice.”

That’s the strong message of the South African activist Kumi Naidoo. The former executive director of Greenpeace says young people need to be more innovative and visionary, “because the solutions of my generation have failed.”

After battling apartheid in South Africa, Kumi Naidoo led numerous global campaigns to protect
human rights.

Among other organizations, he headed CIVICUS, an alliance for citizen participation. It was at the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), organized by CIVICUS in Fiji in December, that Naidoo spoke out on youth and innovation.

“My advise for young people is: don’t put any faith in the current leaders. They are the biggest bunch of losers you are going to find. Because they are unwilling to accept that they have got us into this mess,” says Naidoo.

“Basically, we are using old solutions that have never worked in the past anyway,” Naidoo contin-ues.

Albert Einstein said: ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting to get different results.’ If humanity continues to do what we always did, we will get what always got: inequality, unsustainability and environmental destruction.”

How can young people steer the planet away from insanity?

“The most valuable role that they can play, is bringing fresh lenses to old problems. And not to be scared to be called romantic, unrealistic or idealistic. The so called realistic solutions to today’s
problems are ineffective.”

“In terms of innovation, I really think that the best solutions in the world – even on a small scale – are coming from young people. For example: Four years ago, a group of young schoolgirls in Zambia designed a generator that could run for five hours on one liter of human urine.”

Can local innovation change the whole world?

“We are obsessed with big infrastructure. We have to break out of that. In Africa, the rural popula-tion is short of energy. Big power plants are not going to help those people. Politics get in the way. And lots of energy gets lost in the transmission process. The solution is simple: small grids. All we need is 20 solar panels and connect them to 50 homes. It can be done quickly, it’s not rocket sci-ence.”

You have been a vocal critic of global bodies like the World Economic Forum. You proposed a system re-design. What do you mean by that?

“We are heading towards irreversible and catastrophical climate change. It’s one of the worst cases of cognitive dissonance. All the facts are telling us we have to change. Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase of 100 percent of extreme weather. But nothing is done. Therefore, I believe that innovation will not come from people who are trained in an old system.”

“I’m inspired by my daughter. She was in her early teens when she said that my generation is con-taminated by decades of bad experiences. She was right. The current generation has run out of fresh ideas. Young people will learn more easily, they are essential to innovation. Like the founders of Google, how old where they?”

What’s your dream for the future?

“That young people could recalibrate our values and convince the world that excessive consump-tion does not lead to happiness. I hope that they take us back to basics: a sense of community, sharing and equity. I hope that young people will be able to take us from an polluting economy to one that is based on green and renewable energy. And that extreme poverty will be completely eradicated.”

“My final message to our youth is: you have to resist the old wisdom that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. If you wait until tomorrow, there might not be a tomorrow to exercise it.”

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the ef-fects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji, 4 December through 8 December 2017 for International Civil Society Week.

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Rise of Teenage Pregnancy Deters Development Goals Tue, 19 Dec 2017 20:02:45 +0000 Lorenzo Jmenez Lorenzo Jiménez de Luis, is UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Dominican Republic

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Teenage pregnancy: 2 out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the Dominican Republic have been pregnant or have been mothers

Teenage mom with her baby. Credit: IPS

By Lorenzo Jiménez de Luis
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Dec 19 2017 (IPS)

A few years ago, someone shared a video with me that deeply impacted me. It was called “The Girl Effect”. In three minutes, the video demonstrates the fate of millions of girls and teenagers around the world.

Years later, when I arrived in the Dominican Republic and studied its challenges in terms of human development, I remembered that video and concluded that if the Dominican Republic does not resolve the problem of teenage pregnancy, despite its high sustained economic growth, its important social transformation and its modernization, it will never reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

A few days ago, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched its 2017 National Human Development Report for Dominican Republic devoted to this topic. This report is complemented in turn by another report presented by UNICEF and the World Bank in August and also by the report presented in November by the National Statistics Office (ONE in Spanish) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The three documents make up a global and coherent product of a sinister reality. Two out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the Dominican Republic have been pregnant or have been mothers; representing 15.9% of the country’s population. Surely it will be a higher percentage given that pregnancies begin to occur as early as twelve years of age.

The causes of this sinister reality, briefly described, are multiple; but its consequences are clear: low or very low quality of life, poor welfare, recurrent poverty, exclusion.

The link between poverty and child and teenage pregnancy is clear, and the UNDP National Human Development Report shows that the mentioned link is to be found in the opportunity cost that teenage pregnancy represents for the human development of these young women. That is, the opportunities that they lose as a consequence of those early pregnancies or maternities.

This reality, I insist sinister indeed, worsens when considered that it has an equally quantifiable impact on the young pregnant woman, on the family environment of the pregnant girl or teenager and of course also on the child, the product of that pregnancy.

We are talking about half of the population of the country. The good news, however, is that the spooky effects of teen pregnancy are not necessarily irreversible.

The trend could be reversed if a new architecture of policies that affect and integrate prevention is urgently introduced, as well as the mitigation of the effects of pregnancy through care and protection policies. Policies that ensure greater opportunities.

A new architecture with a multidimensional character, that reaches the local level (territorial approach) and is implemented over time.

If the above is adopted and introduced soon, the possibilities of complying with the commitments acquired by the State can be fulfilled. If it is not the case; I am afraid that we will be talking about a country with a half future. The one of the privileged half of the population.


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Key Facts You Should Know About Global Migration Trends Tue, 19 Dec 2017 13:56:54 +0000 International Organization for Migration The UN International Organization for Migration –IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet presents a snapshot of the major migration trends worldwide for the year 2015 based on statistics from a variety of sources. Considering the state of migration globally in 2015, the following facts stand out: In 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide – people […]

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Credit: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Dec 19 2017 (IOM)

The UN International Organization for Migration –IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet presents a snapshot of the major migration trends worldwide for the year 2015 based on statistics from a variety of sources.

Considering the state of migration globally in 2015, the following facts stand out:

In 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide – people residing in a country other than their country of birth – was the highest ever recorded, having reached 244 million (from 232 million in 2013).

As a share of the world population, however, international migration has remained fairly constant over the past decades, at around 3 per cent. While female migrants constitute only 48 per cent of the international migrant stock worldwide, and 42 per vent in Asia, women make up the majority of international migrants in Europe (52.4 per cent) and North America (51.2 cent).

South-South migration flows
(across developing countries) continued to grow compared to South-North movements (from developing to developed countries): in 2015, 90.2 million international migrants born in developing countries resided in other countries in the Global South, while 85.3 million born in the South resided in countries in the Global North.

Germany became the second most popular destination for international migrants globally (in absolute numbers), following the United States and preceding the Russian Federation, with an estimated 12 million foreign-born residing in the country in 2015 (against 46.6 million in the U.S. and 11.9 million in the Russian Federation).

As a proportion of the host country’s population, however, numbers of international migrants continue to be highest in Gulf Cooperation Council countries: the foreign-born population makes up 88.4 per cent of the total population in the United Arab Emirates, 75.7 cent in Qatar and 73.6 cent in Kuwait.

Close to 1 in 5 migrants in the world live in the top 20 largest cities, according to IOM’s World Migration Report 2015. International migrants make up over a third of the total population in cities like Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and London, and at least one in four residents in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris is foreign-born.

The year 2015 saw the highest levels of forced displacement globally recorded since World War II, with a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people across various regions of the world – from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia.

The world hosted 15.1 million refugees by mid-2015. This is a 45 per vent increase compared to three and a half years ago, largely due to continued conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, now well into its 5th year. Some 8.6 million persons were newly displaced in 2015 alone.

In 2015, Germany also became the largest single recipient of first-time individual asylum claims globally, with almost 442,000 applications lodged in the country by the end of the year.

The number of asylum claims worldwide almost doubled between the end of 2014 and the first half of 2015, from 558,000 pending applications at the end of 2014 to almost 1 million by the end of June 2015. This figure continued to increase, rising to about 3.2 million pending asylum applications globally by the end of 2015.

By the end of 2015, the EU as a whole received over 1.2 million first-time asylum claims, more than double the number registered in 2014 (563,000), and almost double the levels recorded in 1992 in the then 15 Member States (672,000 applications). The increase in 2015 is largely due to higher numbers of asylum claims from Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis).

Almost 1 in 3 first-time asylum applicants in the EU were minors, a 9 per cent increase compared to 2014 levels; also, 1 in 4 of these were judged to be unaccompanied by national authorities – the highest number since 2008 and a three-fold increase on numbers registered in 2014.

Still, the vast majority of refugees continue to be hosted by developing countries, particularly those that are proximate to the refugees’ countries of origin: for instance, the bulk of the Syrian refugee population is hosted by Turkey (2.2 million), Lebanon (1.2 million) and Jordan (almost 630,000), according to figures recorded in December 2015.

Also, most forced displacement globally still occurs within countries’ borders, with an estimated 38 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence at the end of 2014 – from Iraq to South Sudan, from Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

The year 2015 was also the deadliest year for migrants: increased levels of forced displacement globally were tragically accompanied by record-high numbers of people perishing or going missing while trying to cross international borders.

Over 5,400 migrants worldwide are estimated to have died or gone missing in 2015.

According to IOM’s Missing Migrant project, migrant fatalities during migration to Europe increased by 15 per cent compared to the previous year, reaching at least 3,770.

From 2014 to 2015, a major and sudden shift in routes of irregular migration by sea to Europe occurred – with about 853,000 arriving to Greece compared to almost 154,000 to Italy, as opposed to about 34,400 and 170,100 respectively in 2014.

In 2015, the number of voluntary returns of migrants (e.g. failed asylum-seekers, and other groups) from EU countries was for the first time higher than the number of forced returns (81,681 against 72,473). Moreover, the number of IOM-assisted voluntary returns from EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland in 2015 reached a figure of almost 56,000.

New estimates for the number of migrant workers globally show that the large majority of international migrants in the world are migrant workers. Migrants have higher labour force participation than non-migrants, particularly due to higher labour force participation rates for migrant women relative to non-migrant women.

Remittances continue to climb globally while remittance-sending costs remain relatively high. The sum of financial remittances sent by international migrants back to their families in origin countries amounted to an estimated 581 billion dollars in 2015 – over three-quarters of which were sent to low and middle-income economies. In Tajikistan remittances constituted over 40 per cent of the country’s GDP.

However, average remittance transfer costs were still at 7.5% of the amount sent in the third quarter of 2015, higher than the 3 per cent minimum target set in the Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. Remittance transfer costs are particularly high in Sub-Saharan Africa – now standing at 9.5% on average.

Finally, public opinion towards migration globally is more favourable than commonly perceived – with the notable exception of Europe, according to an IOM-Gallup report, “How the World Views Migration”. The report is based on a Gallup poll conducted across over 140 countries between 2012 and 2014.

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