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

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

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO , Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Day Anti-Castro Forces Tried to Bomb the U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 00:29:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138337 Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

When the politically-charismatic Ernesto Che Guevera, once second-in-command to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was at the United Nations to address the General Assembly sessions back in 1964, the U.N. headquarters came under attack – literally.

The speech by the Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary was momentarily drowned by the sound of an explosion.

The anti-Castro forces in the United States, backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had mounted an insidious campaign to stop Che Guevera from speaking.

A 3.5-inch bazooka was fired at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River while a CIA-inspired anti-Castro, anti-Che Guevara vociferous demonstration was taking place outside the U.N. building on New York’s First Avenue and 42nd street.

First Phase Digital

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

But the rocket launcher – which was apparently not as sophisticated as today’s shoulder-fired missiles and rocket-propelled grenades – missed its target, rattled windows, and fell into the river about 200 yards from the building.

One newspaper report described it as “one of the wildest episodes since the United Nations moved into its East River headquarters in 1952.”

With the United States resuming full diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday – after a 53-year hiatus – will there be a significant change in its attitude towards the politically-ostracised Caribbean nation in the world body?

The United States has routinely led or co-sponsored scores of U.N. resolutions critical of human rights violations in Cuba and consistently voted against every single General Assembly resolution calling on Washington to lift the economic embargo on Havana imposed in 1960.

At the last General Assembly vote in October 2014, an overwhelming majority – 188 out of 193 members – voted to end the embargo, for the 23rd consecutive year.

As in most previous years, the only two countries to vote against the resolution were the United States and Israel.

And three other countries that have traditionally voted with the United States – Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands – abstained on the vote this year.

After the vote, and as if anticipating a change in the political horizon, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez invited the United States to establish “mutually respectful relations.”

“We can try to find a solution to our differences through respectful diplomacy. We can live and deal with each other in a civilised way despite our difference,” he added.

Asked about the historic U.S.-Cuba agreement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had been informed in advance of the announcement by the U.S. government.

“This news is very positive. And I’d like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and Cuban President Raul Castro for taking this very important step towards normalising relations,” Ban said.

“As much of the membership of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasised, through General Assembly resolutions during the last many, many years, it is time Cuba and the United States normalise their bilateral relations,” Ban told reporters Wednesday.

“The United Nations stands ready to help both countries to cultivate their good neighbourly relations,” he declared.

As longtime U.N. staffers would recall, the failed 1964 attack on the U.N. building took place when Che Guevera launched a blistering attack on U.S. foreign policy and denounced a proposed de-nuclearisation pact for the Western hemisphere, as he addressed delegates.

It was one of the first known politically motivated terrorist attacks on the United Nations.

After his Assembly speech, Che Guevera was asked about the attack aimed at him. “The explosion has given the whole thing more flavour,” he joked, as he chomped on his Cuban cigar.

When he was told by a reporter that the New York City police had nabbed a woman, described as an anti-Castro Cuban exile, who had pulled out a hunting knife and jumped over the wall, intending to kill him, Che Guevera said: “It is better to be killed by a woman with a knife than by a man with a gun.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.S. Flag Can Be Seen Again in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:51:53 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138335 The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

The announcement that the United States and Cuba would reestablish diplomatic relations took most Cubans by surprise. Over half of the population was born after the severing of ties in 1961 and the start of the embargo that has marked their lives.

“I wasn’t expecting it; it’s the news of the century and a step that will put in gear many changes,” a journalist who has followed the question for years told IPS.

Groups of university students took to the streets on Wednesday to celebrate the return of the three Cuban agents serving out lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons on charges of spying.

A U.S. contractor serving time in a Cuban prison, Alan Gross, was also released. His arrest and sentencing to 15 years in prison on charges of involvement in subversive plans in Cuba was seen by Washington as a major hurdle to the normalisation of relations with Havana.

Nor was the Cuban government willing to move in that direction unless the Cuban agents were freed.

Antonio Guerrero, whose sentence ended in 2017; Ramón Labañino, sentenced to 30 years; and Gerardo Hernández, who had been given two life sentences, arrived in Havana on Wednesday.

The other two members of the group known as “the Cuban five”, René González and Fernando González (no relation), had served out their sentences and have been back in Cuba since 2013 and February of this year, respectively.

In a televised speech – broadcast simultaneously with U.S. President Barack Obama’s address in Washington – President Raúl Castro said that his openness to dialogue with the U.S. gave continuity to his brother Fidel’s (president from 1959 to 2008) willingness to negotiate.

Observers see that statement as targeting segments of society and even within the government who could be opposed to the normalisation of relations. “The conflict with the United States, and especially the embargo, has served for decades to justify our shortcomings,” a researcher who wished to remain anonymous told IPS.

The reestablishment of diplomatic ties does not include the lifting of the trade and economic embargo against Cuba, a decision that is up to the U.S. Congress. But Castro urged Obama to “modify its application by use of his executive powers.”

More than seven million people in this country of 11.2 million were born under the embargo.

But the move towards normal relations with Cuba’s powerful neighbor only 90 miles away will pose enormous challenges to this country’s socialist development model, which Castro says he will not abandon.

Luis Emilio Aybar, a sociologist, says Cuba should follow a pragmatic policy of economic and political ties like the ones it has with many other countries, while maintaining its “alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist policies” – but without forgetting that the U.S. will continue to be the main enemy of this form of government.

Vulnerability to different kinds of foreign influences “will now be multiplied manyfold, and will be added to the loss of hegemony that socialist values are suffering in our country. The U.S. government understands the situation clearly; that’s why it took this step,” said Aybar, who believes the solution to the dilemma “lies in understanding that you can be pragmatic and radical at the same time.”

Rita María García Morris, executive director of the independent Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue, said it was important for civil society institutions to keep their doors open to a conciliatory dialogue, even if it is difficult and painful. “It has never been easy to acknowledge differences,” she said.

The reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro, such as an expansion of private enterprise and a new foreign investment law, enabled the government to optimise relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and to renew negotiations with the European Union.

Havana and Brussels are involved in talks towards a political and cooperation agreement that would further diversify the diplomatic ties of the Cuban government, which is keen on drawing larger flows of investment to ensure growth, particularly in the Mariel special economic development zone.

Against that backdrop, the United States appeared to be increasingly isolated in its stance towards Cuba, which was officially invited to take part in the next Summit of the Americas, in Panama in April, despite Washington’s resistance. Now that things have changed, Castro and Obama will be able to use that occasion to strengthen the direct dialogue that they began with a phone conversation on Tuesday Dec. 16.

Pope Francis’s mediation in the process that led to the new relations between the U.S. and Cuba did not come as a surprise, given the dialogue in recent years between Castro and the Catholic Church leadership in Cuba, which helped bring about the release of several dozen political prisoners.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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REDD and the Green Economy Continue to Undermine Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:03:45 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138330 Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Dercy Teles de Carvalho Cunha is a rubber-tapper and union organiser from the state of Acre in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, with a lifelong love of the forest from which she earns her livelihood – and she is deeply confounded by what her government and policymakers around the world call “the green economy.”

“The primary impact of green economy projects is the loss of all rights that people have as citizens,” says Teles de Carvalho Cunha in a report released last week by a group of Brazilian NGOs. “They lose all control of their lands, they can no longer practice traditional agriculture, and they can no longer engage in their everyday activities.”The whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

Referring to a state-run programme called the “Bolsa Verde” that pays forest dwellers a small monthly stipend in exchange for a commitment not to damage the forest through subsistence activities, Teles de Carvalho Cunha says, “Now people just receive small grants to watch the forest, unable to do anything. This essentially strips their lives of meaning. ”

Her words are especially chilling because Teles de Carvalho Cunha is not just any rubber tapper – she is the president of the Rural Workers Union of Xapuri – the union made famous in Brazil when its founder, Chico Mendes, was murdered in 1988 for defending the forest against loggers and ranchers.

Mendes’ gains have been consolidated in tens of thousands of hectares of ‘extractive reserves,’ where communities earn a living from harvesting natural rubber from the forest while keeping the trees standing. But new policies and programmes being established to conserve forests in Acre seem to be having perverse results that the iconic leader’s union is none too happy about.

Conflicting views on the green economy

As Brazil has become a leader in fighting deforestation through a mix of  public and private sector actions, Acre has become known for market-based climate policies such as Payment for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes, that seek to harmonise economic development and environmental preservation.

Over the past decade, Acre has put into place policies favouring sustainable rural production and taxes and credits to support rural livelihoods. In 2010, the state began implementing a system of forest conservation incentives that proponents say have “begun to pay off abundantly”.

Especially as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continues to fail in its mission of bringing nations together around a binding emissions reduction target – the latest failure being COP20 in Lima earlier this month – REDD proponents highlight the value of “subnational” approaches to REDD based on agreements between states and provinces, rather than nations.

The approach is best represented by an agreement between the states of California, Chiapas (Mexico), and Acre (Brazil).

In 2010, California – the world’s eighth largest economy – signed an agreement with Acre, and Chiapas, whereby REDD and PES projects in the two tropical forest provinces would supply carbon offset credits to California to help the state’s polluters meet emission reduction targets.

California policymakers have been meeting with officials from Acre, and from Chiapas, for several years, with hopes of making a partnership work, but the agreement has yet to attain the status of law.

Attempts by the government of Chiapas to implement a version of REDD in 2011, shortly after the agreement with California was signed, met strong resistance in that famously rebellious Mexican state, leading organisations there to send a series of letters to CARB and California Governor Jerry Brown asking them to cease and desist.

Groups in Acre, too, sent an open letter to California officials in 2013, denouncing the effort as “neocolonial,”:  “Once again,” the letter read, “the former colonial powers are seeking to invest in an activity that represents the ‘theft’ of yet another ‘raw material’ from the territories of the peoples of the South: the ‘carbon reserves’ in their forests.”

This view appears to be backed up now by a  new report on the Green Economy  from the Brazilian Platform for Human, Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights. The 26-page summary of a much larger set of findings to be published in 2015 describes Acre as a state suffering extreme inequality, deepened by a lack of information about green economy projects, which results in communities being coerced to accept “top-down” proposals as substitutes for a lack of public policies to address basic needs.

Numerous testimonies taken in indigenous, peasant farmer and rubber-tapper communities show how private REDD projects and public PES projects have deepened territorial conflicts, affected communities’ ability to sustain their livelihoods, and violated international human rights conventions.

The Earth Innovation Institute, a strong backer of REDD generally and of the Acre-Chiapas-California agreement specifically, has thoroughly documented Brazil’s deforestation success, and argues that existing incentives – farmers’ fear of losing access to markets or public finance or of being punished by green public policies – have been powerful motivators, but need to be accompanied by economic incentives that reward sustainable land-use.

But the testimonies from Acre raise concerns that such economic incentives can deepen existing inequalities. The Bolsa Verde programme is a case in point: according to Teles de Carvalho Cunha, the payments are paltry, the enforcement criminalises already-impoverished peasants, and the whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

A related impact of purely economic incentives is to undermine traditional approaches to forest management and to alienate forest-dwellers from their traditional activities.

“We don’t see land as income,” one anonymous indigenous informant to the Acre report said. “Our bond with the land is sacred because it is where we come from and where we will return.”

Another indigenous leader from Acre, Ninawa Huni Kui of the Huni Kui Federation, appeared at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru this month to explain his people’s opposition to REDD for having divided and co-opted indigenous leaders; preventing communities from practicing traditional livelihood activities; and violating the Huni Kui’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consents as guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

One of the REDD projects the report documents (also documented here) is the Purus Project, the first private environmental services incentive project registered with Acre’s Institute on Climate Change (Instituto de Mudanças Climáticas, IMC), in June 2012.

The project, designed to conserve 35,000 hectares of forest, is jointly run by the U.S.-based Carbonfund.org Foundation and a Brazilian company called Carbon Securities. The project is certified by the two leading REDD certifiers, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community, Biodiversity Standard (CCBS).

But despite meeting apparently high standards for social and environmental credibility, field research detected “the community’s lack of understanding of the project, as well as divisions in the community and an escalation of conflicts.”

One rubber tapper who makes his living within the project area told researchers, “I want someone to explain to me what carbon is, because all I know is that this carbon isn’t any good to us. It’s no use to us. They’re removing it from here to take it to the U.S… They will sell it there and walk all over us. And us? What are we going to do? They’re going to make money, but we won’t?”

A second project called the Russas/Valparaiso project, seems to suffer similar discrepancies between what proponents describe and what local communities experience, characterised by researchers as “fears regarding land use, uncertainty about the future, suspicion about land ownership issues, and threats of expulsion.”

The company’s apparent failure to leave a copy of the project contract with the community did not help to build trust. Like the Purus Project – and like many REDD projects in other parts of the world whose track record of social engagement is severely lacking – this project is also on the road to certification by VCS and CCB.

Concerns like criminalising subsistence livelihoods and asserting private control over community forest resources, whether these resources be timber or CO2, is more than a misstep of a poorly implemented policy – it violates human rights conventions that Brazil has ratified, as well as national policies such as Brazil’s National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities.

The report’s conclusion sums up its findings: “In the territories they have historically occupied, forest peoples are excluded from decisions about their own future or—of even greater concern – they are considered obstacles to development and progress. As such, green economy policies can also be described as a way of integrating them into the dominant system of production and consumption.

“Yet, perhaps what is needed is the exact opposite – sociocultural diversity and guaranteeing the rights of the peoples are, by far, the best and most sustainable way of slowing down and confronting not only climate change, but also the entire crisis of civilization that is threatening the human life on the planet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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After 53 Years, Obama to Normalise Ties with Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:59:03 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138317 Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

In perhaps his boldest foreign-policy move during his presidency, Barack Obama Wednesday announced that he intends to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

While the president noted that he lacked the authority to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Havana, he issued directives that will permit more U.S. citizens to travel there and third-country subsidiaries of U.S. companies to engage in commerce, among other measures, including launching a review of whether Havana should remain on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”."The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations." -- Michael Shifter

He also said he looked forward to engaging Congress in “an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” he said in a nationally televised announcement.

“Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

The announcement, which was preceded by a secret, 45-minute telephone conversation Tuesday morning between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, drew both praise from those who have long argued that Washington’s pursuit of Cuba’s isolation has been a total failure and bitter denunciations from right-wing Republicans.

Some of the latter had vowed, among other things, to oppose any effort to lift the embargo, open U.S. embassy in Havana, or confirm a U.S. ambassador to serve there. (Washington has had an Interest Section in the Cuban capital since 1977.)

“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all costs,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of a number of fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers and a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

“I intend to use my role as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuba people’s expense,” he said in a statement.

The outgoing Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, also decried Obama’s announcement.

“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world,” said Menendez, who is also Cuban American.

But other lawmakers hailed the announcement.

“Today President Obama and President Raul Castro made history,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat and one of three lawmakers, including a Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who escorted a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, Alan Gross, from Havana Wednesday morning as part of a larger prisoner and spy swap that precipitated the announcement.

Part of that deal included the release of 53 prisoners in Cuba, including Gross, who the U.S. considers to be political prisoners.

“Those who cling to a failed policy [and] …may oppose the President’s actions have nothing to offer but more of the same. That would serve neither the interests of the United States and its people, nor of the Cuban people,” Leahy said. “It is time for a change.”

Other analysts also lauded Obama’s Wednesday’s developments, comparing them to historic breakthroughs with major foreign-policy consequences.

“Obama has chosen to change the entire framework of the relationship, as [former President Richard] Nixon did when he travelled to China,” said William LeoGrande, a veteran Cuba scholar at American University, in an email from Havana.

“Many issues remain to be resolved, but the new direction of U.S. policy is clear.”

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based hemispheric think tank that has long urged Washington to normalise ties with Havana, told IPS the regional implications would likely be very positive.

“Obama’s decision will be cheered and applauded throughout Latin America. The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations,” Shifter said.

“Since his sensible and lofty rhetoric at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Latin Americans wondered where Obama has been in recent years.”

Indeed, Obama also announced Wednesday that he will attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Because Castro was officially invited, over the objections of both the U.S. and Canada, at the last Summit in Cartagena in 2012, there had been some speculation that Obama might boycott the proceedings.

Harvard international relations expert Stephen Walt said he hoped that Wednesday’s announcement portends additional bold moves by Obama on the world stage in his last two years as president despite the control of both houses of Congress by Republicans, like Rubio, who have opposed Obama’s efforts to reach out to perceived adversaries.

“One may hope that this decision will be followed by renewed efforts to restore full diplomatic relations with even more important countries, most notably Iran,” he told IPS in an email.

“Recognition does not imply endorsing a foreign government’s policies; it simply acknowledges that U.S. interests are almost always well-served by regular contact with allies and adversaries alike.”

Administration officials told reporters that Wednesday’s developments were made possible by 18 months of secret talks between senior official from both sides – not unlike those carried out in Oman between the U.S. and Iran prior to their November 2013 agreement with five other world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme — hosted primarily by Canada and the Vatican, although the Interests Sections of both countries were also involved.

Officials credited Pope Francis, an Argentine, with a key role in prodding both parties toward an accord.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

The Vatican’s strong endorsement could mute some of the Republican and Cuban-American criticism of normalisation and make it more difficult for Rubio and his colleagues to prevent the establishment of an embassy and appointment of an ambassador, according to some Capitol Hill staff.

Similarly, major U.S. corporations, some of whom, particularly in the agribusiness and consumer-goods sectors, have seen major market potential in Cuba, are likely to lobby their allies on the Republican side.

“We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish,” said Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

Donohue headed what he called an unprecedented “exploratory” trip to Cuba earlier this year.

“Congress now has a decision to make,” said Jake Colvin, the vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, an association of many of the world’s biggest multi-national corporations. “It can either show that politics stops at the water’s edge, or insist that the walls of the Cold War still exist.”

Wednesday’s announcement came in the wake of an extraordinary series of editorials by the New York Times through this autumn in favour of normalisation and the lifting of the trade embargo.

In another sign of a fundamental shift here, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill took some steps to ease the embargo during his tenure as president, disclosed in her book published last summer that she had urged Obama to “take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

That stance, of course, could alienate some Cuban-American opinion, especially in the critical “swing state” of Florida if Clinton runs in the 2016 election.

But recent polls of Cuban Americans have suggested an important generational change in attitudes toward Cuba and normalisation within the Cuban-American community, with the younger generation favouring broader ties with their homeland.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UNIDO Development Initiative Gains Momentum in ACP Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:48:32 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138303 By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

The inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) initiative of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability is gaining momentum in the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. 

A concrete sign of this trend came on the occasion of last week’s ACP Council of Ministers meeting in the Belgian capital where UNIDO Director-General Li Yong met with ACP representatives to explore how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in their countries and possible ways of scaling up investment in developing countries.

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers  meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

During the opening session of the ministers’ meeting, outgoing ACP Secretary-General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni had already highlighted the key role of the ISID programme in promoting investment and stimulating competitive industries in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

In December last year in Lima, Peru, the 172 countries belonging to UNIDO – including ACP countries – unanimously approved the Lima Declaration calling for “inclusive and sustainable industrial development”.

The Lima Declaration clearly acknowledged that industrialisation is an important landmark on the global agenda and, for the first time, the spectacular industrial successes of several countries in the last 40 years, particularly in Asia, was globally recognised.

According to UNIDO statistics, industrialised countries add 70% of value to their products and recent research by the organisation shows how industrial development is intrinsically correlated with improvements in sectors such as poverty reduction, health, education and food security.“We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people” – UNIDO Director-General Li Yong

One major issue that the concept of ISID addresses is the environmental sustainability of industrial development. “We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people,” said Li.

Economic growth objectives should be pursued while protecting the environment and health, and by making business more environmentally sustainable, they become more profitable and societies more resilient.

ISID in the Post-2015 Agenda

“For ISID to be achieved,” said Li, “appropriate policies are essential as well as partnerships among all stakeholders involved.” This highlights the importance of including ISID in major development frameworks, particularly in the post-2015 development agenda that will guide international development in the coming decades.

With strong and solid support from the ACP countries, ISID has already been recognised as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the U.N. Open Working Group on SDGs – to take the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose deadline is December 2015 – and confirmed last week by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in ‘The Road to Dignity By 2030’, his synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda.

In fact, goal 9 is specifically devoted to “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.”

In this context, Mumuni told the Brussels meeting of ACP ministers that “in building the competitiveness of our industries and facilitating the access of ACP brands to regional and international markets, UNIDO is regarded by ACP Secretariat as a strategic ally.”

ACP-UNIDO – A Strategic Partnership

A Memorandum of Understanding approved in March 2011 and a Relationship Agreement signed in November 2011 represent the solid strategic framework underlying the strategic partnership between ACP and UNIDO, and highlight how the two partners can work together to support the implementation of ISID in ACP countries.

Key is the establishment and reinforcement of the capacity of the public and private sectors in ACP countries and regions for the development of inclusive, competitive, transparent and environmentally-friendly industries in line with national and regional development strategies.

On the basis of these agreements, ACP and UNIDO have intensified their policy dialogue and concrete cooperation. One example reported during the ministers’ meeting was the development of a pilot programme entitled “Investment Monitoring Platform” (IMP), funded under the intra-ACP envelope of the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) with the support of other donors.

This programme is aimed at managing the impact of foreign direct investments (FDI) on development, combining investment promotion with private sector development, designing and reforming policies that attract quality investment, and enhancing coordination between the public and private sector, among others.

This programme has already reinforced the capacity of investment promotion agencies and statistical offices in more than 20 African countries, which have been trained on methodologies to assess the private sector at country level.

Implementing ISID in ACP Countries

In Africa, the strategy for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA) prepared with UNIDO expertise, is a key priority of Agenda 2063  – a “global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans” – and of the Joint Africa-European Union Strategy.

In the Caribbean, high priority is being given to private sector development, climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and value addition in agri-business value chains, trade and tourism.

The CARIFORUM-EU Business Forum in London in 2013 clearly articulated the need for more innovation, reliable markets and private sector information, access to markets through quality and the improvement of agro-processing and creative industries.

In the Pacific, the 2nd Pacific-EU Business Forum held in Vanuatu in June this year called for stronger engagement in supporting the private sector and ensuring that innovation would produce tangible socio-economic benefits.

Finally, in all three ACP regions, interventions related to quality and value chain development are being backed in view of supporting the private sector and commodity strategies.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: How Shifting to the Cloud Can Unlock Innovation for Food and Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-how-shifting-to-the-cloud-can-unlock-innovation-for-food-and-farming/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 12:57:25 +0000 Andy Jarvis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138266 Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

Climate change and variability demands new varieties of beans. A Massive Participatory Assessment in Yojoa Lake in Honduras led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) work together with local NGOs and farmers to make group observations and share their results with their neighbors. Credit: J.L.Urrea (CCAFS)

By Andy Jarvis
LIMA, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The digital revolution that is continuing to develop at lightening speed is an exciting new ally in our fight for global food security in the face of climate change.

Researchers have spent decades collecting data on climate patterns, but only in recent years have cost-effective solutions for publicly hosting this information been developed. Cloud computing services make the ideal home for key climate data – given that they have a vast capacity for not only storing data, but analysing it as well.Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

This rationale is the basis for a brand new partnership between CGIAR, a consortium of international research centres, and Amazon web services. With 40 years of research under its belt, CGIAR holds a wealth of information on not just climate patterns, but on all aspects of agriculture.

By making this data publically available on the Amazon cloud, researchers and developers will be empowered to come up with innovations to solve critical issues inextricably linked to food and farming, such as reducing rural poverty, improving human health and nutrition, and sustainably managing the Earth’s natural resources.

The first datasets to move to the cloud are Global Circulation Models (GCM), presently the most important tool for representing future climate conditions.

The potential of this new partnership was put to the test this week at the climate negotiations in Peru, when the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) hosted a 24 hour “hackathon”, giving Latin American developers and computer programmers first access to the cloud-based data.

The challenge was to transform the available data into actionable knowledge that will help farmers better adapt to climate variability.

The results were inspiring. The winning innovation from Colombian team Geomelodicos helps farmers more accurately predict when to plant their crops each season. Gone are the days when farmers could rely on almanacs for predicting seasonal planting dates, as climate change has made these predictions unreliable.

The prototype programme combines data on historical production and climate trends, historical planting dates with current climate trends and short-term weather forecasts, to generate more accurate information about optimal planting dates for different crops and locations. The vision is that one day, this information could bedisseminated via SMS messaging.

Runners up Viasoluciones decided to tackle water scarcity, a serious challenge for farmers around the world as natural resources become more scarce. Named after the Quechua goddess of water, Illapa, the innovation could help farmers make better decisions about how much water to use for irrigating different crops.

The prototype application combines climate data and information from a tool that directly senses a plant’s water use, to calculate water needs in real-time. In times of drought, this application could prove invaluable.

Farmers are in dire need of practical solutions that will help protect our food supply in the face of a warming world. Eight hundred million people in the world are still hungry, and it is a race against time to ensure that we have a robust strategy for ensuring these vulnerable people are fed and nourished.

By moving agricultural data to the cloud, developing innovations for food and farming will no longer be dependent on having access to expensive software or powerful computers on internet connection speeds.

Making sense of this “big data” will become progressively easier, and one day, farmers themselves could even take matters into their own hands.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Glaciers and Fruit Dying in Peru with no Response from COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/glaciers-and-fruit-dying-in-peru-with-no-response-from-cop20/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:14:06 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138248 Cayetano Huanca, who lives near the Ausangate glacier in the department of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes mountains. In just a few years, the snow and ice could be gone, something that has happened on other glaciers in the country. Credit: Oxfam

Cayetano Huanca, who lives near the Ausangate glacier in the department of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes mountains. In just a few years, the snow and ice could be gone, something that has happened on other glaciers in the country. Credit: Oxfam

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Snow-capped mountains may become a thing of the past in Peru, which has 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. And farmers in these ecosystems are having a hard time adapting to the higher temperatures, while the governments of 195 countries are wrapping up the climate change talks in Lima without addressing this situation facing the host country.

Some 100 km from a glacier that refuses to die – the Salkantay mountain in the department of Cuzco – there is a monument to passion fruit, which hundreds of local farmers depend on for a living, and which they will no longer be able to plant 20 years from now, according to projections.

The monument, which is in the main square in the town of Santa Teresa, near the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, shows a woman picking the fruit and farmers carrying it on their backs, cutting the weeds, and hoeing.“It’s important to assess how the retreat of the glacier affects the local population, to know how they can adapt, because the loss of these snow-capped peaks is irreversible.” -- Fernando Chiock

That scene frozen in time reflects real life in Santa Teresa, where passion fruit (Passiflora ligularis) grows between 2,000 and 2,800 metres above sea level. But due to the rising temperatures, farmers will have to move up the slopes. And once they reach 3,000 metres above sea level, they won’t be able to plant passion fruit anymore.

“There is a strong impact in this area because the locals depend on the cultivation of passion fruit for their livelihoods,” environmental engineer Karim Quevedo, who has frequently visited the Santa Teresa microbasin as the head of the agro-meteorology office of Peru’s national weather service, Senamhi, told IPS.

That microbasin is one of the areas studied by Senamhi as part of a project of adaptation by local populations to the impact of glacier retreat. The glacier that is dying next to the town of Santa Teresa is Salkantay, which in the Quechua indigenous language means “wild mountain”.

Salkantay, at the heart of the Vilcabamba range, supplies water to local rivers. But in the last 40 years the glacier has lost nearly 64 percent of its surface area, equivalent to some 22 sq km, according to the National Water Authority (ANA).

“It’s important to assess how the retreat of the glacier affects the local population, to know how they can adapt, because the loss of these snow-capped peaks is irreversible,” the head of the climate change area in ANA, Fernando Chiock, told IPS.

Both Chiock and Quevedo said it was crucial to take into account the direct effects on the local population and to prioritise funding to mitigate the impacts, at the end of the COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – whose final phase was attended by leaders and senior officials from 195 countries.

Monument to passion fruit in the town of Santa Teresa – a crop that local farmers will no longer be able to grow 20 years from now because of the rise in temperatures in this mountainous area of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes. Credit: Courtesy of Karim Quevedo

Monument to passion fruit in the town of Santa Teresa – a crop that local farmers will no longer be able to grow 20 years from now because of the rise in temperatures in this mountainous area of Cuzco in Peru’s Andes. Credit: Courtesy of Karim Quevedo

COP20, which began Dec. 1, was scheduled to end Friday, but is likely to stretch to Saturday.

“What is yet to be seen is how to bring what is agreed at this climate summit to the ground in local areas. One of the challenges is to form connections between the big treaties,” Quevedo told IPS in Voices for the Climate, an event held near the military base in Lima, known as El Pentagonito, where COP20 is being held.

The outlook is alarming, experts say. Since the 1970s, the surface area of the 2,679 glaciers in Peru’s Andes mountains has shrunk over 40 percent, from more than 2,000 sq km to 1,300 sq km, said Chiock.

Some glaciers have already completely disappeared, such as Broggi, which formed part of the Cordillera Blanca, the tropical mountain range with the greatest density of glaciers in the world, which like the Vilcabamba range forms part of the Andes mountains.

Around 50 years ago, Broggi was retreating at a rate of two metres a year, but in the 1980s and 1990s the pace picked up to 20 metres a year.

In 2005, monitoring of the mountain stopped because the surface of the glacier, equivalent to signs of life in a human being, disappeared completely.

Today, glacial retreat in Peru ranges between nine and 20 metres a year, according to ANA. At the same time, the melt-off has given rise to nearly 1,000 new high-altitude lakes, Chiock said.

In the short-term, the appearance of new lakes could sound like good news for local populations. But according to the ANA expert, these new sources of water must be properly managed, to avoid generating false expectations in the communities and to manage the risks posed by the lakes, from ruptured dikes.

Chiock explained that safety works are currently in progress at 35 lakes that pose a risk.

There is a sense of uncertainty in rural areas. New lakes appearing, glaciers dying, hailstorms destroying the maize crop, unpredictable rainfall patterns, heavy rains that affect the potato crop, intense sunshine that rots fruit, insects that hover like bubbles over a boiling pot.

“The climate patterns have changed,” Quevedo said. “You can’t generalise about what is happening; each town or village faces its own problems. But what is undeniable is that the climate has changed.”

Some crops have been affected more than others. With the high temperatures, potatoes have to be planted at higher altitudes because they need cold nights to flourish. In some areas, coffee benefits from intense sunshine, but in others the plants suffer because they also need shade.

The influence of the climate on crops is 61 percent, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

“These minor climate events are the ones that cause the greatest damage to the population, and they are the most invisible to the international community,” Maarten Van Aalst, the director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, who took part in the COP20, told IPS.

He said it shouldn’t take a hurricane sweeping away entire harvests, like in Haiti in January 2010, for governments to sit up and take notice.

But hopes are melting that they will do so before COP20 comes to an end here in Lima.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138241 A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Fabiola Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pushing for Gender Equity at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:54:28 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138220 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/feed/ 2 Latin America Faces the Novelty and Challenge of Ageinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 21:58:54 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138179 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/latin-america-faces-the-novelty-and-challenge-of-ageing/feed/ 0 Climate Neutrality – the Lifeboat Launched by Limahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-neutrality-the-lifeboat-launched-by-lima/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-neutrality-the-lifeboat-launched-by-lima http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-neutrality-the-lifeboat-launched-by-lima/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 16:57:04 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138151 Activists demand that the COP20 government delegates approve measures to foment investment in renewable energies and eliminate their huge subsidies for fossil fuels. Credit: Joshua Wiese/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Indigenous Peoples Are the Owners of the Land” Say Activists at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 18:54:44 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138141 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/feed/ 2 Chilean Activists Change the Rules of the Gamehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/chilean-activists-change-the-rules-of-the-game/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chilean-activists-change-the-rules-of-the-game http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/chilean-activists-change-the-rules-of-the-game/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 16:07:36 +0000 Sebastian Rosemont http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138137 Michele Bachelet (left) and student leader Camilla Vallejo. Credit: Wikipedia

Michele Bachelet (left) and student leader Camilla Vallejo. Credit: Wikipedia

By Sebastian Rosemont
SANTIAGO, Dec 6 2014 (IPS)

In 2011, students in Chile made headlines when they launched a nationwide strike lasting almost eight months.

The trigger was high tuition costs that drove students and their families into debt. There were coordinated marches in all major cities. At some universities students took over buildings. The marches took on almost a carnival atmosphere with students engaging in “kiss-ins” and pillow fights.More than two thirds of the population supported the student movement and its demands for education reform. The students consistently rejected the government’s attempts to appease the protesters as grossly insufficient.

Before long, the marches became multifaceted. Opponents of the massive HidroAysén dam project in Patagonia joined in. Students and trade unions joined forces when workers staged strikes and marched in Santiago and other major cities.

Tasha Fairfield, an assistant professor for the London School of Economics’ Department of International Development, said the strikes were pivotal. “The student movement played a critical role in creating political space,” Fairfield said. It “dramatically changed the political context in Chile and helped to place the issues of Chile’s extreme inequalities centrally on the national agenda.”

Although most of the demonstrations were peaceful, some protestors wanted more direct confrontation with the police. Masked protesters armed with stones clashed with police forces equipped with riot gear, tear gas, and armoured vehicles with water cannons. The harshness of the government crackdown drew international criticism.

More than two thirds of the population supported the student movement and its demands for education reform. The students consistently rejected the government’s attempts to appease the protesters as grossly insufficient. Their goal was free university tuition.

President Sebastian Piñera, the first conservative president since the 1988 plebiscite that ended General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, saw his ratings plummet to the lowest of any leader in the post-authoritarian era. Ordinary Chileans had made clear that they wanted to see changes in their society.

This set the stage for Michelle Bachelet to run for election in 2013. She was previously president from 2006-2010, but Chile’s laws prevented her from running for a second consecutive term.

This time around, her platform was much more radical. Bachelet pledged to reform the tax system and, with the increased revenue, reform the education system. She won the election and immediately took the first step. She raised the corporate tax rate and closed significant loopholes.

The 2013 elections

Bachelet was backed by the Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), a center-left coalition made up of her own Socialist Party, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Party for Democracy, among others. After falling just short of an absolute majority in the first round of elections, Bachelet won handily in the runoff, taking home over 62 percent of the vote.

The elections remade the legislature. Isabel Allende (from the Socialist Party), daughter of Salvador Allende, became the first woman president of the senate. Several student leaders, including Camila Vallejo (of the Communist Party) and Gabriel Boric (an Independent), launched political careers by winning their bids to join the Chamber of Deputies. The left was swept into power by a wave of public support and gained strong majorities in both houses of the National Congress.

Bachelet had been given a clear mandate. The government put together a package that would raise corporate income taxes from 20 percent to at least 25 percent and close tax loopholes for companies and wealthy business owners. The changes promised to bring in an estimated 8.3 billion dollars each year.

The government pledged to put half of these funds toward providing free education for all Chileans by the year 2020 and to roll back the for-profit schools that emerged during Pinochet’s dictatorship. The remainder would be used to improve the health care system and other social programs.

The bill easily passed through the Chamber of Deputies. When it moved over to the senate it ultimately secured a 33-1 victory, although some changes were made to placate some of the more moderate and conservative doubters of the reform.

“The government negotiated various compromises on the bill in the Senate in order to secure votes from the Christian Democrats,” Fairfield said.

On Sep. 28, Bachelet signed the bill into law.

Debate over tax reform

In a key tactical move, the corporate tax hikes touched only the largest firms. An estimated 95.5 percent of businesses will not face higher taxes. This expanded the measure’s base of support and somewhat insulated the reformers against the charge that the bill was anti-business.

Beyond raising the corporate tax rate, the reform targets the profits of large businesses and their owners in other ways. The law eliminates the FUT (Taxable Profit Fund), a provision that allowed businesses to set profits aside without paying taxes on them— funds that at last count held 270 billion dollars.

The reform also addresses the owners of these businesses. In years past, wealthy business owners enjoyed incentives to avoid withdrawing all of their income from the company’s profits so that they would pay the more favourable corporate tax rate of 17-20 percent compared to nearly 40 percent, the highest personal income tax bracket.

However, the owners would then find ways for the profits to make their way back into their own pockets, either legally or illegally. The tax reform therefore opened up a new range of taxable income, money previously out of the government’s reach.

There is some concern that the tax reform will drag down the already faltering Chilean economy. Opposition groups claim the new rules will hurt future investments, and this seems to resonate with the public — Bachelet’s approval rating has dipped below 50 percent.

However, Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez insists that on the contrary, with more than 50 percent of the 8.3 billion dollars going toward implementing free, quality education, it will in turn result in increased productivity.

Even if productivity fails to rise immediately, the political support of thousands of households with college students who see their tuition bills cut in half or more is likely to create a broad constituency to keep core elements of the tax and spending package in place.

It is unlikely that any significant changes will be made affecting the new law before the next presidential election in 2018 because senators are elected for eight-year terms and deputies serve four years (half the Senate and the entire Chamber of Deputies are selected every presidential election). This allows time for the law to be fully integrated into the system without being derailed by detractors focusing on immediate concerns.

Although many of the protests of 2011 — the year of Occupy Wall Street — have faded, Chilean students and workers managed to win many of their demands. This experience offers important lessons for popular movements struggling for similar goals around the world. By focusing on tangible demands, making broad partnerships, and linking to the larger platform of economic inequality, Chilean protesters changed the rules of the game.

Edited by Kitty Stapp. This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Climate and Post-2015 Development Agenda Talks Share the Same Pathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-and-post-2015-development-agenda-talks-share-the-same-path/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-and-post-2015-development-agenda-talks-share-the-same-path http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-and-post-2015-development-agenda-talks-share-the-same-path/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 14:02:30 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138086 Lima Mayor Susana Villarán presenting a model for sustainable urban areas during Voices for Climate at COP20. Credit: Victor Vásquez/COP20

Lima Mayor Susana Villarán presenting a model for sustainable urban areas during Voices for Climate at COP20. Credit: Victor Vásquez/COP20

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
LIMA, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

The international community’s post-2015 development agenda will depend, in key aspects, on whether the delegates of 195 countries meeting now at the climate summit in the Peruvian capital reach an agreement to reduce global warming, since climate change affects all human activity.

Climate change’s effects on agriculture, health, poverty reduction or housing among vulnerable segments of the population mean progress in the search for a solution to global warming will have a major impact on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said experts consulted by IPS at COP20.

COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place Dec. 1-12 in Lima, is to produce a draft of a new binding global treaty, with targets and commitments to curb the rise in global temperatures.

Growing awareness among farmers

One case where increased awareness about climate change fuelled sustainable development efforts was among the coffee farmers of the Amazon jungle town of Pangoa in central Peru.

An outbreak of a plant disease, rust, drove home to them that climate change was something that affected them and their farming, to which they had to adapt.

“We are in the thick of the jungle and things like hurricanes or fires feel so far away,” the manager of the town’s agricultural cooperative, Raúl Castro, who is taking part in COP20, told IPS.

But the rust outbreak in his community was exacerbated by the rising temperatures, because “for rust to be a problem of this magnitude, it needs temperatures of 24 to 25 degrees Celsius, which we didn’t used to see at our altitude but now we do, so we have to adapt,” Castro said.

“It’s important to keep the goal, first of all to highlight the importance of climate change to achieve sustainable development, because these things are interlinked and for us the SDGs are a very good opportunity to communicate that,” Lina Dabbagh, the Climate Action Network-International’s (CAN-I) post-2015 development officer, told IPS.

On Thursday, the United Nations Secretariat will state in a report whether in its view climate change should be one of the SDGs, which at the end of 2015 will replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the international community’s development agenda.

Dabbagh said the links between poverty and the fight against climate change must be emphasised. She added that “The SDG agenda is a good agenda to find the arguments about how both objectives can be achieved, and how we need to achieve them to get a better life for everybody, including our planet.”

The official position of CAN-I, the umbrella group of environmental organisations active on the issue of climate change within the negotiations, is that it is important to make this link explicit.

“We have to educate people about what will happen and the SDGs are a good opportunity to do so. More people are aware of the SDGs than of the UNFCCC process,” said the German activist, who lives in Mexico.

She said that making the fight against climate change one of the SDGs would be a good way to be heard by people who haven’t previously been reached.

The draft climate agreement, which is to be signed a year from now in Paris, is important not only to the climate change negotiators but for the U.N. sustainable development agenda as well.

The processes are at a key moment and they share the same path as they move towards the second half of 2015: the U.N. General Assembly is to ratify the SDGs in September 2015 and in November the COP21in Paris is to agree on a new climate treaty, to go into effect in 2020.

Turkish boys with a box of recently picked strawberries. The response to the effects of climate change on agriculture will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: PNUD

Turkish boys with a box of recently picked strawberries. The response to the effects of climate change on agriculture will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: PNUD

If the delegates at the General Assembly in New York manage to integrate climate change into the post-2015 development agenda, it would give a major boost to the climate negotiators in Paris.

That happened in the case of the Lima COP as a result of the Sep. 23 climate summit in New York, as well as demonstrations held in capital cities around the world, delegates and activists pointed out at the conference.

Above and beyond the talks, the agendas of both processes are interconnected at many points.

In its fifth assessment report, published Nov. 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed out that continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would hurt vulnerable populations the most.

Another report released this year, by Britain’s Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), says the IPCC, the most important source for the UNFCCC’s scientific, technical and socioeconomic information, could play the same role for the SDGs.

CAFOD climate and energy analyst Rob Elsworth told IPS.that all of the examples given by the IPCC, all of the issues it touches on, are directly related to the SDGs, which means it is equally relevant for them.

That is clear to civil society organisations focused on the development agenda, which have returned with renewed strength to the climate talks after their disappointment at COP15, held in 2009 in Copenhagen, where the countries failed to reach a hoped-for agreement on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

“We reengaged in this debate because we are clear you really can’t talk about development without addressing climate change. The work we do with our partners in different countries, be it topics like agriculture or water, can’t move forward if you have a macro problem that undermines those,” said Elsworth.

The first two SDGs defined by the U.N. in July are poverty eradication and ending hunger through food security and sustainable agriculture. Both are directly linked to climate change, experts meeting at COP20 in Lima noted.

On Wednesday, agriculture day at COP20, organisations involved in farming underscored the links between climate change and agricultural practices. They also stressed the importance of small farmers in ensuring a sustainable future.

“The post-2015 agenda has already made goals to ensure that smart agriculture is a central element and all the worldwide agencies are actively influencing that agenda,” said Gernot Laganda, an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) climate change adaptation specialist.

By 2050 there will be two billion more people to feed, Laganda told IPS.

“If agriculture is not structured is such a way that it is climate-smart then it cannot achieve the sustainability required for the productivity increases without undermining natural resources,” he added.

IFAD presented a study at COP20 that shows investments in access to weather information, technology transfer and disaster preparedness are helping smallholders feed themselves and their families on a warming planet.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Climate Finance Flowing, But for Many, the Well Remains Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 13:25:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138082 Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

For more than 10 years, Mildred Crawford has been “a voice in the wilderness” crying out on behalf of rural women in agriculture.

Crawford, 50, who grew up in the small Jamaican community of Brown’s Hall in St. Catherine parish, was “filled with enthusiasm” when she received an invitation from the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) to be part of a civil society contingent to the 20th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP20), where her voice could be heard on a much bigger stage."Many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them." -- UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres

But mere days after arriving here for her first-ever COP, Crawford’s exhilaration has turned to disappointment.

“I am weary, because even in the side events I don’t see much government representatives coming to hear the voice of civil society,” she told IPS.

“If they are not here to hear what we have to say, there is very little impact that will be created. Already there is a gap between policy and implementation which is very serious because we talk the talk, we don’t walk the talk.”

Crawford said women farmers often do not get the attention or recognition they deserve, pointing to the important role they play in feeding their families and the wider population.

“Our women farmers store seeds. In the event that a hurricane comes and resources become scarce, they would share what they have among themselves so that they can have a rebound in agriculture,” she explained.

WFO is an international member-based organisation whose mandate is to bring together farmers’ organisations and agricultural cooperatives from all over the world. It includes approximately 70 members from about 50 countries in the developed and emerging world.

The WFO said its delegation of farmers is intended to be a pilot for scaling up in 2015, when the COP21 will take place in Paris. It also aims to raise awareness of the role of smallholder agriculture in climate adaptation and mitigation and have it recognised in the 2015 UNFCCC negotiations.

The negotiations next year in Paris will aim to reach legally-binding agreements on limits on greenhouse gas emissions that all nations will have to implement.

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Diann Black-Layne speaks for a much wider constituency – Small Island Developing States (SIDS). She said adaptation, finance and loss and damage top the list of issues this group of countries wants to see addressed in the medium term.

“Many of our developing countries have been spending their own money on adaptation,” Black-Layne, who is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador on climate change, told IPS.

She said SIDS are already “highly indebted” and “this is borrowed money” for their national budgets which they are forced to use “to fund their adaptation programmes and restoration from extreme weather events. So, to then have to borrow more money for mitigation is a difficult sell.”

The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres agrees that such commitments by developing countries needs to be buttressed with international climate finance flows, in particular for the most vulnerable.

“There is no doubt that adaptation finance needs to increase. That is very clear that that is the urgency among most developing countries, to actually cover their adaptation costs and many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them (so) they are actually already doing it out of their own pocket,” Figueres said.

Loss and Damage is a facility to compensate countries for extreme weather events. It also provides some level of financing to help countries adjust to the creeping permanent loss caused by climate change.

“At this COP we are focusing on financial issues for loss and damage,” Black-Layne said. “In our region, that would include things like the loss of the conch industry and the loss of the fishing industry. Even if we limit it to a two-degree warming, we would lose those two industries so we are now negotiating a mechanism to assist countries to adapt.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In 2012, the conch industry in just one Caribbean Community country, Belize, was valued at 10 million dollars.

A landmark assessment presented Wednesday to governments meeting here at the U.N. climate summit said hundreds of billions of dollars of climate finance may now be flowing across the globe.

The assessment – which includes a summary and recommendations by the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance and a technical report by experts – is the first of a series of assessment reports that put together information and data on financial flows supporting emission reductions and adaptation within countries and via international support.

The assessment puts the lower range of global climate finance flows at 340 billion dollars a year for the period 2011-2012, with the upper end at 650 billion dollars, and possibly higher.

“It does seem that climate finance is flowing, not exclusively but with a priority toward the most vulnerable,” Figueres said.

“That is a very, very important part of this report because it is as exactly as it should be. It should be the most vulnerable populations, the most vulnerable countries, and the most vulnerable populations within countries that actually receive climate finance with priority.”

The assessment notes that the exact amounts of global totals could be higher due to the complexity of defining climate finance, the myriad of ways in which governments and organisations channel funding, and data gaps and limitations – particularly for adaptation and energy efficiency.

In addition, the assessment attributes different levels of confidence to different sub-flows, with data on global total climate flows being relatively uncertain, in part due to the fact that most data reflect finance commitments rather than disbursements, and the associated definitional issues.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Native Villagers in Honduras Bet on Food Security – and Winhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/native-villagers-in-honduras-bet-on-food-security-and-win/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-villagers-in-honduras-bet-on-food-security-and-win http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/native-villagers-in-honduras-bet-on-food-security-and-win/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:13:27 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138067 The now clean, orderly village of Las Vegas de Tepemechin de Pueblo Nuevo, in the northern Honduran municipality of Victoria. The streets and houses of this Tolupan indigenous community used to be full of mud, manure and garbage, but there is not a single bag of rubbish to be seen now and the houses are painted shiny white. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The now clean, orderly village of Las Vegas de Tepemechin de Pueblo Nuevo, in the northern Honduran municipality of Victoria. The streets and houses of this Tolupan indigenous community used to be full of mud, manure and garbage, but there is not a single bag of rubbish to be seen now and the houses are painted shiny white. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
VICTORIA, Honduras , Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

The town’s dynamic mayor, Sandro Martínez, assumed the commitment of turning the Honduran municipality of Victoria into a model of food and nutritional security and environmental protection by means of municipal public policies based on broad social and community participation and international development aid.

The initiative began to be put into practice four months ago. It was inspired by what the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) achieved in the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, a village located 15 km from the centre of Victoria.

In that tribe – as the Tolupan refer to each one of their communities – whose official name is Las Vegas de Tepemechín de Pueblo Nuevo, population 750, 29 children overcame malnutrition thanks to a comprehensive food security plan implemented over the last two years.“My aim with Promusan is to change people’s lives, make Victoria a green municipality; we are the least polluted part of the entire department. Food security is my priority, we want to have health and education; we want to be a model municipality in Honduras.” – Mayor Sandro Martínez

“I’m proud of this village, of what they have managed to do in such a short time,” the mayor told Tierramérica. “I grew up near the Tolupan and now that I’m mayor, they are a priority for me. I want to extend this experience throughout the entire municipality of Victoria.

“They have been empowered so much by their experience that one day I went there to cut sugarcane and I left the stalks in the street. I was so surprised when a boy came up and said ‘No Mr. Mayor, we don’t dump garbage here!’ That day I understood that everything they say about this village is true,” he added.

The tribe’s achievements are based on the use of good practices in agriculture and the development of a nutritious diet. They now grow their own food, and hunger has become a thing of the past.

Pueblo Nuevo is now a model of food security and nutrition in the eyes of local and international bodies, thanks to the local indigenous community’s efforts to improve their quality of life, and to their new level of organisation and discipline.

The swift transformations have included: clean houses, which families no longer share with their animals, the use of organic fertiliser, the abandonment of the slash-and-burn technique to clear fields for planting, purified drinking water, family gardens and reliable production of staple crops like maize and beans.

“We have shown that we indigenous people are not lazy,” a member of the local Tolupan community, Rosalío Murillo, told Tierramérica. “The people from FAO taught us how to manage the soil, without the need to slash and burn, and how to live orderly, clean lives, instead of living with our animals [in the huts]. We have improved all of that now.”

Similar remarks were made by other members of the community.

The Tolupan live in the mountains of the northern department or province of Yoro and in the central department of Francisco Morazán. They are one of the few indigenous communities in this country who have preserved their native language, Tol.

Mayor Sandro Martínez, meeting at the city government building in Victoria, in the Honduran department of Yoro, with part of the team in charge of Promusan, to share their experience with Tierramérica. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Mayor Sandro Martínez, meeting at the city government building in Victoria, in the Honduran department of Yoro, with part of the team in charge of Promusan, to share their experience with Tierramérica. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The population of the country is 90 percent mestizo or mixed-race, eight percent indigenous and Garifuna, and two percent white, according to official statistics.

The people of Pueblo Nuevo are so proud of what they have achieved that they want to publish a book to tell their story.

“This is important,” another villager, Narciso ‘Chicho’ Garay, told Tierramérica. “They say next year we’ll have electricity, and I ask myself, and I tell my fellow villagers, that electricity can be good but it can also be bad. Bad because if we only sit around watching movies, it won’t help us at all, we’ll slide backwards, but if we know how to use it, it can lead us to development – not to become rich, maybe, but to live a decent life. The book should show all of this.”

The municipality of Victoria is home to 29,840 people, including 14,000 Tolupan Indians.

As a result of the Pueblo Nuevo success story, the mayor’s office did not hesitate to accept the FAO-SPFS proposal to implement the Municipal Food and Nutritional Security Programme (Promusan) as a public policy.

Promusan is a FAO-SPFS initiative being carried out in 73 of the 298 municipalities of this Central American country, where the U.N. agency identified serious food security problems.

The programme is financed by the municipal governments and the FAO, which has support from Canada. In Victoria, Promusan has already chalked up significant accomplishments by bringing together the community, health and educational institutions, the local government and international development cooperation agencies that are working in different villages.

That was explained by César Alfaro, a FAO technician who leads Promusan. The idea, he told Tierramérica, is to transfer the methodology used by SPFS and other agencies and institutions that work in the area to rural development, environmental and food and nutritional security projects.

One example of this is the Pedro P. Amaya public secondary school with an agricultural orientation which, due to the almost nonexistent support from the state, survives thanks to the hard work of the teachers and the people of Victoria themselves, who have seen the students applying theory in practice, teaching sustainable agricultural techniques to local farmers.

“I used to think agriculture was just about using the machete and hoe, but now I know that’s not true,” Josué Cruz, a student, told Tierramérica.

“I learned to help farmers improve the soil and their crops,” said the student, who is about to graduate from the school with a certificate as a forestry technician. “Here in our school we run our own farm and we even have a water harvester that FAO gave us to irrigate our crops.”

Victoria is a municipality rich in minerals like gold, lead, iron, silver and zinc, and wood that can be logged as well. In addition, it will soon have a nearby hydroelectric dam, “but one that respects the environment,” the mayor pointed out.

“My aim with Promusan is to change people’s lives, make Victoria a green municipality; we are the least polluted part of the entire department. Food security is my priority, we want to have health and education; we want to be a model municipality in Honduras,” Martínez said.

To that end, he is concluding an assessment to identify the most pressing needs, and he has brought together cooperation agencies to avoid duplication of efforts and to outline areas of action “to not just create projects and throw funding around any which way.”

For the first time, two Tolupan Indians are involved in the work in the city government. FAO’s Elvín Soler told Tierramérica, “they’re working with a strategic plan, they keep a log of their activities, and everyone wants to follow the Pueblo Nuevo model.”

Many things in Victoria have changed: more people now pay their taxes as they see the returns in roads, piped water and other improvements, while the mayor, who was reelected for a second four-year term that began this year, said he does not want to “rest on my laurels.”

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Will Rollout of Green Technologies Get a Boost at Lima Climate Summit?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/will-rollout-of-green-technologies-get-a-boost-at-lima-climate-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-rollout-of-green-technologies-get-a-boost-at-lima-climate-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/will-rollout-of-green-technologies-get-a-boost-at-lima-climate-summit/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 21:16:08 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138052 A ferry about to dock on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, whose volcano is being tapped for geothermal energy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A ferry about to dock on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, whose volcano is being tapped for geothermal energy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 2 2014 (IPS)

The road towards a green economy is paved with both reward and risk, and policymakers must seek to balance these out if the transition to low-carbon energy sources is to succeed on the required scale, climate experts say.

“I think what is important is that in most of these processes you will have winners and losers,” John Christensen, director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Centre on Energy, Climate and Sustainable Development, told IPS.“Right now we need to talk about what will happen if countries don’t move along. Like all islands, you will be facing increased flooding risks. So in the green transition, countries need to look at how to make themselves more resilient." -- John Christensen of UNEP

“So you need to be aware that there are people who will lose and you need to take care of them so that they feel that they are not left out.

“You need to find other ways of engaging them and help them get into something new because otherwise you will have all this resistance from groups that have special interests,” said Christensen, who spoke with IPS on the sidelines of the 20th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 20) which got underway here Monday.

The climate summit convenes ministers of 194 countries for the annual Conference of the Parties to negotiate over 12 days the legally binding text that will become next year’s Paris Protocol.

It will provide an early insight into what may be expected from the agreement with regard to the long-term phase-out of coal-fired power plants, the rate of deployment of renewable energies, and the financial and technological support for the vulnerable and least developed countries.

Nevis, a 13-kilometre-long island in the Caribbean, recently announced that it was “on the cusp of going completely green.” Deputy Premier and Minister of Tourism Mark Brantley outlined the Nevis Island Administration’s vision for tourism development and in particular, replacing fossil fuel generation with renewable energy resources.

“Besides reducing a country’s carbon footprint, concern about waste management is a particularly challenging issue for all nations” he said, sharing Nevis’ initiative to create an environment-friendly solution for its waste management with the Baltimore firm, Omni Alpha.

Brantley said the waste to energy agreement will be coupled with the construction of a solar farm to ensure that a targeted energy supply is met.

“It is these developments, along with the progress that has been made on developing our geothermal energy sources, that promise to make Nevis the greenest place on earth,” he told IPS.

Christensen said as they embark on the road towards green economies, Caribbean countries could take lessons from his homeland, Denmark.

“You had shipyards for years and years and they couldn’t compete with Korea and China when they started building ships so the government for a long period kept pouring money into them to try and keep them alive instead of trying to transition them into something else,” he explained. “Now they are producing windmill towers and other things that are more forward-looking.”

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the COP20 talks in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the COP20 talks in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

For the countries in the Caribbean, Christensen said a lot of them now use fuel oil or diesel for power production plus a lot of petrol for cars, all of which is imported.

But he said few of the islands have the necessary financial resources for the yearly fuel import bill, which is “quite expensive.”

He said these countries should capitalise on their geographical location, which offers “lots of sunshine, potential for biomass and wind.”

He pointed to Cuba, which “has made quite a transition using solar energy in the energy sector,” adding that other countries in the Caribbean have moved to forest conservation and are using more of the resources from the environment that wasn’t considered of value.

“Right now we need to talk about what will happen if countries don’t move along. Like all islands, you will be facing increased flooding risks. So in the green transition, countries need to look at how to make themselves more resilient, look at water for your agriculture,” he said.

“I think there are ways of improving efficiency because it’s getting warmer and because of where you are [you need to] look for new opportunities in the green economy that can also protect you against future climate change,” Christensen added.

The Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), the operational arm of the UNFCCC Technology Mechanism, promotes accelerated, diversified and scaled-up transfer of environmentally sound technologies for climate change mitigation and adaptation, in developing countries, in line with their sustainable development priorities.

The CTCN works to stimulate technology cooperation and enhance the development and transfer of technologies to developing country parties at their request.

“We see CTCN as a motor, a vehicle for helping countries achieve green economies,” Jason Spensley, Climate Technology Manager, told IPS.

“One specific request which is forthcoming in the following days will be from Antigua and Barbuda, a request on renewable energy development, specifically wind energy development,” he said. “The government of Antigua and Barbuda has set green ambition commitments; the price of energy [there] is very high.”

Spensley said the Dominican Republic is also in discussions with CTCN on submission of a request on renewable energy production.

In recent times, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the region’s premier lending institution, has been stepping up efforts to attract investment in green energy and climate resilience projects in the Caribbean.

The Bank’s president Dr. Warren Smith said much of the eastern Caribbean – the smallest Caribbean countries – have large amounts of geothermal potential, allowing them to dramatically reduce their fossil fuel imports and put them in a position where they could become an exporter of energy because of the proximity of nearby islands without these resources.

Smith is confident the countries are buying into the idea of transforming the region into a prosperous green economy that reduces indebtedness, improves competitiveness, and starts to tackle climate risk.

As countries get down to the business at hand here in Lima, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged the 12,400 attendees to aspire to great heights, drawing several critical lines of action.

“First, we must bring a draft of a new, universal climate change agreement to the table and clarify how national contributions will be communicated next year,” she said.

“Second, we must consolidate progress on adaptation to achieve political parity with mitigation, given the equal urgency of both.

“Third, we must enhance the delivery of finance, in particular to the most vulnerable. Finally, we must stimulate ever-increasing action on the part of all stakeholders to scale up the scope and accelerate the solutions that move us all forward, faster,” Figueres added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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