Inter Press Service » Regional Alliances http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 29 Jun 2016 17:50:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Brexit – Perceptions and Repercussions in the Americashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/brexit-perceptions-and-repercussions-in-the-americas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brexit-perceptions-and-repercussions-in-the-americas http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/brexit-perceptions-and-repercussions-in-the-americas/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 13:12:17 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145831 Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Jun 27 2016 (IPS)

The hopes of many of those who confidently expected the British electorate to vote, by a slender margin, for the country to remain in the EU have been dashed. All that is left to do now is to ponder the causes and background of this regrettable event, and consider its likely consequences, especially for relations with the United States.

In the first place one must point out and – and this is a general criticism of the present British political system – that Prime Minister David Cameron was hugely irresponsible to steer his country into this risky adventure. It has resulted in the worst calamity to befall Britain in the last half century and has inflicted severe damage not only on the EU but also on all the countries of the North Atlantic rim.

Cameron went out on a limb, thinking to secure total control over the country for his Conservative Party for the next several years. Next he pursued a surrealist referendum campaign agenda, seeking to persuade the public to vote to remain in the EU, against the Brexit proposal that he himself had engineered. He relied on the advantages and special privileges promised to the UK by the EU if the British people voted to remain.

Brussels had already warned that the EU would not grant Britain any further concessions or benefits over and above the conditions that apply in common to all EU members. It pointed out that Britain was in fact already a privileged partner, having opted out of the common currency (the euro) under a special agreement that did not even fix a timescale for its putative future membership of the euro area.

London also retains full control of Britain’s borders, having declined to sign the innovative Schengen Agreement which abolished many internal borders and introduced passport-free movement across the 26 Schengen countries.

The EU has indeed done everything in its power to keep the UK government and people happy and flaunting their prized British exceptionalism.

And now the fateful moment is at hand. The effect on Europe has been devastating. The one possible advantage for the EU – which has discreetly remained unvoiced – is that of ridding itself of an awkward partner, a dinner guest with an unfortunate habit of drawing attention to itself in negative ways. Britain slammed the brakes on progress towards fuller European integration and was a temptation to other recalcitrant EU countries to follow its bad example.

Recently concerns were raised in Washington over the Brexit referendum.

President Barack Obama himself did his best to urge Britons to stick with the EU when he visited London in April.

Cameron, and the people who voted for the UK to leave the EU, have done Obama a disservice. Britain’s image in the United States will deteriorate to unprecedented depths. The vaunted special relationship between the U.S. and Britain will no longer be an effective force underpinning one of the strongest alliances in recent history.

The first victim of the debacle may be the approval process for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union, which is already looking shaky, at least for the immediate future.

The TTIP was meant to replicate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious deal to cut trade barriers, set labour and environmental standards and protect corporate intellectual property. The TPP was signed in principle by twelve Pacific Rim countries including the United States, and now awaits approval by legislators in each of the countries.

The rise of populism and anti-free trade sentiment is reflected in speeches by both U.S. presidential candidates, and is likely to slow down what is now viewed as “excessive globalisation”. There is a return to a style of nationalism that exerts control over economic as well as political initiatives.

The next U.S. president will find it difficult to advance their country’s alliance with London on defence issues. The UK will have freed itself from what was already problematic military cooperation with Europe, and only its link with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will endure. Some European NATO partners will be cautious about developing joint operations with a fellow member they view as uncommitted to agreements within the EU.

In the matter of trade per se, Washington will not take kindly to the new position of the City of London once it has lost its enviable status as a financial hub embedded in the EU. Siren songs from other European capitals solidly anchored in the soon-to-be expanded European community will be hard to resist, especially if European leaders adopt policies to strengthen the euro zone.

In Latin America, Brexit will be read as a confirmation that supranational practices and thoroughgoing integration are no longer a priority for the UK. The referendum result sends the message that national sovereignty is now paramount. All the time and effort the EU has spent over the years to promote the advantages of the European model of integration, based on the strength of its treaties and the effectiveness of its institutions, will be regretted as a sheer waste of time and energy.

An alternative “model of integration” based on the U.S. agenda, favouring one-off arrangements or treaties limited in scope exclusively to trade issues, will prevail over the already weakened European model.

The Caribbean region has strong historical and cultural ties to Britain. It will suffer from a less secure bond with the UK and will incline more closely to Washington.

The continent of the Americas, which is closest to Britain from the point of view of history and culture as well as in political and economic terms, will thus find itself further apart from Europe than before.

Joaquin Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Centre at  the University of Miami.  jroy@Miami.edu

Translated by Valerie Dee

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/brexit-perceptions-and-repercussions-in-the-americas/feed/ 0
A Healthy Trading System Requires Progress and Engagement at All Levelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-healthy-trading-system-requires-progress-and-engagement-at-all-levels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-healthy-trading-system-requires-progress-and-engagement-at-all-levels http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-healthy-trading-system-requires-progress-and-engagement-at-all-levels/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 16:09:47 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145587

Roberto Azevêdo is the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO)

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

This is a challenging time for global trade. According to the current World Trade Organization (WTO) new trade forecasts, global goods trade is expected to grow by 2.8%, making 2016 the fifth consecutive year of sub 3% growth. The gross domestic product (GDP) is still the most critical variable in the trade expansion equation, and as long as GDP growth remains low, trade numbers are likely to follow a similar trend.

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

This sort of dip in the numbers is not unprecedented, and we have experienced low trade growth in the early 1980s. Though we expect to come out of this pattern of low growth in the coming years- with trade growth forecast to pick up to 3.6% in 2017, it is nevertheless of some concern.

While the level of trade growth has stayed fairly constant in recent years, it is interesting to note that its composition is changing. A key driver of trade growth from 2011-2013 was import demand in Asia.

In the last two years this has shifted, with the US and Europe as the driving force of today’s modest growth, making up for slowdowns in Asia and elsewhere. In fact, if Asia’s contribution to trade had matched its average of recent years, world trade would have grown 3.5% in 2015, rather than 2.8%.

Rather than being an abstract indicator, trade growth, often matters because trade can act as a driver of broader economic growth and job creation. It certainly isn’t the only driver, but is an essential component of any strategy for sustainable economic growth.

And so the current downturn leads us to the question: what can we do to respond?

Governments have pushed monetary and fiscal policies to their limits in recent years but there is still room to move on trade. A more proactive approach could help to stimulate global demand.

One step would be for governments to remove the restrictive barriers introduced in recent years. Currently only 25% of these measures put in place by WTO members since the 2008 financial crisis have been removed. A shift in strategy here could help make a big difference.

We can also put in force trade agreements we have reached recently. By implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement alone we could add another trillion dollars to global trade. This would include exports of about $730 billion dollars from developing countries.

Another step is, of course, striking new trade agreements. And we are seeing a lot of activity on this front both at the regional level, and through the World Trade Organization. While they have grown rapidly in recent years, bilateral and regional trade initiatives are not a new thing, pre-dating the creation of the global trading system.

These two different approaches are frequently portrayed as incompatible, however, they do not require an “either/or” strategy and can be created and implemented to complement each other. These different kinds of initiatives have long co-existed and complemented each other and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so.

Today, virtually all WTO members are involved in at least one of these initiatives. Today there are 270 regional trade agreements or RTAs in force and have been notified to the WTO with over a third in the Asia-Pacific region.

The most recent examples in the region are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. And of course there are other important initiatives such as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road, which attempt to build and develop links between several partners.

To take the example of the TPP, many of the 12 partners involved already have existing bilateral agreements with each other. The added advantage of this broader agreement is the potentially enormous market it creates. Instead of dealing with a number of different sets of rules or standards, the TPP could help to homogenize rules between all the parties.

Like several other agreements today, the TPP is an example of deep integration initiative through regional trade agreements. While earlier RTAs concentrated on only liberalizing tariffs, more recent RTAs have gone further.

Empirical evidence suggests that RTAs with deeper integration between signatories provide greater potential for the development of production chains which span national borders. WTO members in the Asia-Pacific region in particular have greatly benefited from these global value chains.

As production networks expand and regional and global value chains become more important, it is critical to minimise significant differences in legislation, rules and infrastructure, which impact international trade and investment between trading partners. This appears to be the case more and more in current RTAs and other regional trade networks.

The silk-road economic belt, for instance, is rebuilding traditional links by concentrating on issues of connectivity such as improved infrastructure including port facilities, roads, and rail links. By improving these infrastructural networks connecting Asia and Europe, it is likely to improve trade by facilitating upgraded trade routes with landlocked areas of Central Asia.

These are all important steps that need to be taken to free up international trade and facilitate greater integration in value chains.

But how does all of this regional activity fit within the global framework of the World Trade Organization?

Currently the WTO has 162 members with increasing numbers. The rules and regulations of the WTO covers 98% of global trade, therefore by and large, RTAs operate within these rules.

Indeed, our analysis of regional agreements have shown that a large number of them fall within the guidelines set by the WTO with no obvious conflicts between overlapping agreements.

Perhaps a bigger consideration is where such initiatives touch on areas that are not currently covered by the WTO, whereby different RTAs deal with the same issues in different ways. This is not to suggest that regional agreements should not venture into these areas. But I think conversations in the WTO could help us establish whether a multilateral approach is feasible or desirable. Through discussions with the WTO, we’re likely to have a much more balanced, and inclusive framework.

A healthy trading system requires progress and engagement at all levels. And we have to acknowledge that one reason for the proliferation of regional agreements over recent years was a lack of progress in striking trade agreements globally through the WTO.

I’m pleased to say that we are now changing this situation. The WTO has actually delivered an impressive amount over the last couple of years.

But it’s also important to note that a healthy trading system isn’t just about negotiating trade agreements, the WTO’s work extends far beyond negotiations. We also monitor trade policies, build trading capacity in developing and struggling countries, and we have built one of the most effective dispute settlement systems in international law.

Indeed, although some RTAs have provisions on disputes, most of the dispute settlement mechanisms provided are rarely used. Meanwhile the level of activity in the WTO’s dispute settlement system is rising very rapidly. We have dealt with over 500 disputes in the WTO’s 21 year history. And of course most of the disputes brought to the WTO involve parties who are also themselves part of an RTA.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-healthy-trading-system-requires-progress-and-engagement-at-all-levels/feed/ 0
“Together, Civil Society Has Power”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=together-civil-society-has-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 22:53:55 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144908 Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

When Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan transgender opposition legislator, spoke at a panel on inclusion during the last session of the International Civil Society Week held in Bogotá, 12 Latin American women stood up and stormed out of the room.

Adrián was talking about corruption in Venezuela, governed by “Chavista” (for the late Hugo Chávez) President Nicolás Maduro, and the blockade against reforms sought by the opposition, which now holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

The speaker who preceded her, from the global watchdog Transparency International, referred to corruption among left-wing governments in South America.

Outside the auditorium in the Plaza de Artesanos, a square surrounded by parks on the west side of Bogotá, the women, who represented social movements, argued that, by stressing corruption on the left, the right forgot about cases like that of Fernando Collor (1990-1992), a right-wing Brazilian president impeached for corruption.“Together, civil society has power…If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.” -- Raaida Manaa

“Why don’t they mention those who have staged coups in Latin America and who have been corrupt?” asked veteran Salvadoran activist Marta Benavides.

Benavides told IPS she was not against everyone expressing their opinions, “but they should at least show respect. We don’t all agree with what they’re saying: that Latin America is corrupt. It’s a global phenomenon, and here we have to tell the truth.”

That truth, according to her, is that “Latin America is going through a very difficult situation, with different kinds of coups d’etat.”

She clarified that her statement wasn’t meant to defend President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing impeachment for allegedly manipulating the budget, or the governing left-wing Workers’ Party.

“I want people to talk about the real corruption,” she said. “In Brazil those who staged the 1964 coup (which ushered in a dictatorship until 1985) want to return to power to continue destroying everything; but this will affect everyone, and not just Brazil, its people and its resources.”

In Benavides’ view, all of the panelists “were telling lies” and no divergent views were expressed.

But when the women indignantly left the room, they missed the talk given on the same panel by Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), who complained that all of the governments in the Americas – right-wing, left-wing, north and south – financially strangled the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

He warned that “An economic crisis is about to break out in the Inter-American human rights system,” which consists of the IACHR and the Court, two autonomous Organisation of American States (OAS) bodies.

“In the regular financing of the OAS, the IACHR is a six percent priority, and the Inter-American Court, three percent,” said Álvarez-Icaza.

“They say budgets are a clear reflection of priorities. We are a nine percent priority,” he said, referring to these two legal bodies that hold states to account and protect human rights activists and community organisers by means of precautionary measures.

He described as “unacceptable and shameful” that the system “has been maintained with donations from Europe or other actors.”

There were multiple voices in this disparate assembly gathered in the Colombian capital since Sunday Apr. 24. The meeting organised by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which carried the hashtag ICSW2016 on the social networks, drew some 900 delegates from more than 100 countries.

The ICSW2016 ended Friday Apr. 29 with the election of a new CIVICUS board of directors.

Tutu Alicante, a human rights lawyer from Equatorial Guinea, is considered an “enemy of the state” and lives in exile in the United States. He told IPS that “we are very isolated from the rest of Africa. We need Latin America’s help to present our cases at a global level.”

Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang has been in power for 37 years. On Sunday Apr. 24 he was reelected for another seven years with over 93 percent of the vote, in elections boycotted by the opposition. His son is vice president and has been groomed to replace him.

“Because of the U.S. and British interests in our oil and gas, we believe that will happen,” Alicante stated.

He said the most interesting aspect of the ICSW2016 was the people he met, representatives of “global civil society working to build a world that is more equitable and fair.”

He added, however, that “indigenous and afro communities were missing.”

“We’re in Colombia, where there is an important afro community that is not here at the assembly,” Alicante said. “But there is a sense that we are growing and a spirit of including more people.”

He was saying this just when one of the most important women in Colombia’s indigenous movement, Leonor Zalabata, came up. A leader of the Arhuaco people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, she has led protests demanding culturally appropriate education and healthcare, and indigenous autonomy, while organising women in her community.

She was a keynote speaker at the closing ceremony Thursday evening.

A woman with an Arab name and appearance, Raaida Manaa, approached by IPS, turned out to be a Colombian journalist of Lebanese descent who lives in Barranquilla, the main city in this country’s Caribbean region.

She works with the Washington-based International Association for Volunteer Effort.

“The most important” aspect of the ICSW2016 is that it is being held just at this moment in Colombia, whose government is involved in peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. This, she said, underlines the need to set out on the path to peace “in a responsible manner, with a strategy and plan to do things right.”

The title she would use for an article on the ICSW2016 is: “Together, civil society has power.” And the lead would be: “If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.”

In Colombia there is a large Arab community. Around 1994, the biggest Palestinian population outside the Middle East was living in Colombia, although many fled when the civil war here intensified.

“The peaceful struggle should be the only one,” 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, who took part in the ICSW2016, said Friday morning.

But, he added, “you can’t have a lasting peace if the Palestinian problem is not solved.” Since global pressure managed to put an end to South Africa’s apartheid, the next big task is Palestine, he said.

Zeddini expressed strong support for the Nobel peace prize nomination of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. He was arrested in 2002, during the second Intifada.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/feed/ 0
Latin America to Redouble Its Climate Efforts in New Yorkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 23:48:16 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144741 Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America will flock to sign the Paris Agreement, in what will be a simple act of protocol with huge political implications: it is the spark that will ignite actions to curb global warming.

More than 160 countries have confirmed their attendance at the ceremony scheduled for Friday, Apr. 22 in New York by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And eight have announced that they will present the ratification of the agreement during the event, having already completed the internal procedures to approve it.

The countries of Latin America, with the exception of Nicaragua and Ecuador, promised to participate in the collective signing of the historic binding agreement reached by 195 countries on Dec. 12 in the French capital.

Experts consulted by IPS stressed the political symbolism of the ceremony, and said they hoped Latin America would press for rapid implementation of the climate deal. “In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries.” -- Andrés Pirazzoli

“In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries,” said Chilean lawyer Andrés Pirazzoli, a former climate change delegate of Chile and an expert in international negotiations.

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, many of which are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, are calling for the adoption of global measures to curb global warming.

According to a 2014 World Bank report, “In Latin America and the Caribbean temperature and precipitation changes, heat extremes, and the melting of glaciers will have adverse effects on agricultural productivity, hydrological regimes, and biodiversity.”

Pirazzoli said this recognition of the threat posed by climate change in the region would be a bone of contention for the participating countries.

At the Paris Summit or COP 21 – the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the Chilean expert led the technical team of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), made up of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

Pirazzoli said that “if there is one issue that has brought Latin America together, beyond internal ideological questions, it was the issue of vulnerability.”

“That will be a mantra for the region in the negotiations that will follow the signing of the agreement,” which will get underway again in Bonn in May, he added.

Friday’s ceremony is just the first piece in a puzzle that involves the 197 parties to the UNFCCC, in which each one will have to activate its mechanism to achieve ratification of the international agreement.

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

In order for the treaty to enter into effect, it must be signed by at least 55 parties accounting for a combined total of at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this is to happen by 2020, according to what was agreed on at COP 21.

The countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century relative to pre-industrial levels to prevent “catastrophic and irreversible impacts”.

The agreement set guidelines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, for addressing the negative impacts of global warming, and for financing, to be led by the countries of the industrialised North.

In the region, the process will vary from country to country, but “according to tradition in Latin America, normally these accords have to go through two houses of Congress, which makes the process more complex,” said Pirazzoli.

He pointed out that Mexico and Panama committed to ratifying the agreement this year.

The United Nations reported that the eight countries that will attend the agreement signing ceremony with their ratification instrument in hand are Barbados, Belize and St. Lucia – in this region – along with Fiji, the Maldives, Nauru, Samoa and Tuvalu.

“A story of power of vulnerable countries is beginning to emerge, and instead of coming as victims, they will use this ceremony to show that they want to be in the leadership,” said Costa Rican economist Mónica Araya, another former national climate change negotiator.

Araya heads the non-governmental organisation Nivela and is an adviser to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a self-defined “leadership group” within the UNFCCC negotiations, which assumes strong, progressive positions.

The economist said the confirmation of their participation in the New York ceremony by almost all of the countries in Latin America was one more sign that the region is waking up.

She concurred with Pirazzoli that Latin America’s leaders are finding points in common that enable them to overcome ideological barriers, at least in this field.

“We have seen new efforts, such as the summit of environment ministers in Cartagena, which set a precedent by creating a climate change action platform for the entire region,” said Araya, referring to the 20th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in late March in that Colombian city.

But she said that in order for international efforts to be effective, change must start at home. “Public opinion and the business community should be helped to understand that our parliaments will play a key role” in ratifying the agreement, she added.

Enrique Maurtua, climate change director with the Argentine NGO Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, and a veteran of the climate talks, agreed.

“The signing of the accord is only the second step, after reaching the agreement,” he said. “Without this, we can’t go on to the third, which is ratification – the most important step in order for the accord to go into effect.”

Maurtua said these global processes need to take root at a global level, by improving their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which nearly the entire region submitted last year, with the exception of Panama, which did so on Apr. 14, and Nicaragua, which said it would not do so.

Although they account for only a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s countries pledged to reduce them in their INDCs – a numerous group with ambitious goals, including the two biggest economies in the region: Brazil and Mexico.

They also listed climate change adaptation actions, in several cases going beyond the minimum required.

Maurtua was upbeat with regard to the implementation of the Paris Agreement by 2020 and the 2016 negotiating process, which will begin in Bonn in May and will continue until COP 22 is held in Morocco.

“Latin America could very well be an example of the implementation of good practices for achieving sustainable development,” he said.

The absence of Ecuador and Nicaragua is in line with previous positions taken, where they have showed a reluctance to participate in multilateral processes.

After COP 21, Nicaragua said the Paris Agreement did not go far enough.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/feed/ 0
Focusing on Future of Food: What’s Next for Global Agricultural Research?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/focusing-on-future-of-food-whats-next-for-global-agricultural-research/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=focusing-on-future-of-food-whats-next-for-global-agricultural-research http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/focusing-on-future-of-food-whats-next-for-global-agricultural-research/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2016 17:27:53 +0000 Kwesi Atta-Krah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144562 Kwesi Atta-Krah is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) – a program led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).]]>

Kwesi Atta-Krah is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) – a program led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

By Kwesi Atta-Krah
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 11 2016 (IPS)

Food security scientists from around the globe gathered in Johannesburg last week with one objective: to work towards the transformation of agriculture as engine for growth in developing regions of the world. The gathering was also an opportunity to examine what farmers need to prosper in the face of social and environmental challenges.

Kwesi Atta-Krah

Kwesi Atta-Krah

The Third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) was the culmination of a two-year consultation process with national and regional stakeholders, and a chance to set a new agenda for today’s agricultural research, to ensure it meets the challenges of development for tomorrow.

A major theme running throughout the conference has been ensuring that “no one is left behind” in the unfolding agricultural revolution, and that research remains “future-focused”. We know that sudden shocks such as natural disasters and pest outbreaks can cripple agricultural production – just look at the impact El Niño-induced drought is having on farmers across southern Africa.

We therefore need to be investing in forward-thinking programs that will help communities prepare for such events. However this should not be just a case of researchers thinking for communities, but also of supporting communities to engage in the process of designing desired futures taking into account climate change and other scenarios.

In Africa alone, CGIAR’s global network of research centers is already working on a number of programs to make this happen. For example, a project is under way in Nigeria to map flooding patterns to guide decision-making on future flood response. It will also identify flood capture and storage solutions for flood-recession agriculture and dry-season farming.

Improving access to climate information is also going to be critical, to help farmers maintain their yields in the face of erratic weather patterns. In collaboration with AGRHYMET and the National Meteorological Services of several countries (such as Madagascar, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania), CGIAR is channelling climate information directly into farmers’ hands across Africa.

By combining traditional and scientific knowledge, locally specific forecasts are tailored to meet farmers’ needs and delivered via mobile phone and radio broadcasts. Farmers benefit from tailored information about what to plant, when to plant, when to fertilise and when to harvest, and are trained in how to interpret and apply the forecasts to their day-to-day farming.

Another overwhelmingly supported take away from the conference was the need to change our mindsets and recognise the yet untapped potential of youth for realising agricultural development, and also providing employment to themselves and others. Two dynamic young speakers (from the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) and Makolobane Farmers Enterprises) urged the audience to stop referring to youth as “leaders of tomorrow” and recognise their role as “leaders of today”.

When one stops to consider that Africa has some 200 million youth in need of employment, and Africa’s food and beverage markets have the potential to be worth US$1 trillion by 2030 – it is an obvious action point to equip young people with the skills they need to participate in this growing market.

Significant investment in training and equipment is required, to make local production, processing and marketing of these foods an attractive choice for young entrepreneurs. In her speech, the young Managing Director of Makolobane Farmers Enterprises, Dimakatso Sekhoto, highlighted the need for more young people to be able to access finance to support their businesses.

Building capacities of the youth in the area of business skills, entrepreneurship, leadership and personal development came across from a number of young people attending GCARD3 as essential support factors. For example, training to write business plans, so that young people are able to go to banks and ask for loans, backed up with the appropriate paperwork and planning, will be a critical step towards this.

It is encouraging that several initiatives are springing up aimed at supporting the “Youth in Agriculture” mission. Examples are the YPARD initiative being implemented by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), in various countries around the world. In 2012, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, also launched the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative.

The program is aimed at exposing young people to the opportunities inherent in agriculture for job creation and employment, and encouraging them to explore the various channels that are open to business in agriculture. These include areas such as the specialization and production of quality seeds; value addition through processing; fisheries and brood stock production; marketing and use of ICT in agribusiness.

At IITA, we are investing heavily in this kind of preparation for young “agripreneurs” to enter the market. The IYA initiative has now been replicated in five other countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Many more countries are on the horizon.

In DRC, for example, the IITA-Kalambo Youth Agripreneurs (IKYA), a group of young and enterprising graduates engaged in agribusiness, aim to build agribusiness enterprises for themselves and serve as a model to other youth. Formally launched in April 2014 as an offshoot of IYA, the group has a current membership of 32 young “Business Builders”, aged between 25-32 years old from different backgrounds.

The activities of the group cut across the value chains of different crops including cassava, maize, beans and soybeans. The group has engaged in different profitable agriculture business enterprises, including production and sales of agricultural commodities and vegetables, such as agro-processing of cassava and maize, production of high-quality maize flour and cassava flour and starch, as well as fisheries.

Aiming to increase their incomes, the young and enterprising members of IKYA have also increased their business opportunities by going into value-addition activities through the development and marketing of nutritious cassava-soybean agro-foods products, aimed at improving the nutritional diversity of household diets.

In addition to this type of program, several CGIAR centers now have business incubation platforms that develop efficient manufacturing methods that can be replicated by the private sector. One new business incubation hub in Uganda – Afri Banana Products Ltd – has nurtured 39 entrepreneurs; commercialized six technologies and helped generate employment for over 420 people.

New technologies are being tested, that reduce the drudgery of agro-processing and improve efficiency, such as a mechanical sheller that can shell 18 times more groundnuts in one hour than hand shelling, and processors that can turn cassava peels into high quality animal feed. The Business Incubation Platform (BIP) of IITA in Nigeria has set up mini plants for the production of key agricultural inputs, as models for private sector engagement.

A key product from the IITA BIP is aflasafeTM for addressing the problem of aflatoxin contamination in grain and other crops. The aflasafeTM plant produces up to 40 tons of aflasafeTM a day and the BIP’s main goal is to get interested parties to invest in plant construction and laboratories all over Africa.

The GCARD process is designed to make sure that the scientists working on solutions to feed the world are listening to the needs of farmers, and other stakeholders on the ground. The national consultations have given CGIAR research centers around the world a refreshed plan of action for the countries in which they work.

Priorities such as preparing for future risks and consciously leveraging the potential of youth to catalyse agribusiness are going to be two important steps paving the way through the next decade of agricultural research. We are excited to move forward with this new era, towards a world were healthy, sustainable diets are provided for all.

(End)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/focusing-on-future-of-food-whats-next-for-global-agricultural-research/feed/ 2
Turning to Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/need-to-encourage-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-to-encourage-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/need-to-encourage-agriculture/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 05:45:44 +0000 Moyiga Nduru http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144529 A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Moyiga Nduru
JUBA, South Sudan, Apr 8 2016 (IPS)

Facing an unprecedented economic crisis, South Sudan — the newest nation of the world — has urged its 12 million inhabitants to turn to agriculture instead of depending on declining oil revenues.

Before the fall of oil prices below $30 a barrel in the international market, oil-rich South Sudan used to import virtually all of its basic requirements from overseas.

Chicken came from Brazil. Tomatoes, onions, maize flour, cooking oil, dairy products and beans are still being imported from neighbouring Uganda. China and Dubai export a variety of goods such as soft drinks, smart phones as well as construction materials.

All of this is unsustainable and worries the government. South Sudan has ignored agriculture since it achieved its independence in July 2011. Up to 75 per cent of the country’s land area is suitable for farming.

“South Sudan has virgin land. Yet we import most of our food from neighbouring countries,” finance minister, David Deng Athorbei, complained during a meeting organised in the national capital Juba recently to address the deteriorating economic situation in the country.

Every year, South Sudan spends between US$200-300 million on food imports, according to estimates for 2013 provided by the Abidjan-based African Development Bank (AFDB).

“South Sudan currently imports as much as 50 per cent of its needs, including 40 per cent of its cereals from neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia”, according to AFDB.

During the first two years of independence, the country was producing nearly 245,000 barrels of crude oil per day, raking in billions of dollars in revenue annually. As a result, the elite saw no value in labour-intensive activity like farming.

That is now changing. A drop in the oil output, a decline in global oil prices and the devastating conflict in South Sudan, as well as an acute scarcity of hard currency have triggered shortages of goods in the market.

South Sudan, which currently produces 165,000 barrel of crude oil per day, depends on oil revenue for nearly 98 per cent of the total government budget.

“We must diversify. We should not depend on one commodity — oil. We have gold in Kapoeta (on the border with Kenya). We have cattle,” said Gabriel Alak, a senior official of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on a popular programme, Face the Nation, on the state-owned South Sudan Television recently.

Campaigners are now focusing on food production to mitigate the impact of a devastating conflict that erupted in Juba in December 2013. The violence spread quickly to oil-producing states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.

The fighting has left hundreds of thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

At the height of the oil boom, South Sudanese businesspeople had directed their energy toward trade, ignoring agriculture.

“The business of trade is over. We now need to embark on the business of production. We have to change our ways of doing business. Let’s start with agriculture,” Athorbei advised.

In April 2015, President Salva Kiir donated 1,000 tractors to farmers around the country. He also set up the country’s first food security council headed by himself.

“I am determined to end hunger and malnutrition in the Republic of South Sudan,” Kiir said during the launch of the tractors in Juba.

“We have vast fertile lands, abundant water and climate suitable for production of wide variety of food and cash crops but the country still faces enormous challenges which prevent it from realising its full potential,” he said.

“Experts estimate that up to 300,000 metric tonnes of fish could be harvested on a sustainable basis from its share at the River Nile swamps and tributaries,” Kiir disclosed.

South Sudan produces some food crops, but the food is rotting in the bush due to poor road network to transport the commodities to the market.

Athorbei said he would set aside some money in the financial year 2015/2016 to boost agriculture. He did not say how much he would allocate.

With South Sudan joining the East African Community (EAC) on 2 March 2016, Juba hopes to invite farmers across the region to till the country’s vast lands. “This will cut transport costs and reduce food prices,” vice-president James Wani Igga told a parliamentary caucus of the ruling SPLM in Juba on March 10, 2016.

EAC comprises Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and now South Sudan, with a combined population of more than 157 million.

As South Sudan works out plan to fix agriculture, prices have continued to spiral beyond the reach of the poor. The crisis has prompted parliament to urge government to reduce inflation to mitigate the sufferings of ordinary persons.

“There is urgent need to mobilise up to US $20 million for the importation of food commodities and medicines within a period of one month. The food commodities shall be sold through established consumer cooperative network,” the chairperson for the committee for economy, development and finance in parliament, Goc Makuach Mayol, said in a 14-page report on March 7, 2016.

The parliament has also called for a probe into a US$70 million, which was disbursed by an agency known as “financial auction” to commercial banks and forex bureaux with instructions by the central bank to allocate 50 per cent for importing food commodities, 30 per cent for industrial inputs and 20 per cent for school fees and medical treatment overseas.

The parliament did not indicate when the money was disbursed. But it has demanded for a record showing how the money was spent.

(End)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/need-to-encourage-agriculture/feed/ 0
Caribbean Biodiversity Overheated by Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-biodiversity-overheated-by-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-biodiversity-overheated-by-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-biodiversity-overheated-by-climate-change/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2016 22:44:12 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143651 A young man on the banks of lake Enriquillo on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which forms part of the Caribbean Biological Corridor created in 2007 by these two countries and Cuba with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A young man on the banks of lake Enriquillo on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which forms part of the Caribbean Biological Corridor created in 2007 by these two countries and Cuba with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO , Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

The nearly 7,000 islands and the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea are home to thousands of endemic species and are on the migration route of many kinds of birds. Preserving this abundant fauna requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming.

That is the goal of the Caribbean Biological Corridor (CBC), a project implemented by the governments of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which was created in 2007 with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Union with the aim of protecting biodiversity in the region.

“Puerto Rico should form part of the corridor in 2016,” Cuban biologist Freddy Rodríguez, who is taking part in the initiative, told IPS.

In late 2015 Puerto Rico, a free associated state of the United States, presented an official letter asking to join the sustainable conservation project, whose executive secretariat is located in the Dominican Republic on the border with Haiti.

“The admission of new partners, which has been encouraged from the start, is a question of time,” said Rodríguez. “Several countries have taken part as observers since the beginning.”

He said the Bahamas, Dominica, Jamaica and Martinique are observer countries that have expressed an interest in joining the corridor.

The Caribbean region is already prone to high temperatures, because the wind and ocean currents turn the area into a kind of cauldron that concentrates heat year-round, according to scientific sources.

And the situation will only get worse due to the temperature rise predicted as a result of climate change, a phenomenon caused by human activity which has triggered extreme weather events and other changes.

The extraordinary biodiversity of the Caribbean is increasingly at risk from this global phenomenon, which has modified growing and blooming seasons, migration patterns, and even species distribution.

Meanwhile, the biological corridor is one demonstration of the growing efforts of small Caribbean island nations to preserve their unique natural heritage.

A flock of birds flies over a coastal neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba. The Caribbean Biological Corridor is on the migration route for many species of birds, and its conservation requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A flock of birds flies over a coastal neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba. The Caribbean Biological Corridor is on the migration route for many species of birds, and its conservation requires multilateral actions in today’s era of global warming. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

It also reflects the long road still ahead to regional integration in the area of conservation.

The 1,600-km CBC includes the Jaragua-Bahoruca-Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve and Cordillera Central mountains, in the Dominican Republic; the Chaîne de la Selle mountain range, Lake Azuéi, Fore et Pins, La Visite and the Massif du Nord mountains – all protected areas in Haiti; and the Sierra Maestra and Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa mountain ranges in Cuba.

Tips on the insular Caribbean’s biodiversity

- The region has 703 threatened species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

- It provides wintering and nursery grounds for many North Atlantic migratory species, including the great North Atlantic humpback whale, which breeds in the north of the Caribbean.

- Several parts of the Caribbean are stopping points for millions of migratory birds flying between North and South America.

- The population of the Caribbean depends on the wealth of fragile natural areas for a variety of benefits, such as disaster risk prevention, availability of fresh water and revenue from tourism.

Studies carried out by researchers involved in the biological corridor have documented damage caused to nature by extreme events like Hurricane Sandy, which hit eastern Cuba in 2012, and the severe drought of 2015, which affected the entire Caribbean region.

Rodríguez said they have carried out more than 60 training sessions, involving local communities as well as government officials from the three countries, with the participation of guests from other Caribbean nations.

And they have a web site, which compiles the results of studies, bulletins, a database and maps of the biological corridor.

“Other people and institutions say the CBC’s biggest contribution has been to create a platform for collaboration with regard to the environment, which did not exist previously in the insular Caribbean. This has created the possibility for the environment ministers to meet every year to review the progress made as well as pending issues,” Rodríguez said.

“We are trying to grow in terms of South-South collaboration,” he said.

The insular Caribbean is a multicultural, multi-racial region where people speak Spanish, English, Dutch, French and creoles. It is made up of 13 independent island nations and 19 French, Dutch, British and U.S. overseas territories.

These differences, along with the heavy burden of under-development, are hurdles to the conservation of the natural areas in the Caribbean, which is one of the world’s greatest centres of unique biodiversity, due to the high number of endemic species.

Experts report that for every 100 square kilometres, there are 23.5 plants that can only be found in the Antilles, an archipelago bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north and east.

The project is focusing on an area of 234,124 square km of greatest biodiversity, home to a number of unique reptile, bird and amphibian species.

View of the Caribbean Sea in the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, which the two countries share. The roughly 7,000 Caribbean islands are home to thousands of endemic species, whose preservation is complicated by climate change. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

View of the Caribbean Sea in the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, which the two countries share. The roughly 7,000 Caribbean islands are home to thousands of endemic species, whose preservation is complicated by climate change. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

The CBC’s 2016-2020 development plan also involves continued research on climate change, and aims to expand to marine ecosystems.

The four million square km of ocean around the Antilles are “the heart of Atlantic marine diversity,” according to a report by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

The region contains 25 coral genera, 117 sponges, 633 mollusks, more than 1,400 fishes, 76 sharks, 45 shrimp, 30 cetaceans and 23 species of seabirds.

The area also contains some 10,000 square km of reef, 22,000 square km of mangroves, and as much as 33,000 square km of seagrass beds.

“As a Dominican, I didn’t have that much experience and I hadn’t heard about the Caribbean environment,” business administration student Manuel Antonio Feliz, who has taken CBC courses, told IPS. “The trainings have opened my eyes to the natural riches of our islands.”

“We talk more about the polar bear and the loss of its habitat at the North Pole than about a little local frog or solenodon (one of the rarest mammals on earth, native to the Antilles),” Cuban researcher Nicasio Viña said in a conference for a group of journalists in the capital of the Dominican Republic, which IPS took part in. “The people of the Caribbean, we don’t know what treasures we have in our hands.”

Viña, director of the CBC executive secretariat, explained that initiatives like the biological corridor require at least 30 years of work to solidify.

He called for “thinking about conservation systems, due to the extraordinary influence and responsibility that we human beings have with regard to biodiversity in the Caribbean, because of what we have done, and climate change.”

The corridor has a centre of plant propagation in each one of the member countries, where seedlings of native species are grown to reforest the areas that are benefiting from pilot projects.

The pilot projects are aimed at helping Dominican, Haitian and Cuban communities to find environmentally-friendly sources of income, besides restoring degraded environments.

So far they are being implemented in the Cuban settlements of Sigua in Santiago de Cuba and the Baitiquirí Ecological Reserve in Guantánamo; the communities of Pedro Santana, Paraje Los Rinconcitos and Guayabo, in the Dominican province of Elías Piña; and in the Haitian towns of Dosmond and La Gonave.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-biodiversity-overheated-by-climate-change/feed/ 5
Not Yet Curtains for BRICshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/not-yet-curtains-for-brics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-yet-curtains-for-brics http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/not-yet-curtains-for-brics/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:50:16 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143102

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Nov 24 2015 (IPS)

With Goldman Sachs folding up its haemorrhaging BRIC fund, is it curtains for the acronym that defined the investment bankers’ fancy for emerging markets? It certainly appears so after China’s stock market crash and a fast slowing economy triggered fears that the dragon will set off the next global recession.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Brazil’s economy is experiencing its deepest recession in 25 years. Russia, too, is contracting due to the crash in oil prices and sanctions. India remains a haven of stability. South Africa’s growth is sluggish with very high unemployment. Against this dismal backdrop, what are the prospects of BRICs playing a vital role in the world economy?

Fourteen years ago, BRICs was very much an idea whose time had come. Goldman Sachs projected them as the future growth engines of the world economy. This acronym soon became a self-fulfilling buzz word with a life of its own. A focus on these leading emerging economies, especially since 2006, provided handsome returns that peaked five years ago. Since 2010, however, BRIC Fund assets plunged from $842 million to $98 million in end-September 2015 according to Bloomberg. With no hope for “significant asset growth” in the near future, Goldman Sachs threw in the towel on October 23, the last trading day for this fund.

These financials clearly reflect the fast-deteriorating growth prospects of the BRIC economies. They were expected to overtake the US in size by 2015. But this isn’t likely to happen. A decelerating Chinese economy, in fact, threatens the first global recession in 50 years without help from the US, says a rival investment bank. Russia and Brazil are doing much worse as they are highly dependent on commodity exports to drive their growth. As China is the biggest importer of oil, iron ore and other raw materials, this is bad news for their commodity-driven prospects. Only India’s track record is creditable as the fastest growing economy in the world.

Such concerns can only make this grouping – which globally accounts for one-fifths of GDP, 42 per cent of population, 17.3 per cent of trade, 41 per cent of forex reserves and 45 per cent of agricultural production – less cohesive to have geo-economic significance in the world economy. Analysts consider the BRICs to represent an alliance of middle -sized economies that could lead to a serious attempt to counter-balance the US, the most powerful economy in the world. This is far from obvious except, perhaps for Russia, that has faced the full brunt of US-led sanctions due to its intervention in Ukraine. This is less true of India that is deepening its relations with the US.

But the BRICs are far from happy with the US-led global financial architecture. A striking feature of all the seven statements issued at BRIC summits from 2009 to 2015 is that this grouping aims to promote peace, security, prosperity and development in a multi-polar, equitable and democratic world order. The grouping seeks a greater voice and participation in institutions of global governance like the IMF, World Bank, WTO and UN. The Durban summit in 2013, for instance, indicated that the WTO required a new leader who demonstrated a commitment to multilateralism and that he or she should be a representative of a developing country.

The formation of a New Development Bank (NDB) is in fact a concrete expression of the desire of BRICs to set up its own alternative to the US-led World Bank and IMF. NDB President KV Kamath has indicated that the bank would blaze a different trail than the Bretton Woods twins who impose an unacceptable conditionality on their loan assistance. In sharp contrast, the NDB is expected to place a greater priority on borrowers’ interests instead of the lender’s interests; that it would better reflect the expectations and aspirations of developing countries. BRICs, however, are not keen to position the NDB as a rival to the World Bank or IMF.

At a BRICs meeting ahead of the recent G-20 summit in Turkey, India’s PM Narendra Modi stated that India will guide the NDB to finance inclusive and responsive needs of emerging economies. India will assume the chairmanship of BRICs in February 2016 and the theme of its chairmanship will be Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions – the acronym lives on! PM Modi added for good measure that there was a time when the logic of BRICs and its lasting capacity were being questioned. But group members have provided ample proof of its relevance and value through action at a time of huge global challenges.

The good news is that the BRICs are cooperating and competing with one another for a place under the global sun. The seven summits from St Petersburg to Ufa testify to this. BRICs are the new growth drivers for low-income countries, especially in Africa, considering the growing importance of their trade and foreign direct investments in such economies. The BRICs may be passing through troubled times, but they do constitute a major consumer market. Incomes have grown as more and more people have joined the ranks of the middle class, resulting in greater demand for oil, cars and commodities in leading member countries like China and India.

But the grouping must seriously address the serious challenges of kick-starting its pace of expansion to power global growth as before. The BRICs may not be yielding returns to investment banks but they are in no immediate danger of fading into the sunset. Member countries after all take it seriously enough to set up a potential rival to the World Bank and IMF dominated by the US and Europe. Even if its creator has pulled the plug on the BRIC fund, the acronym will remain relevant in the future as well. Its resilience only exemplifies the profound truth of what the famous economist John Maynard Keynes stated long ago that the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else!

(End)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/not-yet-curtains-for-brics/feed/ 0
Private Nature Reserves in Latin America Seek a Bigger Rolehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/private-nature-reserves-in-latin-america-seek-a-bigger-role/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=private-nature-reserves-in-latin-america-seek-a-bigger-role http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/private-nature-reserves-in-latin-america-seek-a-bigger-role/#comments Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:27:09 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143070 The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
PUNTA LEONA, Costa Rica , Nov 20 2015 (IPS)

Private voluntary nature reserves in Latin America should be seen as allies in policies on the environment, climate change mitigation and the preservation of biological diversity in rainforests, say experts.

“Private reserves in Latin America are not included in conservation policies; they should be integrated in our national strategies,” said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, vice-president of conservation policies in Conservation International (CI) in Costa Rica.

Rodríguez, a former Costa Rican minister of environment, energy and mines (2002–2006), was addressing 150 environmentalists, promoters of voluntary conservation agreements, and ecotourism business owners, during the 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves, held Nov. 9-13 in the Punta Leona private nature reserve and tourism destination.

In his view, the private sector should play a more central role and governments and the owners of private nature reserves should work together to achieve compliance with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

During the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, 193 United Nations members established 20 targets to fight the loss of biodiversity, with a 2020 deadline.

“We are losing our natural capital due to climate change and the big gap between private and public conservation,” said Rodríguez. “The owners of private reserves should become political actors, to help meet the Aichi Targets.”

The global cost of financing efforts towards the targets is estimated at 150 to 440 billion dollars a year, according to figures from the Convention itself. But currently, CI says, the world is only channeling 45 billion dollars towards that end.

Rodríguez says private conservation efforts could help mitigate the shortfall in funds.

With that aim, the Latin American Alliance of Private Reserves was formally created Nov. 6 – the first of its kind in the world. It groups 4,345 private reserves in 15 countries, with a combined total of 5,648,000 hectares of green areas.

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“The idea is to form a conservation chain,” Martin Keller of Guatemala, the president of the new alliance, told IPS. “Private areas can form a chain with national parks and expand national conservation systems. They are also a mechanism to absorb drastic climate changes.”

He argues that there should be no borders for private reserves in the region. “We are joining together in something magnificent, and formalising associations with international institutions so that they include us in environmental projects,” he said.

During the congress in Costa Rica, a pilot programme to encourage the sale of carbon credits was announced, with the donation of 200 hectares of land by a member of the Alliance. The programme will have an estimated 3,600 tonnes of carbon.

Keller hopes Latin America will begin to sell carbon as a bloc, starting in 2017.

“We have dreams and a passion for conserving nature,” the president of the Costa Rican Network of Nature Reserves, Rafael Gallo, who is donating the 200 hectares for the pilot plan, told IPS. “We want the sale of carbon to be a mechanism for private conservation at a global level.”

Gallo has an 800-hectare property on the Banks of the Pacuare River along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Of that total, 700 hectares are a forest reserve. It is located in Siquirres, 85 km east of San José, near the Barbilla National Park, which forms part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.

“The market is still just getting off the ground, a ton of carbon is worth three dollars,” said Gallo, who believes the mechanism will become viable when the price of a ton reaches 10 dollars.

The countries in the Alliance are Argentina, Belize, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay and Venezuela also have private reserves, but they have not yet set up local networks – a necessary step before they can join.

Keller said he hopes the initiative will expand to the entire hemisphere, including the Caribbean island nations, Canada and the United States.

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves would like to benefit from multilateral institution programmes, and with that in mind they have made contact with U.N. partners involved in one way or another with conservation issues, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“We want to be a regional bloc, we want to be heard at an international level, and we want incentives for property owners to continue joining forces to support conservation – because we would have a massive impact as a bloc,” Claudia García de Bonilla, executive director of the Association of Private Natural Reserves of Guatemala, told IPS.

Voluntary conservation areas are set up by ecotourism businesses, academic institutions, research bodies, or organic agricultural producers, and their advocates see them as green shields against climate extremes and the loss of biodiversity.

“Forests are a sponge, absorbing storms and hurricanes. We have to keep expanding our ecological corridors,” Bonilla said.

The representative of private green areas in Chile, Mauricio Moreno, underscored benefits that nature reserves belonging to individuals or private bodies can offer a global vision of conservation.

“These areas are refuges protected with a great deal of goodwill and effort,” he told IPS. “They complement the public networks. There are reserves that border natural parks and thus create much bigger areas that make it possible to conserve species of animals. With a public and private effort, integral conservation is possible.”

According to Ariane Claussen, an engineer in renewable natural resources at the University of Chile, the budget assigned to public protected areas in the region is insufficient, which makes it difficult for countries to have the capacity to act on their own in the preservation of biodiversity.

“Rather than seeing private reserves as independent, they should be seen in an integrated manner,” she told IPS. “If these people didn’t decide to practice conservation, they would be using that land in different ways, for unsustainable monoculture or stockbreeding.”

She said “the property owners dedicate a small portion of this land to (economic) development like tourism, because they need an income.”

Claussen, along with another Chilean colleague, Tomás González, stressed the Latin American initiative Huella, aimed at voluntary cooperation in technical planning for conservation, environmental education and ecological activism in the region.

Private reserves cover gaps left by the state, she said. “The idea is that they take part in conservation as buffer zones and link up the ecosystems of public protected areas that are isolated and fragmented,” she explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/private-nature-reserves-in-latin-america-seek-a-bigger-role/feed/ 0
Latin American Legislators Find New Paths to Fight Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-find-new-paths-to-fight-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-legislators-find-new-paths-to-fight-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-find-new-paths-to-fight-hunger/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:40:02 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143061 Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Nov 19 2015 (IPS)

With eight specific commitments aimed at pushing through laws and policies on food security and sovereignty, family farming and school feeding programmes, legislators from 17 countries closed the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean.

During the Nov. 15-17 Forum in the Peruvian capital, the delegates of the national chapters of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) reasserted their determination to promote laws to “break the circle of poverty and enforce the right to food” in the region.

The more than 60 legislators who took part in the Forum, including guests from Africa and Asia, stated in the final declaration that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America and the Caribbean had made the greatest progress in reducing hunger, cutting the proportion of hungry people by more than half, in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which had a 2015 deadline. “After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity.” -- María Augusta Calle

But after stressing these results, John Preissing, representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Peru, called on the legislators not to be content “with averages” that hide inequalities between and within countries.

He also stressed that “it will be much more difficult” for the region to reduce the proportion of hungry people to two or three percent, than what they already managed to do: to cut the percentage from 32 to seven percent.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, some 37 million of the region’s 600 million people are still hungry, of a total of 795 million hungry people around the world, the Forum participants were told.

The final declaration emphasised that it is essential that the PFH work together with the governments of each country to create programmes and pass laws aimed at eradicating hunger, and to promote the three main areas for doing so: food security and sovereignty, family farming, and school feeding.

To advance in these three complementary areas, eight specific accords were reached, including the need for PFH legislators to participate in the debate on public budget funds, in order to guarantee that governments finance programmes against hunger.

The final declaration included the conclusions of the working groups on these three central themes, where one of the key issues was the importance of promoting public policies to benefit small farmers.

In another agreement, the lawmakers committed themselves to backing a new concept of food sovereignty.

“After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity,” Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle, who the Forum ratified in her post as regional coordinator of the PFH, told IPS.

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The next step, according to Calle, is to deliver the accords – especially the ones linked to food sovereignty – to the heads of state and government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), during the summit to be held in January 2016 in Ecuador.

“They asked us to draw up the concept of food sovereignty that has been debated here,” said Calle.

The parliamentarians also agreed to support CELAC’s plan for its member countries to reach the goal of “zero hunger” by 2025 – five years before the deadline established by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the international community in September.

Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, the subregional coordinator of the PFH in South America, told IPS that the Forum established long-term commitments to “eradicate hunger by 2025” in the region.

She said that meeting this goal will require “a complex effort to design public policies and laws.”

One hurdle standing in the way of the many initiatives launched by the PFH national chapters, said Sanseverino, is the inevitable and democratic renewal of parliament. “Sometimes they have a good Parliamentary Front, but those legislators serve out their terms, and the following year you come up against the need to put the Front together again,” she said.

The FAO’s Preissing said eradicating hunger in the region is “an uphill task….But we can do it, there is evidence here, there are commitments,” he added optimistically.

The Forum expressed its support for small-scale community agriculture, as well as traditional knowledge and practices of Latin America’s indigenous peoples, as instruments of healthy, diverse diets.

It also warned about a food-related problem that is new in the region, and has begun to affect the population of Latin America – the junk food craze, which is bringing problems that did not previously exist, like widespread obesity.

Before the Sixth Forum came to an end, all of the participants sent a communiqué to the president of the host country, Ollanta Humala, urging him to approve the regulations for the bill on the promotion of healthy eating, which was signed into law in May 2013, and whose implementation has been blocked by his failure to do so.

“This law has been a pioneer in Latin America, and they (the participants in the Forum) are surprised that since we were pioneers, the law has not been codified,” the coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS, pointing out that the law had served as a model for countries like Ecuador.

He added that the PFH is trying to make sure that the 2016 budget about to be approved includes funds earmarked for the fight against poverty, while he complained that “there are programmes that do not benefit small farmers,” who are the main link in the country’s food security chain.

Next year, the members of the regional front will meet in Mexico, in a new edition of the parliamentary forum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-find-new-paths-to-fight-hunger/feed/ 0
Latin America to Push for Food Security Laws as a Blochttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-america-to-push-for-food-security-laws-as-a-bloc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-push-for-food-security-laws-as-a-bloc http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-america-to-push-for-food-security-laws-as-a-bloc/#comments Tue, 17 Nov 2015 21:41:22 +0000 Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143030 A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro
LIMA, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Lawmakers in the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean decided at a regional meeting to work as a bloc for the passage of laws on food security – an area in which countries in the region have show uneven progress.

The Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) in Lima, Peru drew more than 60 legislators from 17 countries in the region and guest delegations from parliaments in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The coordinator of the regional Front, Ecuadorean legislator María Augusta Calle, told IPS that the challenge is to “harmonise” the region’s laws to combat poverty and hunger in the world’s most unequal region.

Calle added that a number of laws on food security and sovereignty have been passed in Latin America, and the challenge now is to standardise the legislation in all of the countries participating in the PFH to strengthen policies that bolster family farming.“We have reduced hunger by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.” -- María Augusta Calle

In Latin America, 81 percent of domestically consumed food products come from small farmers, who guarantee food security in the region, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which has advised the PFH since its creation in 2009.

Twelve of the 17 Latin American countries participating in the PFH already have food security and sovereignty laws, Calle said. But it has not been an easy task, she added, pointing out that several of the laws were approved only after long delays.

During the inauguration of the Sixth Forum, she said the region has reduced hunger “by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.”

The fight against hunger is an uphill task, and the forum’s host country is a clear illustration of this.

In Peru, the draft law on food security was only approved by Congress on Nov. 12, after two years of debate. The legislature finally reacted, just three days before the Sixth Forum began in the country’s capital. But the bill still has to be signed into law and codified by the executive branch, in order to be put into effect.

“How can it be possible for a government to put forth objections to a law on food security?” Peruvian Vice President Marisol Espinoza asked during the opening of the Sixth Forum.

Espinoza, who left the governing Peruvian Nationalist Party in October, took the place of President Ollanta Humala, who had been invited to inaugurate the Sixth Forum.

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS that he hopes the government will sign the new food security bill into law without setting forth observations.

Indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who took part in the Sixth Forum in representation of rural communities in Peru, said the government should pass laws to protect peasant farmers because they are paid very little for their crops, even though they supply the markets in the cities.

“What the government has to do is regulate this, for the citizens,” Buendía, who belongs to the Asháninka people, told IPS. “Why do we have a government that is not going to defend us? As we say in our community: ‘why do I have a father (the government)?’ If they want investment, ok, but they have to regulate.”

Another controversial question in the case of Peru is the more than two-year delay in the codification and implementation of the law on healthy food for children and adolescents, passed in May 2013, which requires that companies that produce food targeting this age group accurately label the ingredients.

Congressman Delgado said food companies are lobbying against the law, which cannot be put into effect until it is codified.

“It would be pathetic if after so much sacrifice to get this law passed, the government failed to codify it because of the pressure from business interests,” said Delgado.

He said that in Peru, over 200 million dollars are invested in advertising for junk food every year, according to a 2012 study by the Radio and Television Consultative Council.

Calle, from Ecuador, said the members of the PFH decided to call for the entrance into effect of the Peruvian law, in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration.

“The 17 countries (that belong to the PFH) are determined to see the law on healthy food codified in Peru. We believe it is indispensable. It is a wonderful law,” said the legislator.

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

She explained that in her country food and beverage companies have been required to use labels showing the ingredients, despite the opposition from the business sector.

“In Ecuador we have had a fabulous experience (regarding labels for junk food) which we would like businesses here in Peru to understand and not be afraid of,” Calle said.

The regional coordinator of the PFH said that to address the problem of food being seen as business rather than a right, “we need governments and parliaments committed to the public, rather than to transnational corporations.”

Another country that has made progress is Brazil, where laws in favour of the right to food include one that requires that at least 30 percent of the food that goes into school meals is purchased from local small farmers, Nazareno Fonseca, a member of the PFH regional consultative council, told IPS.

Calle said Brazil’s efforts to boost food security, in the context of its “Zero Hunger” programme, marked a watershed in Latin America.

The PFH regional coordinator noted that the person responsible for implementing the programme in the crucial first two years (2003-2004) as extraordinary food security minister was José Graziano da Silva, director general of FAO since 2011.

Spanish Senator José Miguel Camacho said it is important for legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean to act as a bloc because “there is still a long way to go, but these forums contribute to that goal.”

The commitments in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration will focus on three main areas: food security, where the PFH is working on a single unified framework law; school feeding; and efforts to fight overnutrition, obesity and junk food.

Peru’s health minister, Aníbal Velásquez, said the hope is that “the commitments approved at the Sixth Forum will translate into laws.”

And the president of the Peruvian Congress, Luis Iberico, said people did not enjoy true citizenship if basic rights were not guaranteed and hunger and poverty still existed.

The indigenous leader Buendía, for her part, asked the PFH legislators for a greater presence of the authorities in rural areas, in order for political declarations to produce tangible results.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-america-to-push-for-food-security-laws-as-a-bloc/feed/ 0
Leading Powers to Double Renewable Energy Supply by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030/#comments Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:45:29 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142983 China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 12 2015 (IPS)

Eight of the world’s leading economies will double their renewable energy supply by 2030 if they live up to their pledges to contribute to curbing global warming, which will be included in the new climate treaty.

A study published this month by the World Resources Institute (WRI) analysed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters to determine how much they will clean up their energy mix in the next 15 years.

Eight of the 10 – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and the United States – will double their cumulative clean energy supply by 2030. The increase is equivalent to current energy demand in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.

“We looked at renewable energy because it’s a leading indicator for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. We won’t get deep emissions reductions without it,” WRI researcher Thomas Damassa, one of the report’s authors, told IPS.

More than 150 countries have presented their INDCs, most of which commit to actions between 2020 and 2030. They will be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

Since energy production is the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for around 65 percent of emissions worldwide, efforts to curb emissions are essential and must lie at the heart of the new treaty, especially when it comes to the biggest emitters, experts say.

Of the 10 largest emitters, Russia and Canada were not included in the study because they have not announced post-2020 renewable energy targets.

Currently, one-fifth of global demand for electric power is covered by renewable sources, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and their cost is swiftly going down. Hydroelectricity still makes up 61 percent of all renewable energy.

But fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy supply and power generation, making up 78.3 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, according to REN21.

Studies indicate that in countries like India, where there are serious challenges in terms of access to energy, wind power is now as cheap as coal, and solar power will reach that level by 2019.

“The INDCs collectively send an important financial signal globally that renewables are a priority in the next two decades and a viable, pragmatic solution to the energy challenges countries are facing,” said Damassa.

Coordination between industrialised and emerging countries is crucial, especially the powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc.

That is because industrialised nations are historically responsible for GHG emissions but the BRICS and other emerging countries now produce a majority of global emissions.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

China is the leading emitter of GHG emissions and the biggest consumer of energy. But it is also the largest producer of renewable energy, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s wind power production and 27 percent of hydroelectricity, followed in the latter case by Brazil, which produces 8.5 percent of the world’s hydropower.

The Asian giant aims to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources by 20 percent by 2030. The country currently uses coal for 65 percent of its energy, while mega-dams represent just 15 percent.

In the first meeting of energy ministers of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations, held Oct. 5 in Istanbul, the officials acknowledged the importance of renewable sources and their long-term potential and pledged to continue investing in and researching clean energy.

Of the 127 INDCs presented as of late October – the EU presented the commitments of its 28 countries as a bloc – 80 percent made clean energy a priority.

“They certainly help but clearly countries still need to go farther, faster – and in sectors outside of energy as well – to drive emissions down to the level that is needed,” said Damassa.

The pledges made so far would keep global warming down to a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, according to the UNFCCC secretariat, although other studies are more pessimistic, putting the rise at 3.5 degrees.

To avoid irreversible effects for the planet, global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees C above preindustrial levels, although even with that increase, severe effects would be felt in different ecosystems.

Because of that it will be essential to reassess the national pledges during the climate talks in Paris, and establish a clear mechanism for ongoing follow-up of the actions taken by each country.

“I see all of the BASIC (the climate negotiating group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) pledges as ‘first offers’ that will have to be reassessed after the Paris deal is finalised,” Natalie Unterstell, the negotiator on behalf of Brazil at the UNFCCC, told IPS.

The expert, who is now a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the U.S., points to key differences between these four countries and Russia, the fifth member of BRICS.

She also explained that while these four countries agreed to reduce the proportion of fossil fuels in their energy mix, there are differences in how they aim to do so.

Adaptation is a large component in South Africa’s INDCs – a signal that the carbon-based economy understands the need to build a more resilient future. India is putting a strong emphasis on solar energy, and Brazil pledged to raise the share of renewable sources in its energy mix to 45 percent by 2030.

Brazil’s proposal is based partly on large hydropower dams, some of which are in socially and environmentally sensitive areas, like the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, the actions that China takes can, by themselves, facilitate or complicate the talks. According to Untersell, the country “has a comparative advantage as it has committed itself to develop renewables technology and is delivering its promise.”

Ties between these emerging economies and the industrialised powers were strengthened over the last year by a series of bilateral accords that began to be reached in November 2014, with the announcement that China and the United States had agreed on joint actions in the areas of climate and energy.

“These agreements are good signals for the industry to transition (to a cleaner model). However, the private sector needs more than aspirational goals to base their operations,” said the expert.

But she said it was a good thing that the agreement between the two countries was based on actions on an internal level, because this shows concrete changes in the energy policies of both nations.

Besides the agreement with Washington, China has signed another with France, Brazil did the same with Germany, and India did so with the United States, in an effort by these countries to speed up their internal transition before COP21.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/leading-powers-to-double-renewable-energy-supply-by-2030/feed/ 4
Latin American Legislators, a Battering Ram in the Fight Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-a-battering-ram-in-the-fight-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-legislators-a-battering-ram-in-the-fight-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-a-battering-ram-in-the-fight-against-hunger/#comments Wed, 11 Nov 2015 16:24:36 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142970 A girl in traditional festive dress from Bolivia’s highlands region displays a basket of fruit during a fair in her school in central La Paz. Fruit is the foundation of the new school meal diet adopted in the municipality, which puts a priority on natural food produced by small local farmers in the highlands. The alliance between family farming and school feeding is extending throughout Latin America thanks to laws put into motion by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

A girl in traditional festive dress from Bolivia’s highlands region displays a basket of fruit during a fair in her school in central La Paz. Fruit is the foundation of the new school meal diet adopted in the municipality, which puts a priority on natural food produced by small local farmers in the highlands. The alliance between family farming and school feeding is extending throughout Latin America thanks to laws put into motion by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Nov 11 2015 (IPS)

Lawmakers in Latin America are joining forces to strengthen institutional frameworks that sustain the fight against hunger in a region that, despite being dubbed “the next global breadbasket”, still has more than 34 million undernourished people.

The legislators, grouped in national fronts, “are political leaders and orient public opinion, legislate, and sustain and promote public policies for food security and the right to food,” said Ricardo Rapallo, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Food Security Officer in this region.

The members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger also “allot budget funds, monitor, oversee and follow up on government policies,” Rapallo told IPS at FAO regional headquarters in Santiago, Chile.

A series of successful public policies based on a broad cross-cutting accord between civil society, governments and legislatures enabled Latin America and the Caribbean to teach the world a lesson by cutting in half the proportion of hungry people in the region between 1990 and 2015.“The Parliamentary Front Against Hunger is a key actor in the implementation of CELAC’s Food Security Plan, for the construction of public systems that recognise the right to food.”-- Raúl Benítez, regional director of FAO

But the 34.3 million people still hungry in this region of 605 million are in need of a greater effort, in order for Latin America to live up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is aimed at achieving zero hunger in the world.

The Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH), to be held in Lima Nov. 15-17, will seek to forge ahead in the implementation of the “plan for food security, nutrition and hunger eradication in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) by 2025.”

The plan, which sets targets for 2025, is designed to strengthen institutional legal frameworks for food and nutritional security, raising the human right to food to the highest legal status, among other measures.

“The Parliamentary Front Against Hunger is a key actor in the implementation of CELAC’s Food Security Plan, for the construction of public systems that recognise the right to food,” the regional director of FAO, Raúl Benítez, told IPS.

The PFH was created in 2009 with the participation of three countries. Six years later, “there are 15 countries that have a strong national parliamentary front recognised by the national Congress of the country, which involves parliamentarians of different political stripes, all of whom are committed to the fight against hunger,” Rapallo said.

As a result, “laws on family farming have been passed, in Argentina and Peru, and in the Dominican Republic there are draft laws set to be approved. To these is added the food labeling law in Ecuador,” the expert said, to illustrate.

Bolivia sets an example

In Bolivia, the School Feeding Law in the Framework of Food Security and the Plural Economy, passed in December 2014, is at the centre of the fight against poverty in an integral fashion, Fernando Ferreira, the head of the national Parliamentary Front for Food Sovereignty and Good Living, told IPS in La Paz.

This model, which draws on the successful programme that has served school breakfasts based on natural local products in La Paz since 2000, is now being implemented in the country’s 347 municipalities.

The farmer “produces natural foods, sells part to the municipal government for distribution in school breakfasts, and sells the rest in the local community,” said Ferreira, describing the cycle that combines productive activity, employment, nutrition and family income generation.

The school breakfast programme has broad support among teachers because it boosts student performance and participation in class, Germán Silvetti, the principal of the República de Cuba primary school in the centre of La Paz, told IPS.

“They didn’t used to care, but now they demand their meals,” Silvetti said. “Some kids come to school without eating breakfast, so the meal we serve is important for their nutrition.”

In the past, students didn’t like Andean grains like quinoa. But María Inés Flores, a teacher, told IPS she managed to persuade them with an interesting anecdote: “astronauts who go to the moon eat quinoa – and if we follow their example we’ll make it to space,” she said to the children, who now eat it with enthusiasm.

Appealing to the appetites of the 145,000 students served by the school breakfast programme is a daily challenge, but one that has had satisfactory results, such as the reduction of anemia from 37 to two percent in the last 15 years, Gabriela Aro, one of the creators of the programme and the head of the municipal government’s Nutrition Unit, told IPS.

Authorities in Bolivia say the government’s “Vivir Bien” or “Good Living” programme will reduce the proportion of people in extreme poverty which, according to estimates from different national and international institutions, stands at 18 percent of the country’s 11 million people.

In the Mexican Congress, lawmakers with the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger are pushing through laws that boost food security and sovereignty, to guarantee “the right to sufficient nutritional, quality food” that was established in the constitution in 2011. Credit: Emilio Godoy/ IPS

In the Mexican Congress, lawmakers with the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger are pushing through laws that boost food security and sovereignty, to guarantee “the right to sufficient nutritional, quality food” that was established in the constitution in 2011. Credit: Emilio Godoy/ IPS

Mexico, another case

In Mexico, a nation of 124 million people, meanwhile, poverty has grown in the last three years, revealing shortcomings in the strategies against hunger, which legislators are trying to influence, with limited results.

“Legislators must be more involved in following up on this, one of the most basic issues,” Senator Angélica de la Peña, coordinator of the Mexican chapter of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, told IPS in Mexico City. “Even if we define budgets and programmes, they continue to be resistant to making this a priority.”

There are 55.3 million people in poverty in Mexico, according to official figures from this year, and over 27 million malnourished people.

The increase in poverty reflects the weaknesses of the National Crusade Against Hunger, the flagship initiative of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, which targets undernourished people living in extreme poverty.

The Crusade is concentrated in 400 of Mexico’s 2,438 municipalities, involves 70 federal programmes, and hopes to reach 7.4 million hungry people – 3.7 million in urban areas and the rest in the countryside.

The Senate has not yet approved a “general law on the human right to adequate food”, which was put in motion by the Parliamentary Front and involves the implementation of a novel constitutional reform, which established in 2011 that “everyone has a right to sufficient nutritional, quality food, to be guaranteed by the state.”

The draft law will create a National Food Policy and National Food Programme, besides providing for emergency food aid.

But in spite of the limitations, Mexico’s social assistance programmes do make a difference, albeit small, for millions of people.

Since February, Blanca Pérez has received 62 dollars every two months, granted by the Pension Programme for the elderly (65 and older), which forms part of the National Crusade Against Hunger.

“It helps me buy medicines and cover other expenses. But it is a small amount for people our age – it would be better if it was every month,” this mother of seven told IPS. She lives in the town of Amecameca, 58 km southeast of Mexico City, where half of the 48,000 inhabitants live in poverty.

Pérez, who helps her daughter out in a small grocery store, is also covered by the Popular Insurance scheme, a federal government programme that provides free, universal healthcare. “These programmes are good, but they should give more support to people like me, who struggle so much,” she said.

Two urgent regional needs

Above and beyond the progress made, Rapallo said Latin America today has two urgent needs: reduce the number of hungry people in the region to zero while confronting the problem of overnutrition – another form of malnutrition.

Overweight and obesity “are a public health challenge, a hurdle to national development, and a moral requisite that we must address,” said Rapallo.

In that sense, he added, “parliamentarians are essential” to bring about public policies that contribute to good nutrition of the population and their growing demands.

“There are parliamentarians that are real leaders in their respective countries. But if all of this were not backed by a strong civil society that puts the issue firmly on the agenda, we wouldn’t be able to talk about results,” he said.

With reporting by Emilio Godoy in Mexico City and Franz Chávez in La Paz.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/latin-american-legislators-a-battering-ram-in-the-fight-against-hunger/feed/ 0
Central America Seeks Recognition of Its Vulnerability to Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/central-america-seeks-recognition-of-its-vulnerability-to-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-seeks-recognition-of-its-vulnerability-to-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/central-america-seeks-recognition-of-its-vulnerability-to-climate-change/#comments Fri, 30 Oct 2015 23:21:17 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142859 In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In its national contribution, Costa Rica said the sector most vulnerable to climate change is road infrastructure. This highway, which connects San José with the Caribbean coast, and which crosses the central mountain chain, is closed several times a year due to landslides. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

For decades, the countries of Central America have borne the heavy impact of extreme climate phenomena like hurricanes and severe drought. Now, six of them are demanding that the entire planet recognise their climate vulnerability.

An initiative that has emerged from civil society in Central America wants the new binding universal climate treaty to acknowledge that the region is especially vulnerable to climate change – a distinction currently given to small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs).

In the climate Oct. 19-23 talks in Bonn, Germany, the proposal found its way into the draft of the future Paris agreement. If it is approved, Central America could be given priority when it comes to the distribution of climate financing for adaptation measures – which would be crucial for the region.

“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening,” said Tania Guillén, climate change officer at Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre.“Civil society – and I would dare to say the governments – have been demanding this because it could give the region access to windows of financing, technology and capacity strengthening.” -- Tania Guillén

These contributions, the expert told IPS, “should go towards the benefit of vulnerable communities” in this region. But for now, only SIDS and LDCs have a priority.

Semantic disputes have taken on great importance, a month before the start of the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, where the new climate treaty is to be approved.

That is because the language used will form part of the foundations on which the legal bases of the agreement will be set.

Central America’s 48 million people live on the isthmus that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Caribbean Sea, along whose length stretches a mountain chain and an arid dry corridor.

Nearly half of the region’s inhabitants – 23 million, or 48 percent – live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.

The issue of climate vulnerability – the set of conditions that make a society or ecosystem more likely to be affected by extreme climate events – has been on Central America’s agenda for years, since Hurricane Mitch’s devastating passage through the region in 1998 forced a rethinking of risk management.

As part of this process, the Vulnerable Central America, United for Life Forum was born in 2009 – a civil society collective that has pushed for the region to be declared particularly subject to the consequences of climate change.

Over the last year, climate impacts have caused human and material losses throughout Central America, from the catastrophic mudslide in Cambray on the outskirts of Guatemala City to the sea level rise threatening Panama’s Guna Yala archipelago in the Caribbean Sea.

The most widely extended of these impacts has been the drought associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a climate phenomenon which complicated agricultural conditions in Central America’s so-called dry corridor.

The corridor is an arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is the norm and where rainfall was 40 to 60 percent below normal in the 2014-2015 dry season.

Central America accounts for just 0.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means it sees reducing its vulnerability to climate change as more urgent than mitigation measures.

If successful, the call for the region to be recognised as especially vulnerable would make it a priority for climate change adaptation financing and technology.

But it will not be easy to reach this goal in the negotiations, as it is hindered by other countries of the developing South and even by some in this region itself.

The tension first arose within the Central American Economic Integration System (SICA), which held three meetings during the October climate change talks in Bonn, but failed to reach a consensus on the initiative, due to internal opposition from Belize.

“It must be pointed out that (SICA members) Belize and the Dominican Republic are SIDS, which means that to avoid problems with that negotiating bloc they did not back the proposal,” Guillén said.

In his view, “the painful thing is what Belize is doing, because the Dominican Republic is in a different situation,” since it is not actually part of the Central American isthmus, but is a Caribbean island nation.

Although Belize is on the mainland, it joined the SIDS in the climate talks.

The head of the Guatemalan government’s delegation to the climate talks, Edwin Castellanos, confirmed to IPS that no consensus was reached within SICA.

For that reason, “the proposal was made by El Salvador, as current president of SICA, but it was not made in the name of SICA because member countries did not back the motion.” It was also signed by Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Castellanos also noted that there are other countries seeking to be included on the list of the most vulnerable countries, an issue that was addressed within the powerful Group of 77 and China negotiating bloc, which represents the countries of the developing South.

“When Central America presented this initiative, Nepal followed it with a similar proposal for mountainous countries. The problem is that this starts off a list that could be interminable, and which already includes the LDCs, islands, and most recently, Africa,” the negotiator said.

He acknowledged that the initiative came from Central American civil society, and mentioned in particular the Mexico and Central America Civil Society Forum held Oct. 7-9 in Mexico City, ahead of COP21.

Alejandra Granados, a Costa Rican activist who took part in the civil society forum, told IPS that the proposal was set forth by Alejandra Sobenes of the Guatemalan Institute for Environmental Law and Sustainable Development (IDEADS), and that “each organisation sent it to the negotiators for their respective countries” prior to the meeting in Bonn.

The Central American countries that have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC agreed on including adaptation components to which governments have committed themselves.

El Salvador and Nicaragua have not yet presented their INDCs, the commitments that each nation assumes to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming.

Granados said that, if Central America is recognised as especially vulnerable, the countries of the region will have to work hard together with local communities to improve their adaptation plans prior to 2020, when the new treaty will go into effect.

“This recognition is not an end in itself; it is a major responsibility that the region is assuming, because it is as if at an international level all eyes turned towards the region and said: ‘Ok, what are you waiting for, to do something? You wanted this recognition, now assume your responsibility to take action’,” said the Costa Rican activist, who heads the organisation CO2.cr.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/central-america-seeks-recognition-of-its-vulnerability-to-climate-change/feed/ 0
Opinion: From European Union to Just a Common Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-from-european-union-to-just-a-common-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-european-union-to-just-a-common-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-from-european-union-to-just-a-common-market/#comments Tue, 20 Oct 2015 12:15:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142741

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 20 2015 (IPS)

The success in the recent Swiss elections of the UDC-SVP, a xenophobic, anti European Union, right wing party, opens a number of reflections.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Seventy years ago Europe came out from a terrible war, exhausted and destroyed. That produced a generation of statesman, who went about creating a European integration, in order to avoid the repetition of the internal conflicts that had created the two world wars. Today a war between France and Germany is unthinkable, and Europe is an island of peace for the first time in its history.

This is the mantra we hear all the time. What is forgotten is that in fact a good part of Europe did not want integration. In 1960, the United Kingdom led the creation of an alternative institution, dedicated only to commercial exchange: the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), formed by the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, then later Finland and Iceland. It was only in 1972 that, bowing to the success of European integration, the UK and Denmark asked to join the EU. Later, Portugal and Austria left EFTA to join the European Union.

The UK was never interested in the European project and always felt committed to “a special relation” with United States. Union would mean also solidarity and integration, as the various EU treaties kept declaring. The UK was only interested in the market side of the process.

Since 1972, the gloss of European integration has lost much of its shine. Younger generations have no memory of the last war. The EU is perceived far from its citizens, run by unelected officials who make decisions without a participatory process, and unable to respond to challenges. Where is the external policy of the EU? When does it take decisions that are not an echo of Washington?

Since the financial crisis of 1999, xenophobic, nationalistic and right wing parties have sprouted all over Europe. In Hungary, one of them is in power and openly claims that democracy is not the most efficient system. The Greek crisis has made clear that there is a north-south divide, while Germany and the others do not consider solidarity a criterion for financial issues. And the refugee crisis is now the last division in European integration. The UK has openly declared that it will take only a token number of 10,000 refugees, while a new west-east divide has become evident, with the strong opposition of Eastern Europe to take any refugee. The idea of solidarity is again out of the equation.

Germany moved because of its demographic reality. It had 800,000 vacant jobs, and it needs at least 500,000 immigrants per year to remain competitive and keep its pension system alive. But that mentality is even more clear with the East European countries, which experience increasing demographic decline. At the end of communism in 1989, Bulgaria had a population of 9 million. Now it is at 7.2 million. It is estimated that it will lose an additional 7 per cent by 2030, and 28.5 per cent by 2050. Romania will lose 22 per cent by 2050, followed by Ukraine (20%), Moldova (20%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (19.5%), Latvia (19%), Lithuania (17.5%), Serbia (17%), Croatia (16%), and Hungary (16%). Yet, all Eastern Europe countries have followed the British rebellion, and take a strong stance on refusing to accept refugees.

Now the idea of European integration is reaching a crucial challenge: the United Kingdom will hold a referendum by the end of 2017 to decide if remain in the European Union or not. The prime minister David Cameron, has invented this referendum, in order to renegotiate with EU the terms of British participation, get enough concessions to appease the Euro-skeptics and thus win the referendum in favor of Europe.

Only 10 years ago, such a maneuver would have gone nowhere. But now things are different, and there is a general tendency among European countries to take back as much as possible space given to the EU. Germany has already indicated that it is open to debate, and it wants to avoid a Brexit as much as possible. Cameron has not yet indicated the detail of his requests to remain in the EU. But it is widely believed that they will be about unhitching from European political integration, requesting exceptionality for the British financial sector, demanding a voice in decisions in the Eurozone (of which the UK is not a member), eliminating social benefits for European immigrants and giving to the British parliament a strong say over European decisions. Cameron has already indicated that he will withdraw from the European Court of Justice.

Once Great Britain obtains these concessions or even part of them, other countries, beginning with Hungary, will follow. And this will be the end of the process of European integration. We will take the route of EFTA, not the one envisioned by the founding fathers: Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schumann, Paul-Henri Spaak and Alcide De Gasperi.

Meanwhile, Europe will have to accept that it is not going to be the homogenous and white society that the right wing and xenophobic parties dream of reestablishing. The lack of global governability has created a staggering figure of 60 million refugees. Of those, 15 million live in refugee camps. One of them, Dadaab, in Kenya, has now half a million people, more than the population of several members of the United Nations. It is estimated that climate change will create by 2030 another 10 million refugees. Solidarity or not, Europe demography will require the arrival of some million. What will be the Europe of 2030?

(End)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-from-european-union-to-just-a-common-market/feed/ 0
Minorities Speak Out in Latin American Population Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference/#comments Sat, 10 Oct 2015 14:49:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142658 “Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Not one step back” in compliance with the region’s demographic agenda, demanded activists at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 10 2015 (IPS)

“The countries of Latin America have not fully committed themselves to the international conventions and have not given indigenous peoples access. Nor have their contents been widely disseminated,” to help people demand compliance and enforcement, said Guatemalan activist Ángela Suc.

The indigenous community organiser’s criticism is an alert regarding the pledges made at the Second Session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, organised Oct. 6-9 in Mexico City by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations population fund (UNFPA).

“We need land, territory, and access to culturally sensitive healthcare and education in line with our traditions and knowledge and in our languages,” Suc told IPS.

Suc, a representative of the Pocomchí people in the Guatemalan delegation to the conference, said the native population also experiences demographic phenomena such as migration and ageing, just like the non-indigenous population in the region.

The vicissitudes of native and black populations were part of the focus of the debates at the conference, which followed the one held in Montevideo in August 2013. A civil society gathering was also organised parallel to the official conference.

Participants discussed the problems still affecting these groups, such as poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities, and high maternal and infant mortality rates.

More than 45 million indigenous people live in this region of around 600 million. They belong to over 800 native groups, according to the ECLAC report “Indigenous peoples in Latin America: progress in the last decade and pending challenges for guaranteeing their rights.”

Brazil heads the list, with 305 different native groups, followed by Colombia (102), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The countries with the largest numbers of indigenous people are: Mexico (nearly 17 million), followed by Peru (7.2 million), Bolivia (6.2 million), and Guatemala (5.9 million).

ECLAC reports the fragile demographics of many native peoples, who are at risk of actually disappearing, physically or culturally, as observed in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The problems they face include forced displacement from their land, scarcity of food, pollution of their water sources, soil degradation, malnutrition and high mortality rates.

Birth rates are dropping in the region, with an average of 2.4 children per indigenous women in Uruguay, 4.0 in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and 5.0 in Guatemala and Panama.

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Map of indigenous peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, drawn up by ECLAC, which estimates the number of native people at 45 million. Credit: ECLAC

Infant mortality rates among indigenous people are still higher than among the rest of the population. The biggest inequalities are found in Panama, Peru and Bolivia, in that order. And malnutrition is a major problem in Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

The ECLAC report stresses that indigenous children grow up in material poverty and that violence against native children and women remains a major challenge.

Of the region’s 12.8 million indigenous children, 2.7 million are in Mexico, 2.4 million in Guatemala, and 2.2 million in Bolivia.

“Our demands have been set forth in different international platforms and are still valid,” Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS.

“We are going to monitor, observe and follow up to ensure that countries assume these commitments and comply with them,” said the Nicaraguan activist, who also took part in the regional conference. She added that compliance with the measures in favour of minorities requires political will, as well as agreements between the authorities and civil society, and specific budgets.

More than 120 million afro-descendants also live in the region, including 97 million in Brazil, one million in Ecuador and 800,000 in Nicaragua, according to national census data that included specific questions about ethnic identity. In other countries there are no specific statistics, such as Colombia, which has a significant black population.

The report “Afro-descendant Youth in Latin America: Diverse Realities and (un)Fulfilled Rights”, produced by ECLAC in 2011, showed that teen motherhood among young blacks was more widespread than among the rest of the population, especially in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.

One of the problems discussed at the conference is the lack of demographic statistics on the region’s afro-descendant population.

In the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development, which contains the conclusions reached by the first edition of the conference, the region’s countries pledged to take into account the specific demographic dynamics of indigenous people in the design of public policies, and guarantee their right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights, and to their own traditional medicines and health practices.

They also agreed to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee that indigenous women, children, adolescents and young people enjoy full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.

With respect to blacks, they agreed to tackle gender, race, ethnic and generational inequalities, guarantee the enforcement of their right to health, in particular sexual and reproductive health, and promote human development in this population group, while ensuring policies and programmes for improving women’s living conditions.

The plenary of the second conference approved the “Operational guide for the implementation and follow-up of the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development”, which includes 14 provisions for indigenous and afro-descendant peoples.

Approval of the guide was hindered by the Caribbean delegations’ protest that they had not been given the document ahead of time – an obstacle that was not resolved until the early hours of the morning of the last day of the conference.

“To the extent that full participation by indigenous peoples exists, the guide will be complied with. This is a challenge for the State,” Suc said.

The process can be an engine driving progress in the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024.

“The guide can be improved. We can influence the follow-up. But it is a challenge,” Wilson said.

The Political Declaration of the Social Forum held parallel to the official conference, which brought together social organisations from throughout the region, stressed that every indicator in the guide should be broken down by age, sex, gender, race and ethnicity.

But it also complained that two years after the approval of the Montevideo Consensus, the “ambitious, innovative agenda has not yet translated into substantive progress, and in some cases there have even been setbacks” in areas such as gender violence, hate crimes, high maternal mortality rates, a rise in teenage pregnancies, and discrimination.

Edited by Estrella Gutierrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/minorities-speak-out-in-latin-american-population-conference/feed/ 0
Opinion: Developing Nations Set to Challenge Rich Ahead of SDG Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-developing-nations-set-to-challenge-rich-ahead-of-sdg-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-developing-nations-set-to-challenge-rich-ahead-of-sdg-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-developing-nations-set-to-challenge-rich-ahead-of-sdg-summit/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:18:12 +0000 Soren Ambrose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141756

Soren Ambrose is Head of Policy, Advocacy & Research at ActionAid International

By Soren Ambrose
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The final round of negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals – the successor to the Millennium Development Goals, due to be inaugurated in September at the U.N. General Assembly – is now underway in New York.

Courtesy of Soren Ambrose/ActionAid

Courtesy of Soren Ambrose/ActionAid

The United Nations and many member governments want to conclude the debates by the end of July, so that there will not be open debate during the SDG Summit. But reports indicate that the atmosphere in the room is one of seething distrust.

That’s because of what happened during the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last month.

The developing countries – those grouped together in the “G77,” which 50 years after its founding actually has 134 members – were pushing a proposal for a universal intergovernmental organisation, within the U.N., which would have as its mandate reform and maintenance of the international tax system.

While this proposal would not have immediately remedied any of the myriad ways that corporations dodge taxes in developing countries, it would be a decisive change to the system that has allowed such activities to flourish.

To the extent that there are international rules, or standards and guidelines, on taxation now, they are proposed and elaborated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), a club of 34 of the world’s richest countries. Every once in a while they make a show of consulting those other 134 countries, but those others never actually get a vote.Ultimately it’s the pressure of the people which will force their governments to be responsible. The movement to stand up to those who have hijacked our power is building.

In the new proposed way of making decisions on international tax rules, every country would have an equal voice and equal vote. This fight matters is because developing countries are confronting the need to change how the rules are made, and who makes the rules.

Until they manage that, they will always, at best, be running to stay in place. Changing who makes the rules is a necessary, although not sufficient condition, for creating permanent change.

Taxation is vital because wealthy companies and individuals get and stay rich by using a portion of their considerable resources to hire lawyers and accountants to guide them in dodging the taxes they should be paying in the countries where they excavate, grow, or purchase their raw materials, assemble their products, and make an increasing proportion of their sales.

If they don’t have such staff in-house, they can hire the services of big accounting firms for whom this is the most lucrative activity.

Most big companies manipulate “tax treaties” between countries and tax havens like Switzerland, Mauritius, and the Cayman Islands to create legal fictions that exempt them from paying most of the taxes they owe.

What they do is usually not technically illegal, because of the impossibility of keeping up with the tactics of the armies of experts dedicated to avoiding taxes. But neither is it quite ethical.

This deprives countries of the revenue – to the tune of at least 100 billion dollars every year – that they need to fund development, and ensures the perpetuation of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few. That wealth translates to power – a veritable global plutocracy.

The OECD, to be fair, has made some moves to clamp down on the most egregious forms of tax avoidance, including their “base erosion and profit shifting” (BEPS) process begun in 2013.

The corporate lawyers and accountants were a little nervous about BEPS, but with the process winding up, it appears that any reforms it demands will not be manageable. The promises at the outset of the process to include developing countries never amounted to much.

The FfD process in the U.N. was, of course, universal. The U.N. and national governments usually like to have the “outcome document” finalised before a summit meeting. The prospect of a messy negotiation with thousands of advocates just outside the door makes them nervous.

But after months of negotiations in New York and a series of missed deadlines, the big debate over the tax body was not resolved. The ministers would go to Addis facing open negotiations.

Bolstered by the support of hundreds of civil society groups, the G77 governments – a group that has to accommodate the interests of very disparate countries – held together. Three BRICS countries – South Africa as the chair of the G77, along with India and Brazil – were vocal actors on the side of the developing countries, something they can’t always be relied on to do as they ascend the global power ladder.

With negotiators starting to meet before the formal start of the meetings on July 13, there were several days filled with ever-shifting rumours. But on the evening of July 15, the eve of the scheduled end of the conference, the announcement came: there would be an outcome document little changed from the unsatisfactory draft they brought from New York.

Promises were made to expand the resources and prestige of the existing U.N. Committee of Tax Experts, but nothing more. No universal membership, and no mandate for reform.

The G77 held out to the end. But the rich countries, led by the United States with the steady support of the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia, refused to give up the regime of loopholes and havens and double-dealing that adds up to billions in lost revenue every year.

Make no mistake, ordinary people in rich countries also lose out as corporations dodge taxes. But with their territories serving as the leading facilitators of tax avoidance in the world, their governments showed they want the present system to endure.

The current global hyper-capitalism now puts no constraints on capital. Unlimited profits, unlimited wealth, and unlimited power have been accruing to the finance industry and the wealthy corporations and individuals it serves for over 40 years.

The rich countries’ politicians not only put up with it, they tout the “private sector” as the panacea for development in poor countries, with nearly no evidence to support them.

And at home, they cut public services and impose austerity, explaining that government just can’t afford to serve the people. Their priority has been corporations’ and investors’ bottomless appetite for profit and power.

As my colleague Ben Phillips has written about the FfD, it’s actually good news that the rich countries had to put an ugly stop to the negotiations, with barely a face-saving compromise to point to. Usually they manage to find a way to assign the blame to someone else.

Forcing them to show their hand is valuable; it’s clear that those making the rules are far more identified with a powerful few than with the public they claim to serve.

The next step is at the SDG Summit at the end of September, at the time of the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings. There we will learn whether and to what extent the developing countries will stand up to those who have monopolised power for so long. If they do, we may be on the road to reversing parts of the system that perpetuates the status quo.

Whatever happens, we aren’t going anywhere. Civil Society won’t change this global dynamic by attending these conferences, or through polite lobbying. We will have to endure many more meetings, and more setbacks.

But ultimately it’s the pressure of the people which will force their governments to be responsible. The movement to stand up to those who have hijacked our power is building.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-developing-nations-set-to-challenge-rich-ahead-of-sdg-summit/feed/ 2
Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141689

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/feed/ 0
Opinion: ASEAN Must Unite Against Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-asean-must-unite-against-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-asean-must-unite-against-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-asean-must-unite-against-climate-change/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 19:26:15 +0000 Jed Alegado http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141487 Stanzin Dolma of Choglamsar-Leh breaks down while showing the ruins of her home, wrecked by the August floods and landslides in India in 2010. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Stanzin Dolma of Choglamsar-Leh breaks down while showing the ruins of her home, wrecked by the August floods and landslides in India in 2010. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Jed Alegado
MANILA, Jul 8 2015 (IPS)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) started as a cooperation bloc in 1968. Founded by five countries – Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines – ASEAN has since evolved into a regional force which is slowly changing the landscape in global politics.

Five decades later, amid changing geopolitics and dynamics in the region, ASEAN faces a daunting task this year as it gears up for ASEAN 2015 economic integration amidst uncertainty in light of climate change impacts.

Agriculture – ASEAN’s key driver of growth

ASEAN banks on agriculture as the key driver of growth in the region. Its member-countries rely on agriculture as the primary source of income for their peoples. Food security, livelihoods and other needs of ASEAN citizens are at stake in the region’s vast resources, such as forests, seas, rivers, lands and ecosystems. However, climate change is threatening shared growth reliant on agriculture and natural resources.

With a region dependent on agriculture for food security and livelihoods, ASEAN needs to step up its fight against climate change. Oxfam GROW East Asia campaign recently released a report titled “Harmless Harvest: How sustainable agriculture can help ASEAN countries adapt in a changing climate.”

It argues that “climate change is undermining the viability of agriculture in the region and putting many small-scale farmers’ and fisherfolk’ livelihoods at risk.”

Data from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) revealed that rice yields drop as much as 10 percent for every 1 percent rise in temperature – an alarming fact for a region which counts rice as the staple food.

ASEAN 2015 in Paris?

The planned 2015 economic integration is unveiling amidst a backdrop of threats to agriculture in the region due to impacts of climate change. For ASEAN 2015 integration to prosper and its promised economic growth to be shared mutually, ASEAN must unite against climate change by taking a definitive stand as a regional bloc.

First, at the global climate negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, ASEAN leaders must unite behind a fair and binding agreement toward building a global climate deal in Paris this year.

Second, in terms of climate change mitigation, ASEAN needs to harmonise existing policies on coal and level the playing field where renewable energies can compete with other sources of energy. Furthermore, the 2015 economic integration must be clear on charting a low-carbon development plan for the region.

Third, ASEAN must ensure that its economic community-building is geared toward low-carbon development anchored on sustainability and inclusive growth. It can start by ensuring that regional policies in public and private investments in agriculture and energy do not threaten food security, improve resilience against climate-related disasters, and respect asset reform policies and the rights of small food producers.

Lastly, ASEAN leaders must also ensure that policies will be in place to shift the funding support from industrial agriculture to sustainable agricultural practices promoting agro-ecology and sustainable ecosystems.

ASEAN can do this by ensuring that each governments allocate sufficient financial resources for community-driven climate change adaptation practices while working with communities and peoples’ organisations on knowledge-sharing and learning best practices.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-asean-must-unite-against-climate-change/feed/ 0
The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:52:45 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141296

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

It is hard to imagine today the public enthusiasm that greeted the founding of the U.N. in 1945.  After massive suffering and social collapse resulting from the Second World War, the U.N. seemed almost miraculous – a means at last to build peace, democracy, and a just society on a global scale.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Everywhere, hopes and aspirations were high.  Seven decades later, results have fallen far short.  On this anniversary, we can ask: what might have been possible and what is still possible from this institution that has inspired such passion, positive and negative, over the years?

The organisation, of course, was not set up by the United States and its allies to fulfill the wishes of utopian thinkers.  Though the Charter of 1945 invokes “We the Peoples,” the war victors structured the U.N. as a conclave of nation states that would express the will of its members – particularly themselves, the richest and most influential countries.

Despite statesmen’s pronouncements about noble intentions, the U.N.’s most mighty members have never seriously considered laying down their arms or sharing their wealth in an unequal world.  They have been busy instead with the “Great Games” of the day – like securing oil and other resources, dominating client states and bringing down unfriendly governments.Faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organisation’s overall expenditures.

Nevertheless, through the years, the U.N. has regularly attracted the hopes of reforming intellectuals, NGOs, humanitarians and occasionally even some governments – with ideas about improvement to the global system and well-being on the planet. In the run-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1995, many reports, conferences and books proposed U.N. institutional reform, some of which advocated a direct citizen role in the organisation.

Among the ideas were a chamber of directly-elected representatives, a vitalised General Assembly and a more representative Security Council, shorn of vetoes.  Some thinkers wanted an institution “independent” from – or at least buffered against – the sordid arena of great power politics.  But most reforming ideas, including relatively moderate changes, have come to naught.

Governments of all stripes have had a very short-term perspective and a narrow, outmoded conception of their “national interest” in the international arena.  They have shown remarkably little creativity and far-sightedness and they have taken care not to threaten powerful status quo interests.

The U.N.’s seventieth anniversary has come at a moment of exhaustion and frustration among reformers that has sapped belief in creative change. We are at a low-point in U.N. institutional prestige and public support.  Not surprisingly, the organisation has attracted few proposals and initiatives this time around.

As we know, the planet is facing unprecedented problems that the U.N. is in business to address: poverty, gross inequality, civil wars, mass migration, economic instability, and worsening climate change.  Secretaries General have regularly appointed panels of distinguished persons to consider these “threats,” but member states have not been ready to produce effective solutions.

Most of the money and energy at the U.N. in recent years has poured into “peacekeeping,” which is typically a kind of military intervention outsourced by Washington and its allies. The organisation, dedicated in theory to ending war, is ironically now a big actor on the world’s battlefields. It has a giant logistics base in southern Italy, a military communications system, contracts with mercenaries, an intelligence operation, drones, armored vehicles and other accouterments of armed might.  Meanwhile, the Department of Disarmament Affairs has seen its funding and status decline considerably.

The richest and most powerful states like to blame the smaller and poorer countries for the U.N. reform impasse (fury at the “G-77” – the group of “developing” countries – can often be heard among well-fed Northern diplomats at posh New York restaurants).  But in fact the big powers (with Washington first among them) have been the most ardent “blockers” – strenuously opposed to a strong U.N. in nearly every respect, except military operations.

The big power blocking has been especially strong when it comes to global economic policy, including proposals to strengthen the Social and Economic Council.  The same powers have also kept the U.N. Environment Programme weak, while opposing progress in U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations.

Poor countries have complained, but they are not paragons of reform either: their  leaders are inclined to speak in empty populist rhetoric, demanding “aid” while pursuing personal enrichment. We are far from a game-changing “new Marshall Plan” or a global mobilisation for social justice that reformers rightly call for.  Well-meaning NGOs repeat regularly such ideas, with little effect, in comfortable conference venues.

The U.N. has weakened as its member states have grown weaker.  The IMF, the World Bank and global financial interests have pushed neo-liberal reforms for three decades, undermining national tax systems and downsizing the role of public institutions in economic and social affairs.  Governments have privatized banks, airlines and industries, of course, and they have also privatized schools, roads, postal services, prisons and health care.

The vast new inequalities have led to more political corruption, a plague of lobbying, and frequent electoral malfeasance, even in the oldest democracies.  As a result, nation states command less loyalty, respect and hope than they did in the past.  Traditional centrist parties are losing their voters and the public is sceptical about governing institutions at all levels, including the U.N.

When nations cut their budgets, they cut the budget of the U.N. too, small as it is.  Bold steps to improve the U.N. would require money, self-confidence and a long-term view, but member states are too weak, politically unstable, timid and financially insecure to take on such a task.  As states slouch into socially, economically and politically conservative policies, the U.N. inexorably follows, losing its public constituency in the process.

Tightening U.N. budgets have tilted the balance of power in the U.N. even more sharply towards the richest nations and the wealthiest outside players.  Increasingly, faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organization’s overall expenditures.

This “extra-budgetary” funding, enables the donors to define the projects and set the priorities.  The purpose of common policymaking among all member states has been all but forgotten.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/feed/ 0