Inter Press Service » Regional Alliances http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 10 Feb 2016 20:01:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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. 

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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

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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.

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Opinion: The Oceans Need the Spotlight Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-oceans-need-the-spotlight-now/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:10:30 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141237

Dr. Palitha Kohona was co-chair of the U.N. Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The international community must focus its energies immediately on addressing the grave challenges confronting the oceans. With implications for global order and peace, the oceans are also becoming another arena for national rivalry.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The clouds of potential conflict gather on the horizon. The U.N. resolution adopted on June 19 confirms the urgency felt by the international community to take action.

His Holiness the Pope observed last week, “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species… It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.”

The oceans demand our attention for many reasons. In a world constantly hungering for ever more raw material and food, the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the globe, are estimated to contain approximately 24 trillion dollars of exploitable assets. Eighty-six million tonnes of fish were harvested from the oceans in 2013, providing 16 percent of humanity’s protein requirement. Fisheries generated over 200 million jobs.

However, unsustainable practices have decimated many fish species, increasing competition for the rest. The once prolific North Atlantic cod, the Pacific tuna and the South American anchovy fisheries have all but collapsed with disastrous socio-economic consequences.Increasingly the world's energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources.

Highly capitalised and subsidised distant water fleets engage in predatory fishing in foreign waters causing tensions which could escalate. In a striking development, the West African Sub Regional Fisheries Commission recently successfully asserted, before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the responsibility of flag States to take necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Increasingly the world’s energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources. The sea bed could also provide many of the minerals required by strategic industries.

As these assets come within humanity’s technological reach, inadequately managed exploitation will cause damage to the ocean ecology and coastal areas, demonstrated dramatically by the BP Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. (Costing the company over 42.2 billion dollars).

Cross-border environmental damage could give rise to international conflicts. A proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ on responsibility for global warming and sea level rise was floated at the U.N. by Palau in 2013.

The oceans will also be at the centre of our efforts to address the looming threat of climate change. With ocean warming, fish species critically important to poor communities in the tropics are likely to migrate to more agreeable climes, aggravating poverty levels.

Coastal areas could be flooded and fresh water resources contaminated by tidal surges. Increasing ocean acidification and coral bleach could cause other devastating consequences, including to fragile coasts and fish breeding grounds.

The ocean is the biggest sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the rapid increases in anthropogenic GHGs will aggravate ocean warming and the melting of the ice caps. Some small island groups might even disappear beneath the waves.

Scientists now believe that over 70 percent of anthropogenic GHGs generated since the turn of the 20th century were absorbed by the Indian Ocean which is likely to result in unpredictable consequences for the littoral states of the region, already struggling to emerge from poverty.

The increasing ferocity of natural phenomena, such as hurricanes and typhoons, will cause greater devastation as we witnessed in the cases of Katrina in the U.S. and the brutal Haiyan in the Philippines.

The socio-economic impacts of global warming and sea level rise on the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry (476 billion dollars in the U.S. alone) would be far reaching. All this could result in unmanageable environmental refugee flows. The enormous challenge of ocean warming and sea level rise alone would require nations to become more proactive on ocean affairs now.

The international community has, over the years, agreed on various mechanisms to address ocean-related issues. But these efforts remain largely uncoordinated and with the developments in science, lacunae are being identified progressively.

The most comprehensive of these endeavours is the laboriously negotiated Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) of 1982. The LOSC, described as the constitution of the oceans by Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, who presided over the final stages of the negotiations, details rules for the interactions of states with the oceans and with each other with regard to the oceans.

Although some important states such as the U.S., Israel, Venezuela and Turkey are not parties to the LOSC (it has 167 parties), much of its content is accepted as part of customary international law. It also provides a most comprehensive set of options for settling inter-state disputes relating to the seas and oceans, including the ITLOS, headquartered in Hamburg.

The LOSC established the Sea Bed Authority based in Kingston, Jamaica which now manages exploration and mining applications relating to the Area, the sea bed beyond national jurisdiction, and the U.N. Commission on the Continental Shelf before which many state parties have already successfully asserted claims to vast areas of their continental shelves.

With humanity’s knowledge of the oceans and seas expanding rapidly and the gaps in the LOSC becoming apparent, the international community in 1994 concluded the Implementing Agreement Relating to Part XI of the LOSC and in 1995, the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.

Additionally, the United Nations Environment Programme has put in place a number of regional arrangements, some in collaboration with other U.N. agencies such as the FAO and the IMO, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, including fisheries.

The IMO itself has put in place detailed agreements and arrangements affecting the oceans and the seas in relation to shipping. The FAO has been instrumental in promoting regional mechanisms for the sustainable use of marine and coastal fisheries resources.

In 2012, the U.N. Secretary-General launched the Oceans Compact. States negotiating the Post-2015 Development Goals at the U.N. have acknowledged the vast and complex challenges confronting the oceans and have proceeded to highlight them in the context of a Sustainable Development Goal.

The majority of the international community now feel that the global arrangements for the sustainable use, conservation and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction need further strengthening. The negotiators of the LOSC were not fully conscious of the extent of the genetic resources of the deep. Ninety percent of the world’s living biomass is to be found in the oceans.

Today the genetic material, bio prospected, harvested or mined from the oceans is providing the basis for profound new discoveries pertaining to pharmaceuticals. Only a few countries possess the technical capability to conduct the relevant research, and even fewer the ability to convert the research into financially beneficial products. The international community’s concerns are reflected in the U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted on June 19.

Many developing countries are concerned that unless appropriate regulatory mechanisms are put in place now by the international community, the poor will be be shut out from the vast wealth, estimated at three billion dollars per year, expected to be generated from this new frontier. Over 4,000 new patents, the number growing at 12 percent a year based on such genetic material, were registered in 2013.

A U.N. working group, initially established back in 2006 to study the question of concluding a legally binding instrument on the conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond the national jurisdiction of states, and co-chaired by Sri Lanka and The Netherlands from 2009, submitted its report in January 2015, after years of difficult negotiations.

For nine years, consensus remained elusive. Certain major powers, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea held out, contending that the existing arrangements were sufficient. These are among the few which possess the technological capability to exploit the genetic resources of the deep and convert the research in to useful products.

The U.N. General Assembly is now expected to establish a preparatory committee in 2016 to make recommendations on an implementing instrument under UNCLOS. An intergovernmental conference is likely to be convened by the GA at its 72nd Session for this purpose.

The resulting mechanism is expected to complement the existing arrangements on biological genetic material under the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nagoya Protocol) applicable to areas under national jurisdiction.

This ambitious U.N. process is likely to create a transparent regulatory mechanism facilitating technological and economic progress while ensuring equity.

A development with long term impact, especially since Rio+20, was the community of interests identified and strengthened between the G 77 and China and the EU with regard to the oceans.

Life originated in the primeval ocean. Humanity’s future may very well depend on how we care for it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Chinese Public Most Worried About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/chinese-public-most-worried-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinese-public-most-worried-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/chinese-public-most-worried-about-climate-change/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 17:37:22 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141047 Parked bicycles in China. Credit: Whoisgalt/cc by 3.0

Parked bicycles in China. Credit: Whoisgalt/cc by 3.0

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

A new survey finds that China leads the world in public support for government action on climate change.

Conducted by YouGov, it covers 15 countries on four continents, including the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and China, and seven members of the G20 group of major economies.

Some 60 percent of respondents in China favour a leadership role for their country, versus 44 percent in the United States and 41 percent in Britain.

The results come as nations prepare for a new round of climate talks in Paris in December, and confirms that the vast majority of people surveyed, in both developed and developing countries, want a strong deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A 10-day meeting to hone the draft text of the Paris climate agreement began last week in Bonn, Germany.

Also meeting in Germany Monday, the Group of Seven (G7) announced that it will push for nations to aim for emission cuts near 70 percent of 2010 levels by mid-century.

But China may already be ahead of the game.

A new study by the London School of Economics (LSE) released Monday predicted that China’s greenhouse gas emissions could peak by 2025, five years earlier than the time frame indicated by Beijing, thanks to steady reductions in coal consumption.

Scientists say the earlier peaking would restrict emissions to between 12.5 and 14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, and could help avoid a potentially catastrophic two-degree C global temperature increase.

According to the YouGov survey, fears about climate change are greatest in the Asia-Pacific region, which is especially vulnerable to sea-level rise, droughts and storms.

Some 82 percent in Indonesia consider climate change a “very” serious problem, along with 69 percent in Malaysia and 52 percent in China, the median figure for the region.

In Europe, a median figure of 41 percent consider climate change very serious. Germans are most concerned (50 percent) and Britons least (26 percent). Americans fall somewhere in the middle of the Europeans, with 38 percent very concerned.

In most countries, the most popular strategy for governments to take leadership roles at the Paris talks was by setting ambitious targets.

The deal (which is far from certain) comes on the heels of fairly weak pacts made in Kyoto and Copenhagen fell short, and could be humanity’s last chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Only a small minority want to see no agreement made.

There are some big differences between some of the countries polled, including some of the worst polluters. Sixty percent in China favour a leadership role for the country, versus only 44 percent in the United States and 41 percent in Britain.

Americans are also the most likely to want no involvement in an international climate change agreement, at 17 percent. Some 48 percent of the French public, who will be hosting the talks, support the most ambitious approach, while 35 percent opt for moderation and 3 percent want to play no part.

A bare majority – 51 percent – of Americans don’t think their government is doing enough to address climate change. This is higher than the European median of 45 percent (though the American public is also most likely to say the government is doing too much, at 21 percent).

In Denmark, home to the failed 2009 climate conference, only 37 percent desire additional government action. On the other hand, 57 percent of Germans and 58 percent of the French want their country to do more.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: The Bumpy Road to an Asian Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-bumpy-road-to-an-asian-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-bumpy-road-to-an-asian-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-bumpy-road-to-an-asian-century/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 08:06:03 +0000 Shyam Saran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140894 “Just as the world is moving towards multi-polarity, so is Asia … The economic fragmentation of the region and the competitive pursuit of security interests may well consign the Asian Century into a brief interlude rather than a millennial transformation”. Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Just as the world is moving towards multi-polarity, so is Asia … The economic fragmentation of the region and the competitive pursuit of security interests may well consign the Asian Century into a brief interlude rather than a millennial transformation”. Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

By Shyam Saran
NEW DELHI, Jun 1 2015 (IPS)

It has been apparent for some time that we are in the midst of a historic shift of the centre of gravity of the global economy from the trans-Atlantic to what is now becoming known as the Indo-Pacific.  

This is an emerging centre of economic dynamism and comprises what was earlier confined to the Asia-Pacific but now includes the South Asian region as well.

This is a region which now accounts for nearly 40 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP), which is likely to rise to 50 percent or more by 2050.  Its share of world trade is now 30 percent and growing.

Shyam Saran

Shyam Saran

This year, the region has become the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI), surpassing the European Union (EU) and the United States. China has been the main driver of this historic shift, but other Asian economies have also made significant contributions.

As the Chinese economy begins to slow, India shows promise of regaining an accelerated growth trajectory under a new and decisive political leadership. This will help extend the scale and direction of this shift. Its geopolitical consequences will be profound.

It must be recognised that the economic transformation of Asia, in particular the spectacular growth of China, has been enabled by an unusually extended and liberal global economic environment, underpinned by the faith in globalisation and open markets.

It has also been enabled by a U.S.-led security architecture in the region which kept in check, though did not resolve, the long-standing political fault lines and regional conflicts over competing territorial claims and unresolved disputes.

This relatively benign and supportive economic and security environment is in danger of unravelling precisely at a time when the situation in the region is becoming more complex and challenging.  Paradoxically, this is partly a consequence of the very success of the region in achieving relative economic prosperity.“The danger is that instead of an inclusive and regionally integrated Asia, we may end up with exclusive and competing clusters, moving at different speeds, with different norms and standards. This may well undermine the very basis of Asia’s economic dynamism”

We are witnessing new trends in the region which, unless managed with prudence and foresight, may well sour the prospects of an Asian Century.

The relatively open and liberal trade and investment regime, in particular access to the large consuming markets of the United States, European Union and Japan, is now under serious threat.

Protectionist trends are already visible in these advanced economies as they struggle with prolonged economic stagnation which is the fall-out of the global financial and economic crisis of 2007-2008.

Instead of the consolidation and expansion of the open and inclusive economic architecture that had hitherto been the hallmark of the regional and global economy, we are witnessing its steady fragmentation.

In the Indo-Pacific region, there are competing regional trade arrangements and investment regimes, with no clarity on the contours of a new and emerging economic architecture.

The United States is spearheading its Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which will include some Asian economies, but not India and China.

China has countered by proposing a free trade area encompassing the current Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) membership.  This will include China and the United States but not India and some of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economies.

The Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) would include all ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, but not the United States.

And finally, there is the East Asia Summit process (EAS) which includes all the above-mentioned countries but also the United States and Russia.

The danger is that instead of an inclusive and regionally integrated Asia, we may end up with exclusive and competing clusters, moving at different speeds, with different norms and standards.  This may well undermine the very basis of Asia’s economic dynamism.

In the security field, too, we are witnessing a growing salience of inter-state tensions and competitive military build-up.

The U.S.-led security architecture remains in place formally but its erstwhile predominance is diminished.

The gap between the military capabilities of China and the United State is closing steadily. As China’s security footprint expands beyond its shores, it will inevitably intersect with the existing deployment of the forces of the United States and its allies and partners.

Faced with an increasingly uncertain security environment and threatened by a more insistent assertion of territorial claims by China, the countries of the region, including Japan, Republic of Korea, members of ASEAN, Australia and India are building up their own defences, in particular maritime capabilities, and this itself is escalating tensions.

There is as yet no emerging regional security architecture which could help manage inter-state tensions in the region. This includes the growing possibilities of confrontation between the United States and China.

In the absence of such a regional security architecture, based on a broad political consensus and a mutually acceptable Code of Conduct, the region may well witness a heightening of tension and even conflict.  These developments would inevitably and adversely impact on the dense network of trade and investment relations that bind the countries of the region together and erode the very basis of their prosperity.

In this context, mention may be made of the Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative which seeks to deploy China’s surplus capital to build a vast network of transport and infrastructural links not only across the Indo-Pacific but also straddling the Eurasian landmass.

The newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiated and led by China would become a key financing instrument for the OBOR.  China has also recently come out with a new Defence White Paper, which puts forward a new strategy of Open Seas, shifting the emphasis from coastal and near sea defence to an expanding naval presence which matches China’s growing global profile and world-wide location of Chinese-controlled economic assets.

While China’s investment in regional infrastructure in Asia may be welcome, it will inevitably be accompanied by a security dimension which may heighten anxieties among countries in the Asian region and beyond.

It is apparent from the above analysis that it is no longer possible for any major power in the Indo-Pacific to unilaterally seek a position of overweening economic dominance or military pre-eminence of the kind that the United States enjoyed over much of the post-Second World War period.

Just as the world is moving towards multi-polarity, so is Asia.  It is now home to a cluster of major powers with significant economic and security capabilities and interests. The only practical means of avoiding a unilateral and potentially destructive pursuit of economic and security interests would be to put in place an inclusive economic architecture underpinned  by a similarly inclusive security architecture which provides mutual reassurance and shared opportunities for promoting prosperity.

The economic fragmentation of the region and the competitive pursuit of security interests may well consign the Asian Century into a brief interlude rather than a millennial transformation. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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ACP Aims to Make Voice of the Moral Majority Count in the Global Arenahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140829 Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, May 27 2015 (IPS)

“Four decades of existence is a milestone for the ACP as an international alliance of developing countries,” Dr Patrick I. Gomes of Guyana, newly appointed Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, said at the opening of the 101st Session of the group’s Council of Ministers.

“With the organisation currently repositioning itself for more strategic engagements with regards to its future, this is an opportunity not only to review the past, but also to project to the decades ahead, especially in terms of how to be effective and better respond to the development needs of our member countries in the 21st century,” he added.“From the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player” – Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers

The meeting, which opened May 26, brought together more than 300 officials from the ACP group who are determined to put an emphasis on re-positioning the ACP group as an effective player in a challenging global landscape.

At the group’s 7th Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Equatorial Guinea in December 2012, the group issued the Sipopo Declaration which noted that “at this historic juncture in the existence of our unique intergovernmental and tri-continental organisation, the demands for fundamental renewal and transformation are no longer mere options but unavoidable imperatives for strategic change”.

Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers, told the opening session of this week’s Council meeting that “from the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player.”

A key focus of the 40th anniversary is how to enhance regional and intra-ACP relations in order to better position the ACP group to deliver on development goals in the post-2015 era, starting with playing a decisive role at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as at the U.N. Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be held in New York in September.

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

For ACP Secretary-General Gomes, the most critical meeting for the group will be the 8th ACP Summit, which had originally been scheduled to be held in November in Suriname before that country had to withdraw due to multiple commitments.

Inviting member countries to step forward and offer to host the event, Gomes said that the 8th Summit “must be a beacon that refines our strategic policy domains for the next decade and project a powerful political vision to serve the ACP in our engagement with the European Union.”

More importantly, that summit would provide the strategic direction and financial commitment necessary to build the capacity of the ACP group to address the development needs of its populations.

Viwanou Gnassounou of Togo, ACP Assistant Secretary-General for Sustainable Economic Development and Trade, told IPS that the group “will be fully engaged in 2015 in high-level negotiations not only calling for a strategic approach but also trying to raise our common voice in a more holistic manner.”

He said that the ACP is finalising a position paper to be presented in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, as well as at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Nairobi in December.

Participants at the Council of Ministers meeting agreed that the plethora of priorities facing the ACP today calls for widening its partnership with the European Union and beyond, embracing the global South as well as emerging economies with greater determination, and promoting South-South and triangular cooperation.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement which currently governs relations between the ACP and the European Union expires in 2020 and the ACP Secretariat has commissioned a consultancy exercise to formulate the ACP Group’s position future relations with the European Union.

The ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers, which meets May 28, is expected to place a special focus on migration and discuss recommendations from an ACP-EU experts’ meeting on trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants following the unacceptable loss of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea as people try to reach Europe.

The two sides are also expected to exchange views on the broad range of issues affecting the ACP-EU trade relations at multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as financing for development as a follow up to the ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-Development Agenda approved in June 2014, which called for “an ambitious financing framework to adequately tackle sustainable development issues and challenges.”

In this context, the declaration said that a “coherent response based on a global comprehensive and integrated approach, fuelled by traditional and innovative financing solutions and governed by principles for efficient resource use seems the most appropriate way to finance sustainable development.”

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Opinion: South-South Cooperation Vital for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 12:54:12 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140497

Dr. Palitha Kohona is Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Sustainable development is central to a range of key discussions at the United Nations and elsewhere at the moment.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The role of South-South cooperation in the context of sustainable development deserves greater recognition as significant numbers of developing countries begin to ascend the development ladder in a sustainable manner, causing fundamental changes to the development infrastructure the world has known up to now.

The steady expansion of South-South cooperation is causing a lasting impression on the existing order of things.

First, the best practices adopted by the more economically advanced developing countries could provide workable and relevant models for the others.

Some developing countries have recorded impressive economic successes and the policies they have successfully implemented could be shared. Contrary to existing practice, models of development will increasingly be borrowed from outside the developed world.

Secondly, some advanced developing countries have accumulated considerable international currency reserves and developed relevant technology which could be effectively deployed in the rest of the developing world. This is happening already.

Thirdly, the flow of funding and technology from other developing countries to the rest of the South will result in dramatic changes to relationships largely based on post-colonial and historical dependencies and the inevitable conditionalities. This would create an uncomfortable challenge for those used to the current relationship patterns.The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena.

Sustainable development was the underlying concept that inspired States as they painstakingly negotiated the Rio+20 outcomes document, The Future We Want.

The Member States are currently working on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, essentially drawing on the report of the Open Working Group (OWG), to produce a master plan for progress, to be realised by 2030, that will ensure just, equitable and inclusive growth. The report of this exercise will be submitted for adoption to the U.N. High Level Summit to be held in September 2015 in New York.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda will seamlessly expand the significant achievements secured under the Millennium Development Goals which targeted eight specific areas. The new enterprise will touch upon many more aspects of our lives, including of women, youth, children, the disadvantaged and the marginalised, in a manner that the Millennium Development Goals did not.

A process culminating in a meeting of States Parties in Addis Ababa in July on Financing for Development will build on the accords of Monterrey and Doha and will adopt recommendations on the funding aspect for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The alleviation of poverty and the elimination of hunger are at the core of this exercise. We live in a world where close to 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. It is estimated that ending poverty in the world will cost 66 billion dollars per year. Over one billion live on less than 1.25 dollars per day. Over 2.5 billion have no access to clean water and proper sanitation resulting in massive health issues, including the stunting of children.

The number of least developed countries has remained the same since the year 2000, the year the MDGs were adopted, although progress has been made towards making the world a better place over the last 15 years.

Along with addressing poverty and hunger, the international community is discussing the related challenges, inter alia, of providing better health care and education for all, creating better cities and communities, ensuring decent work, confronting the daunting challenges facing the oceans, the imminent threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, mainstreaming women and children’s issues, providing energy for all, ensuring sustainable industrialisation, and building global partnerships.

The way humanity will address the threats confronting the oceans, in particular, its riches valued at an estimated 24 trillion dollars, will have a major impact on the environment, climate change, the livelihoods of millions of people and the economies of many countries, especially the Small Island Developing States and the Less Developed Countries.

In the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, the international community failed specifically on Goal 8 which focused on partnerships. The commitments made on the delivery of assistance to the developing world by the traditional donor community, including technology transfer, failed to materialise to the extent anticipated despite the solemn accords reached at Monterrey, Doha and elsewhere.

The gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow and the elimination of poverty in many developing countries remains an ever distant dream, affecting a huge proportion of the global population.

Against this challenging background, the advances made by some developing countries provide practical examples of useful best practices and provide possible opportunities for a new framework for development cooperation.

China has pulled out over 680 million from extreme poverty in a short period of 30 years. This is an unprecedented achievement in human history. Its economy, which was at the bottom end of the world in the 1950s, is second only to that of the United States today and is expected to grow further.

Despite its headlong rush towards development and the enormity of the attendant challenges, China is also making impressive gains in the harnessing of alternative energy such as hydro, solar, wind, bio mass and gassified coal, bringing in to question the defensive contention of those industrialised countries which have argued that such a comprehensive embrace of alternative energy would result in major job losses and negative effects on their economies.

The initially costly, but essential, shift to renewable energy will facilitate continuing development in a sustainable manner, and the experiences of countries such as China, India and Brazil may provide an attractive model for other developing countries.

Many countries in South East Asia are also making rapid economic progress with Indonesia expected to become the sixth largest economy of the world by 2030. Sri Lanka, despite its developing country status, has attained enviable targets in the delivery of education services, health care and the integration of women to the national economy.

UNICEF highlights Sri Lanka as a success story. State-sponsored agricultural extension services which increasingly emphasise sustainability have been a major factor in the impressive advances made in this sector by Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh has halved the number of people living in poverty. While the experiences of any one developing country, or the technical knowhow deployed, may not necessarily be duplicated in another, useful lessons can still be learnt.

The lessons that can be shared are evident and South-South Cooperation has become a significant trove of experiences that can be accessed as the challenge of development is addressed. Interestingly, China studied the Greater Colombo Export Processing Zone of Sri Lanka before it established its spectacularly successful Shenzhen Zone.

Infrastructure projects could be and have been funded from public private partnerships, government to government arrangements or by the private sector. Africa’s current spurt of growth has been facilitated by a combination of these mechanisms, with much of the crucial funding and technology coming from China and a lesser amount from India, Brazil, etc..

Sri Lanka’s recent surge in economic expansion depended much on Chinese, and to a lesser extent on Indian, funding and technology. China’s initiative to establish an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which was initially proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jingping, is attracting even traditional donor states in unexpected numbers (57 as of now), despite initial reservations.

It is clear that South-South cooperation is playing a crucial role, especially in developing countries, in adding zest to their economies. Important lessons are being learnt and fundamental changes to established frameworks in global cooperation are being introduced. It may even be argued that the catalyst that propelled many developing country economies to a different level was the recent expansion of cooperation from other developing countries.

The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena. The states negotiating the Post-2015 Development Agenda will be conscious of the need to reflect the changing nature of the global development framework in their work.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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