Inter Press ServiceSustainability – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 19 Sep 2018 14:09:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Land Degradation: A Triple Threat in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/land-degradation-triple-threat-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-degradation-triple-threat-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/land-degradation-triple-threat-africa/#respond Fri, 03 Aug 2018 08:41:45 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157041 Sustainability, stability, and security—the three overlapping issues are an increasing concern among many especially in Africa where land degradation is displacing citizens and livelihoods. African ministers and United Nations officials convened at the U.N. as part of the Initiative on Sustainability, Stability, and Security (3S), which aims to address migration and instability caused by land […]

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A rice farmer in Northern Ghana during better days. Croplands that were once fertile in northern Ghana are now unproductive, which has led to decreased incomes while water sources are drying up due to prolonged droughts. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2018 (IPS)

Sustainability, stability, and security—the three overlapping issues are an increasing concern among many especially in Africa where land degradation is displacing citizens and livelihoods.

African ministers and United Nations officials convened at the U.N. as part of the Initiative on Sustainability, Stability, and Security (3S), which aims to address migration and instability caused by land degradation across the continent.

“We need to take ownership of our responsibility,” said minister of environment and sustainable development of Senegal Mame Thierno Dieng. The west African nation was one of the countries that helped launch the 3S initiative."We need to ensure people have jobs within their communities and environment. We want them to stay on their farms and farm." -- Ghana’s deputy-minister of environment, science, technology, and innovation Patricia Appiagyei.

Among its objectives, 3S hopes to stabilise “at risk” areas by creating new, green jobs for the most vulnerable communities through investments on land rehabilitation and sustainable land management.

Without any such action, the dangers for communities are undeniable.

Globally, 80 percent of land degradation is caused by agriculture. Since 1950, 65 percent of Africa’s cropland, which millions depend on, has been affected by land degradation by mining, poor farming practices, and illegal logging.

Meanwhile, an estimated 375 million young Africans are estimated to enter the job market within the next 15 years. Of this population, 200 million will live in rural areas.

As resource-based sectors such as agriculture account for 80 percent of employment, young people will be left without a healthy environment to survive on. According to 3S, this could lead to conflict over natural resources, instability caused by the lack of income-generating opportunities, and increased exposure to extremist groups.

Ghana, renowned for its tropical forests and cocoa farms, is already seeing this scenario play out.

Approximately 35 percent of the west African country’s land is under threat of desertification especially in the north where land degradation and climate change have exacerbated poverty.

Croplands that were once fertile in northern Ghana are now unproductive, which has led to decreased incomes while water sources are drying up due to prolonged droughts.

Such losses have forced northern residents to migrate to the southern region of the country where they live in “highly deplorable” conditions, Ghana’s deputy-minister of environment, science, technology, and innovation Patricia Appiagyei told IPS.

“It is about time that we find ways of ensuring we neutralise the high rate of degradation,” she said.

“[3S] is an initiative we are very passionate about and we believe that we need to join to address these issues because land degradation and desertification issues is not just affecting the land but it is also affecting water, energy, food baskets, and livelihoods of the people who live within those communities,” Appiagyei continued.

While Ghana has begun investing in agricultural development in the north, conflicts are beginning to escalate between farmers and herders who are losing grazing land for their cattle.

The Gambia is facing similar challenges, with almost 80 percent of its woodlands degraded in alongside a rapid decrease in the productivity of its cropland.

As 64 percent of its population are young people, Gambians have been forced to move to urban areas or abroad for greener pastures.

Many Gambians have also been returning which is proving to be an additional challenge, said minister of environment, climate change, and natural resources Lamin Dibba to IPS.

“There was a particular month that there were about 400 people returning from abroad. This is very worrying for the fact that when they stay long without any livelihood support system, this can bring a lot of social disorder,” he said.

In an effort to avoid such instability, the Gambia hopes to create 25,000 green jobs for youth in their communities as well as returning migrants in the fields of agriculture, tourism, and conservation.

To achieve this, education is a crucial component, both Appiagyei and Dibba said.

“[We need] to reach out to the communities to explain to them what is climate change, what are the causes, what are the likely impacts…this is why we call it integrated—we want to look at all aspects of people’s livelihoods,” Dibba said.

Supported by the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative, the Gambia is implementing an education project targeting schools about GGW and land restoration methods.

Appiagyei noted the importance of including farmers, especially women, in such initiatives through education on agricultural practices and new technologies.

“They are currently suffering from the agricultural practices they are undertaking and the weather doesn’t really help…we need to ensure people have jobs within their communities and environment. We want them to stay on their farms and farm,” she said.

While Ghana is considering a lift on a ban on small-scale mining, which has impacted swathes of forests and water bodies, Appiagyei told IPS that sustainable land management comes first.

“We are thinking about lifting the ban, but not until we are able to improve on land management practices and apply the right legislation. Not until we are convinced that we have the right measures to curb the activities of small-scale illegal mining,” she said.

But no one of this will be possible without meetings and support from the international level.

“We want to ensure these projects become a reality,” said Dibba.

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From Crowdfunding to Development Platforms: 8 Ways to Make Use of a Networked Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/crowdfunding-development-platforms-8-ways-make-use-networked-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crowdfunding-development-platforms-8-ways-make-use-networked-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/crowdfunding-development-platforms-8-ways-make-use-networked-world/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2018 14:16:26 +0000 Robert Pasicko http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157024 Robert Pasicko works for UNDP’s Alternative Financing Lab

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Credit: iHub/Kenya

By Robert Pasicko
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Aug 2 2018 (IPS)

Hardly a day goes by in the development world without hearing the term “platform”. Like in the business world, it’s becoming harder for any development organization to provide a single service or product that will make broad impact. Airbnb doesn’t build homes, it creates a network that brings together host and guests.

Likewise, it’s impossible to eradicate poverty – a complex phenomenon – without connecting different areas of expertise and partners across a wide range of thematic issues. And it’s often the case that the people we’re trying to pull out of poverty are closer to the problem and entitled to have a say about the solution.

While building platforms doesn’t happen overnight, it’s highly likely you’re already working in ways that resemble that. Take crowdfunding: it helps diversify funding, involves target groups, and mobilizes experts from all walks of life. I’ve led 35 crowdfunding campaigns at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 2015 and mobilized $1.2 million. Our field offices are working on $7 million worth of campaigns. So here’s my take-away:

Think broad. Turning old development methods on their head, crowdfunding enables development institutions to sit at the same table with everybody else –people from poor neighborhoods, governments, startups, banks and large donors, and of course crowdfunding marketplaces. To survive in the 21st century, development organizations must diversify their contacts with partners that are ready to research, test and scale up solutions to complex problems.
• Build your ecosystem. Get a better understanding of the national context. Study the legislation and bring on board national partners who already have local connections to crowds. The more partners are able to latch on and add value, the higher the chances of success. Think of yourself as the app store: when developers come in and launch their own apps, you’ve created a virtuous circle in which the parts bring exponentially more value into the whole.
Link up with tech platforms. Through crowdfunding we’ve supported lots of UNDP tech-based platforms, like LiveLebanon.org, GreenCrowds in Ecuador, or YemenOurHome. We’re working with them to move away from online donations, towards building communities that can deliver long-term impact. It’s not enough just putting a “donate” button on your page. These online communities can be powerful starting points for continuing to rally investors and partners.
Partner with cities to achieve quick wins. London is creating a city for all Londoners through crowdfunding. Madrid has its own crowdsourcing platform. We’re transferring these practices to some unlikely places like Somalia, working with the diaspora to help people in Mogadishu create revenue, and withstand violence and disaster.
Go solar: it’s the ultimate platform initiative. It’s not development if it isn’t green. Funding solar is the ultimate way to hit multiple SDG targets. We teamed up with over 30 crowdfunding platforms to deliver Citizenergy, which helped invest € 40 million into clean energy. With UNDP Moldova and Sun Exchange, we are also developing a $1 million solar plant using cryptocurrencies.
Support small businesses – It’s hard for SMEs to get and repay their credit. But our experience in Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Morocco and Turkey has shown that crowdfunding can be a great way to get new businesses off the ground. By the same token, development organizations should intensify their work to bring crowd-funders, businesses, third party verifiers and others together to make business more inclusive.
Use new sources of financing. In the Muslim world, Zakat (donations) are worth 200 billion to 1 trillion. We’re now working with the Islamic Development Bank on a proposal to fund NGOs. In Indonesia, UNDP is designing a brand new platform that will – among other things – use Islamic finance to help the country achieve the SDGs.
Build networks to help people recover from disaster. Campaigns such as GoFundMe and YouCaring are putting a face on individuals affected by disasters and mobilizing global funding. The Connecting Business Initiative is taking that approach further, mobilizing business networks so they too can get involved.

Crowdfunding is the originator of all modern development platforms. When we turn to platforms, we direct money where it is most needed. People can crowdsource the best ideas and vote for them. Governments and donors can match the funds collected, financing projects citizens actually support.

In an increasingly networked age, it’s not only capable of unleashing significant impact. It can also inspire thousands of development organizations around the world to rally partners and contribute to global causes more effectively.

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Excerpt:

Robert Pasicko works for UNDP’s Alternative Financing Lab

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Slovakia Elevates SDGs to Status of National Prioritieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/slovakia-elevates-sdgs-status-national-priorities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slovakia-elevates-sdgs-status-national-priorities http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/slovakia-elevates-sdgs-status-national-priorities/#respond Tue, 31 Jul 2018 14:16:47 +0000 Razeena Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156977 At the High-Level Political Forum, which concluded mid-July, world leaders from 46 countries show-cased their progress in achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2030. All 46 countries produced voluntary national reviews (VNRs) aimed at facilitating the sharing of their experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, […]

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By Razeena Raheem
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2018 (IPS)

At the High-Level Political Forum, which concluded mid-July, world leaders from 46 countries show-cased their progress in achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.

All 46 countries produced voluntary national reviews (VNRs) aimed at facilitating the sharing of their experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 SDG Agenda.

Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Richard Raši

The VNRs also seek to strengthen policies and institutions of governments and to mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Since the launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the number of countries presenting VNRs has increased significantly since the original 22 in 2016.

With this year’s Forum, says the UN, more than 120 countries have submitted their reviews, showing commitment to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time. The Forum also brings together leaders from all sectors of society, including the business community and civil society.

Perhaps one of the most comprehensive VNRs was from the Slovak Republic which was presented by the Deputy Prime Minister for Investments and Digitalization Richard Raši.

Asked about Slovakia’s key challenges in implementing the 17 SDGs, the Deputy Prime Minister told IPS: “Our main challenge is a change of mindset in our society where there is still prevalence of strong orientation on instant benefits and individualism, but communitarian and holistic needs are being considered only too little, as well as further horizons.”

“A big task ahead of us is therefore creating awareness about SDGs to promote voluntary engagement of all stakeholders. Our objective is mainly to engage local and regional stakeholders, because it is estimated that 65% of the 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda cannot be reached without engaging and coordinating with local and regional governments,” he pointed out.

“To make our interventions towards reaching the SDGs effective and targeted, they will be based on a territorial approach and on the principle of subsidiarity. Local and regional governments have an indispensable role in mobilizing a wide range of stakeholders and facilitating “bottom-up” and inclusive processes for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The formation of multi-stakeholder partnerships is equally important,” he declared.

“I have first-hand experience with the role of cities in localizing agendas and engaging its citizens for various causes. Between 2010 and 2018, I served as the mayor of the second largest city of Slovakia, Košice. During my term, Košice was named European Capital of Culture in 2013 and European City of Sport in 2016. In 2019, the city will be a European Volunteering Capital. Until 2030, we aspire to make significant progress in six national priorities that were defined in a broad stakeholder participation process.”
Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: What are your national priorities relating to Agenda 2030?

Deputy Prime Minister: Education for a life in dignity – support for education of socially or physically disadvantaged groups of people, because no one can be left behind. We also need to upgrade the overall quality of our educational system, because we cannot be satisfied with the results of Slovak pupils in international testings.

We also aim at intertwining education more closely with future labour market needs, that will, in the near future, require more and more complex skills like solving complex problems, critical thinking or creativity. Last but not least, our ambition is to better the teachers´ position in society as well as their professional preparation.

Transformation towards a knowledge-based and environmentally sustainable economy in the face of changing demography and global context:
Slovakia has an open, export-oriented economy that is part of the European Union and Euro-zone. Therefore, we have to sensibly perceive and react to challenges and changing conditions that Europe has to face. Our own challenge is an ageing population that our social system must deal with. As to the transition to circular economy, that is an absolute environmental imperative.

Poverty reduction and social inclusion:
although the problem of poverty is not too convex in Slovakia, we are aware of the need to raise the purchasing power of our citizens to match their counterparts in most developed European nations, the need to reduce regional disparities in income, and above all we are aware of multigenerational islands of extreme poverty that are sharply bounded both regionally and ethnically and pose a very complex problem.

Sustainable settlements, regions and countryside in the face of climate change: climate change is a fact and we have to reflect if in our urbanistic planning and in our approach towards the country. It is especially important to strengthen adaptation measures and to enhance the resilience of our communities and society to the potential adverse effects of climate change.

Rule of law, democracy and security: by which I mean, for example, strengthening of public trust into institutions and readiness towards new security threats such as spreading disinformation, rise of extremism or cybernetic crime.

Good health: apart from increasing the quality of health care, there must be above all increase in the state of public health by preventive means. That will not happen without a change in Slovak people´s lifestyle. Because our population is ageing, increasing healthy life years and prevention of chronical and civilisation diseases must be priority.

IPS: Conforming to a widespread appeal to member states by the UN, Slovakia has firmly committed its political will to implement the 2030 Agenda. But what is the primary impediment towards achieving its goals? Is it lack of development funding? Or decline in ODA? Or both?

Deputy Prime Minister: We of course recognise, that the national priorities will gain genuine significance only once they will be prioritised in terms of budgetary allocations. At the moment, the 2030 Agenda and the national priorities are not sufficiently integrated into the sectoral strategies of ministries and consequently they are not included in sectoral investment plans either. Therefore, as an essential part of the National Development Strategy, a National Investment Plan will be elaborated, which should bolster financing for sustainable development.

But if the importance of sustainable development was recognised in society and the stakeholders came forward with voluntary initiatives, finance would not be so essential. Therefore, I do not deem the main obstacle in achieving the SDGs to be only money, but also a lack of awareness.

We are fully aware, that while it is crucial to set up an effective framework for implementing the 2030 Agenda within our national borders, our responsibilities stretch further. In terms of supporting the implementation of the SDGs globally, we regard ODA as an important tool but not the only one. Net ODA as a percentage of gross national income has been gradually increasing in Slovakia over the last decade, but still falls below target values.

A second tool we utilise to contribute to sustainable development on a global level is leveraging our membership and position in international and regional organisations to mainstream sustainability in all areas of global concern.

IPS: How do the 17 SDGs fit into your national development strategy? Is there any coordination among your various ministries in helping implement the 2030 agenda?

Deputy Prime Minister: Our ambition is to establish the 2030 Agenda as the core of Slovakia´s strategic governance framework. Having defined our six national priorities in a broad stakeholder participation process, our next step will be to further develop these priorities within a National Development Strategy until 2030. This strategy should in turn form the basis of all sectoral and cross-cutting strategies, as well investment plans.

To turn this ambition into practice, a robust institutional framework is in place. It includes all key stakeholders for implementing the 2030 Agenda. In Slovakia, the coordination of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is shared by the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Informatization, in charge of the national implementation of the Agenda, and the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, responsible for implementing the Agenda in an international environment.

The main high-level coordinating body for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is the Government Council of the Slovak Republic for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In particular, the Government Council coordinates the creation of policies and strategies related to sustainable development, both at the national and regional level.

It also assesses the progress made in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Members of the Government Council include key line ministers, representatives of other relevant state institutions, regional administration, cities and municipalities, employers, trade unions, academia, non-governmental organisations and relevant government advisory bodies.

IPS: Are there any significant contributions from parliamentarians, NGOs, academia and the private sector– described as key stakeholders– in the implementation of the 17 SDGs?

Deputy Prime Minister: Key stakeholders, including academia, NGOs and the private sector, have been involved in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda from the very beginning. Stakeholders were engaged in the process of defining Slovakia´s national priorities for the 2030 Agenda, in accordance with the principle of participation and partnership. Currently, we are working to involve parliamentarians more deeply, who should have an important role in monitoring the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and in ensuring continuity.

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India Fast Becoming a Pillar of Global Growth & Stabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/india-fast-becoming-pillar-global-growth-stability/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 07:54:04 +0000 Hardeep S. Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156782 Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

By Hardeep S. Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

It is with great pleasure and pride that I interact with you this afternoon as India’s Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, to share some thoughts on India’s extremely ambitious, and arguably the world’s largest planned urbanization programme under the leadership of our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Hardeep S. Puri

In 1947, when we became an independent country, 17% of our population lived in urban areas. This 17% was on a population base of 350 million or so. At present, over 30% of our population, on a base of 1.2 billion, lives in urban centres.

By 2030, when we complete work of the 2030 Development Agenda, nearly 600 million Indians, or 40% of our population, will reside in urban spaces. To lay further emphasis on India’s urban prospects – from now till 2030, India has to build 700 to 900 million square meters of urban space every year.

In other words, India will have to build a new Chicago every year from now till 2030 to meet its urban demand. More importantly, the new urban infrastructure India builds for 2030, 70% of which still needs to be constructed, will have to be green and resilient.

India has been in the vanguard of the sustainable development agenda even prior to 2015. By promoting cooperative federalism, ensuring integrated planning through convergence, and focusing on an outcome-based approach compared to a project-based approach, we have embarked upon the most ambitious and comprehensive programme of planned urbanisation ever undertaken in the world.

With these principles as the backbone, India is implementing some of the world’s largest and most ambitious national schemes for social inclusion, economic growth, and environmental sustainability, through silo-breaking approaches.

In the words of Prime Minister Modi at the UN summit for post-2015 development agenda, “Just as our vision behind Agenda 2030 is lofty, our goals are comprehensive. It gives priority to the problems that have endured through the past decades. And, it reflects our evolving understanding of the social, economic and environmental linkages that define our lives”.

India has consistently achieved a growth rate of over 7% year on year through bold economic reforms, and has strong prospects for an even higher growth rate in the near future. Given our size and scale, India is fast becoming a pillar of global growth and stability.

SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

As President of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat, it gives me great pleasure to note international efforts towards inclusive, resilient, and sustainable human settlements and SDG 11 have been greatly strengthened in the last few years by the New Urban Agenda signed at Habitat III, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements.

Today, more than 90% of the global urban growth is occurring in the developing world. India, China, and Nigeria together will account for 35 % of the growth in the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050. It would not be an overstatement to say that India’s urban agenda will constitute one of the defining projects of the 21st century.

Urban areas in India face multi-pronged challenges. We remain confronted by a complex ecosystem of urban challenges through and in ensuring housing for all, technology based solutions to enhance service delivery, better mobility and greener transport, smart governance, and in doing more with less.

Mahatma Gandhi had famously said, “Freedom from insanitary practices is even more important than political freedom”.

As a tribute to the father of the nation, India launched the largest sanitation and hygiene program in the world – the Swachh Bharat Mission, with the objective of make India open defecation free and achieve scientific waste management by October 2nd 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma, well ahead of the deadline for SDG 6.

The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the National Rural Drinking Water Program (NRDWP) seek to provide urban and rural areas with universal drinking water supply and sewage treatment respectively. Both these missions have been making steady progress and are on track to achieve their goals.

The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana or the Prime Minister’s scheme on Affordable Housing for All is the world’s largest housing programme for the poor. The government aims to build 11 million affordable homes for urban Indians by the year 2022.

We have already sanctioned over 5 million and are confident of meeting the targets by middle of 2019. Giving a fillip to gender empowerment, the title of each home under the Mission is under the lady of the house, or co-jointly.

The mission also encompasses a Technology Sub-Mission to facilitate adoption of green, disaster resistant building materials and construction techniques for ensuring faster and cost- effective construction.

This not only addresses SDG 11 directly but also aims to effectuate, SDG 1 by ending spatial poverty of homeless people; SDG 3 by giving access to all-weather protected living environment; SDG 7 through increased usage of sustainable, affordable construction practices; and SDG 10 by reducing inequalities of access to basic minimum standard of living.

India is in the process of creating 100 Smart Cities to strengthen urban infrastructure by applying smart solutions and giving a decent quality of life to citizens. Improving the urban governance reforms through creation of Integrated Command and Control Centre has made city management efficient and effective resulting in savings of city revenues.

This has made a significant impact on India’s promise to create inclusive and sustainable cities under the SDG 11 by building institutional capabilities through efficient administrative processes and strengthening grassroots democracy.

Smart Cities Mission also focuses on SDG 12 by reducing the pressure on resources through promotion of sustainable consumption and production pattern which again is promoted by sustainable practices being adopted by cities in reducing the carbon footprint, leveraging vertical expansion and reducing the overall burden on infrastructural resources by switching to cleaner substitutes.

India has ensured that all its international commitments are mirrored in the national development goals. With India striving to meet its national socio-economic development targets, achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 169 targets linked to them will be a major success story of the millennium affecting more than a billion persons all at once.

India’s national development goals and its “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas” or “development with all, and for all,” policy initiatives for inclusive development converge well with the SDGs, and India will play a leading role in determining the success of the SDGs, globally.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted, “The sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world and our beautiful planet.” India stands truly committed to achieving an equitable and sustainable future for all its citizens, and in working with the global community to achieve the SDGs together.

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Excerpt:

Hardeep S. Puri, India’s Minister of State for Housing & Urban Affairs, in his address to the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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New York, With 8.5 Million People, Among Cities Heading for a Sustainable Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/new-york-8-5-million-people-among-cities-heading-sustainable-future/#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 12:11:39 +0000 Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Achim Steiner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156736 Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

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Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

By Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Achim Steiner
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2018 (IPS)

New York has long been considered a pioneer – in fashion, art, music, and food, just to name a few. Now this city of 8.5 million is leading a shift in how we tackle today’s toughest global challenges like climate change, education, inequality, and poverty.

UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

These issues are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, an agenda agreed by all nations in 2015 that chart a path for people, prosperity, and the planet. This July, New York is joining countries at the United Nations to report on its progress and to share experiences, becoming the first city to do so.

It makes good sense for New York and other cities to spearhead progress on these global goals – including the need for decent housing, public transport, green spaces and clean air.

More than half of the world’s 7 billion people currently live in cities, and by 2050 that number will be closer to 70%. By 2030, there will be over 700 cities with more than a million inhabitants.

Urban growth is happening fastest in developing countries, which often struggle to meet the demand for quality municipal services and have little experience in planning. Rapid growth can also push up the prices of housing and energy, and can increase pollution, threatening the health and well-being of millions.

Cities are also financial powerhouses, generating 82% of global GDP, yet they also account for 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions, use 80% of the world’s energy, and generate over 1 billion tonnes of waste per year.

Inequality within cities on issues like income, health, and education are also a big challenge.

Cities are a fulcrum for sustainable development worldwide and crucible for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Unleashing the power of cities to help solve global challenges means linking local plans to national plans, and also to global agendas.

Cities are already showing how to lead by example on one of our most pressing global challenges: climate change.

The global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is an alliance of cities and local governments working to combat climate change and move to a low-emission and resilient society. This group has commitments from over 9,000 cities and local governments from 6 continents and 127 countries.

The Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September is another example of how cities, as well as states, regions, companies and citizens, are coming together to show how every group can do something and accelerate action.

Which brings us back to New York.

Cities are on the frontlines of nearly every global challenge we currently face, and they need to be at the center of our strategy to solve them. The urban development of yesterday will not suffice.

By using the Sustainable Development Goals as their guide, New York is showing how cities can adapt their plans to mirror development plans, allowing them to grow in the most sustainable way possible while creating policies for the things people living in cities need.

Things like jobs, affordable housing, good education, quality health care, clean air and good waste management, just to name a few. Getting cities right can provide opportunities to address poverty, migration, employment and pollution.

We invite all cities to join New York and help lead the way in planning for a shared and sustainable future that benefits all people of the world.

On 17 July 2018, the UN will host an event at the High-level Political Forum: ‘The SDGs in Action – Working together for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements. The event will focus on how cities and human settlement are accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and contributing to a transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.

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Excerpt:

Maimunah Mohd Sharif is Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and Achim Steiner is Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

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Blue Economy Movement Gains Traction in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/blue-economy-movement-gains-traction-africa/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 10:42:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156707 An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs–particularly extreme poverty and hunger. Countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles–which has already established the Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy–are recognising the need […]

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A coastal city, Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, is an area where people have relied on the ocean for food and employment for as long as they have lived there. An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jul 16 2018 (IPS)

An increasing number of African countries are now embracing the blue economy for its potential to deliver solutions to their most pressing development needs–particularly extreme poverty and hunger.

Countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles–which has already established the Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy–are recognising the need to diversify their economies.

“The African Union has also adopted the blue economy, which is about exploiting resources such as oceans, lakes and rivers, into its 2063 development agenda for socio-economic transformation,” Danson Mwangangi, an independent economic researcher and analyst, tells IPS.

He says that for agrarian economies like Kenya, “agriculture alone will not be sufficient to drive the economy since the sector is facing many challenges, including shrinking farmlands, pest infestations and unpredictable weather changes.”The blue world will only be a win for Africa if there are strategies in place to exploit and protect it. -- Caesar Bita, head of underwater archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya

In Kenya, for instance, World Bank statistics show that in 2017 alone maize production dropped 20 to 30 percent due to insufficient rains and army worm infestation. The country has an annual maize shortfall of eight million bags per year.
Against this backdrop, experts are urging African countries to diversify and look beyond land-based resources by exploring the blue economy as it presents immense untapped potential.

The World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in their 2018 policy brief make a strong case in favour of the blue economy.
Mwangangi says that it can significantly enable Africa to improve its volumes of global trade, achieve food security and meet its energy demands.

Ocean renewable energy has the potential to meet up to 400 percent of the current global energy demand, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Seventy percent of African countries are either coastal or islands, we need to harness such valuable coastlines,” says Caesar Bita, head of underwater archaeology at the National Museums of Kenya.
He tells IPS that the blue world can significantly transform the lives of communities that live closest to those bodies of water since they lead very precarious lives.

According to John Omingo, head of commercial shipping at the Kenya Maritime Authority, very little has been done in the way of harnessing these vast water-based resources for economic gain.
“Africa’s coastline is about 31,000 kilometres long and yet trade among African countries accounts for 11 percent of the total trade volume, which is the lowest compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Europe and America,” he expounds.

Bita tells IPS that while Africa is the largest island on earth as it has the Atlantic Ocean on the west; the Indian Ocean on the east; the Antarctic ocean on the south, and the Mediterranean and Red Sea on the north, “there is very little shipping that is going on in Africa. African-owned ships account for less than 1.2 percent of the world’s shipping.”

Ahead of the upcoming Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, that will be co-host by Kenya and Canada this November, in Nairobi, economic experts are optimistic that the blue economy movement is gaining traction.
The high-level conference is expected to advance a global agenda on sustainable exploitation of oceans, seas, rivers and lakes.

One of Freetown’s larger fishing harbours is Goderich Beach, less than 30 minute’s drive from the city’s downtown core. There, a single motorised boat can bring in as much as 300 dollars worth of fish in a single day. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

“Holding the conference in Africa with Canada as a co-host is also very strategic and shows that the continent is coming into this agenda as an important partner. Some of the most important gateways for international trade are actually in Africa,” says Bita.
Mwangangi says that African countries will need to assess their own individual capacities and interpret the blue economy in the manner that makes most economic sense to them.

“The concept is not a one-size-fits-all. Each country will need to evaluate what water-based natural resources are at their disposal,” he says. “On the Indian Ocean side of the continent where we have South Africa and Mauritius, countries tend to embrace an industrial approach,” he adds.

Research shows that South Africa’s Operation Phakisa, a national development plan, also places a focus on the blue economy as it is expected to create one million new jobs by 2030 and add approximately USD13 billion into the country’s economy.

Experts also point to Mauritius which is among the smallest countries in the world but has territorial waters the size of South Africa, making the small nation one the strongest blue economies in Africa. It ranked as Africa’s wealthiest nation based on its per capita income in 2015. Bita adds that Mozambique, which lies alongside the Indian Ocean, is characterised by the highest species of diverse and abundant natural resources.

Kenya is among African countries that are developing strategies to mainstream the blue economy within its national economic blueprint. Bita says that this East African nation’s blue economy includes maritime transport and logistics services, fisheries and aquaculture, tourism as well as the extractive industries such as the offshore mining of gas and oil, titanium and niobium.

Nonetheless, environment experts, including Bita, have expressed concerns that ongoing talks on the blue economy have largely revolved around full exploitation, in order for countries to develop rapidly in the next 10 years, and little on sustainability.

“This is a problem since there is evidence to show that oceans resources are limited. For instance, explorers have presented evidence to show that at least 90 percent of the largest predatory fishes have disappeared from the world’s oceans,” he cautions.

The blue world will only be a win for Africa if there are strategies in place to exploit and protect it, he adds.

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Is Asia Pacific on Track to Meet UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/asia-pacific-track-meet-uns-sustainable-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-pacific-track-meet-uns-sustainable-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/asia-pacific-track-meet-uns-sustainable-development-goals/#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2018 12:31:58 +0000 Kaveh Zahedi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156653 Kaveh Zahedi is Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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"Trolleys" - makeshift carts with a bench fashioned out of scrap wood and bamboo - being pushed along the tracks of the Philippine National Railway. Not only is this mode of transportation cheap (Php5.00), it is also environment-friendly compared to pollution-causing trains and other modern vehicles. Credit: ESCAP/Anthony Into

By Kaveh Zahedi
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jul 11 2018 (IPS)

Three years into the implementation period of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is Asia Pacific on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

According to ESCAP’s recent Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report, the answer is yes for only one Goal, unlikely for many Goals, and probably not for a few Goals where the region is moving in the wrong direction, most notably on inequality.

While there are major variations across the vast Asia Pacific region, between and within countries, the overall trajectories are clear and point to areas where urgent action is needed.

ESCAP’s analysis shows that inequalities are widening in terms of income and wealth, opportunity and access to services. Income inequalities grew in almost 40 per cent of all countries. Large disparities exist in access to education, bank accounts, clean fuels and basic sanitation.

Poor and disadvantaged groups are disproportionally impacted by environmental degradation, including diseases from air pollution and natural disasters. Inequalities in income and lack of employment opportunities, along with poverty, landlessness, and vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, all heighten the risk of extremism and conflicts that could unravel development gains in Asia Pacific.

This is a concern as disaster risk is outpacing efforts to build resilience in Asia Pacific. A person living in the Asia Pacific region is five times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than a person living in any other region. Poor people are disproportionately affected by such disasters: between 2000 and 2015 the low and lower middle-income countries experienced by far the most disaster deaths.

Extreme weather events, including slow onset disasters such as drought, are undermining food security. They can lead to hunger among the most vulnerable, particularly those in rural areas working in agriculture. Yet disasters also widen inequalities in urban areas. Climate change will continue to magnify and reshape the risk of disasters and increase their costs.

As a result, risk governance needs to be strengthened, investments in disaster risk reduction increased and the fiscal burden of disasters better managed to avoid a disproportionate impact on the poor and vulnerable. With over half of global GHG emissions coming from Asia Pacific, countries in the region also face the considerable challenge of decarbonization.

Children living in an urban slum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Credit: ESCAP/Kibae Park

However, the necessary energy transformation in Asia Pacific is still in an early stage. Progress on achieving SDG 7 is insufficient. Major gaps remain between current trajectories and what is needed to meet SDG targets and wider aspirations from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

While access to electricity has reached 90%, up from 70% in 1990 at a time of major population growth, the progress in access to clean cooking fuels has been slow. The significant growth in renewable energy has been outpaced by growth in energy demand and fossil fuel use.

There are signs the region has begun to decouple energy use and gross domestic product, an important step for energy efficiency, but again progress is too slow to meet energy efficiency targets under SDG 7.

The energy transition pathways to 2030 will require full alignment of national energy policies with SDG 7, the development of national energy transition roadmaps, a quantum leap in the financing of sustainable energy, especially from the private sector, and the rapid phase out of fossil fuel subsidies.

Over the past few decades, Asia Pacific has succeeded in dramatically reducing poverty, increasing levels of education, extending life expectancy and building fast growing and resilient economies that have largely weathered the global financial crisis. The region is at the forefront of many technological developments that will shape the future of manufacturing, work and daily lives.

But leaving no one behind will require re-aligning investments to deliver the 2030 Agenda and targeted policies for the most vulnerable. This includes addressing the challenges of population ageing in Asia Pacific, where one in four people will be 60 years or older by 2050.

It also includes building disability inclusive societies for over 600 million people with disabilities, to address their disproportionate rate of poverty, remove barriers to education and work, and enable their full and effective participation in decision-making processes. It calls for achieving safe, orderly and regular migration to address the challenges faced by over 60 million international migrants in the Asia Pacific region.

It requires investment in building resilience and in promoting innovation. And it demands eliminating gender disparities, closing gender gaps and investing in women, including by promoting women’s entrepreneurship.

What ESCAP’s work over the past year has shown is that the region has not yet put in place the policies that will drive the transformative change needed to deliver on the Regional Road Map for Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.

Recent history has demonstrated the region has everything it takes to change course. Whether this will happen soon enough and fast enough to achieve the SDGs remains an open question.

The link to the original article: https://www.unescap.org/blog/is-asia-pacific-on-track-to-meet-the-sustainable-development-goals

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Excerpt:

Kaveh Zahedi is Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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You Are More Powerful than You Think!http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/you-are-more-powerful-than-you-think/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=you-are-more-powerful-than-you-think http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/you-are-more-powerful-than-you-think/#respond Thu, 14 Jun 2018 15:25:08 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156239 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17.

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Credit: UNCCD

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Jun 14 2018 (IPS)

Are you overwhelmed by the depressing news coming at you daily? Conflict, forced migrants, famine, floods, hurricanes, extinction of species, climate change, threats of war … a seemingly endless list. It might surprise you, but you can really make a difference on many of these issues.

Just like every raindrop counts towards a river and every vote counts in an election, so does every choice you make in what you consume. With every produce you consume, you strengthen the river of sustainability or of unsustainability. It is either a vote in favor of policies that spread social goods like peace and poverty eradication or social bads like – conflict or grinding poverty.

We look up to governments a lot, forgetting that governments set up policies to encourage us to make specific choices. That’s how powerful our lifestyles choices are.

Imagine, what would happen if the world’s over 7 billion consumers committed, every year, to just one lifestyle change that will support the provision of goods from sustainably managed land.

Every year, we make New Year resolutions about change. Why not include as one of those resolutions, a changeof habit leading that will lead to a smart sustainable consumer lifestyle? Without any government intervention, you can make choices that will help to end deforestation, soil erosion and pollution or reduce the effects of drought or sand and dust storms.

Monique Barbut

However, to make the right lifestyle change, each of us must first find out where the goods we consume are cultivated and processed. For instance, if they are linked to conflict in regions with rapidly degrading land or forests or polluted water or soils, then chose an alternative that is produced sustainably. It is a small, but achievable change to make every year.

Every country and product has a land footprint. What we eat. What we wear. What we drink. The manufacturer or supplier of the products we consume. The brands related to these suppliers that we will support. We prioritize buying from the local small farm holders to reduce our global land footprint. Consumers have plenty of options.

But a vital missing link is the informed consumer.

Through mobile phone apps**, it is getting easier and easier to track where the goods we consume come from. It is also getting easier to find alternative suppliers of our choice, as the private sector embraces the idea of ethical business. The information you need is literally in the – mobile phone in the – palm of our hand.

But you must believe in your own power to change the world. The global effect on the market may surprise you.

We will reward the food producers, natural resource managers and land planners struggling against all odds to keep the land healthy and productive. This is cheapest way to help every family and community in the world to thrive, and avoid the damage and loss of life that comes from environmental degradation and disasters.

Make 17 June, the celebration of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, your date with nature. It’s the mid-point of the year and a good moment to review the progress you are making towards your New Year resolution of a sustainable lifestyle.

In 2030, when the international community evaluates its achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, you can point to positive changes that you have contributed in favor of present and future generations.

You are more powerful than you think. Take your power back and put it into action.

Monique Barbut is Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

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Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17.

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Global Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry Targets Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/global-campaign-mercury-free-dentistry-targets-africa/#comments Mon, 13 Nov 2017 15:36:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152996 A vibrant global campaign to ban the use of mercury in dentistry is shifting direction: moving from Europe to the developing world. Charlie Brown, Attorney & President of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, an organization which is spearheading the campaign, told African and Asian delegates at a meeting in Geneva late September: “When you […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2017 (IPS)

A vibrant global campaign to ban the use of mercury in dentistry is shifting direction: moving from Europe to the developing world.

Charlie Brown, Attorney & President of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, an organization which is spearheading the campaign, told African and Asian delegates at a meeting in Geneva late September: “When you return to your home countries, please do as the European Union has done: phase out amalgam for children now, for one simple reason: The children of your nation are equally important as the children of Europe.”

President of World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, Charlie Brown (2nd right), Dominique Bally (centre) at a meeting during Charlie Brown’s visit to West Africa.

Billed as the Conference of Parties (COP1), the Geneva meeting was a gathering of signatories and ratifiers of the Minamata Convention, a legally-binding landmark treaty aimed at protecting “human health and the environment” from mercury releases.

The treaty, described as the first new environmental agreement in over a decade and which entered into force August 16, has been signed by 128 of the 193 UN member states and ratified by 84 countries, which are now legally obliged to comply with its provisions.
http://www.mercuryconvention.org/

In an interview with IPS, Brown said: “We made clear our short-term goal in the march toward mercury-free dentistry: ban amalgam for children – worldwide and quickly – as the European Union has done.”

In his opening statement to the plenary session of COP1, he cited major progress phasing down amalgam in nations across Africa and Asia.

Immediately after COP1, the World Alliance intensified its Africa campaign. “I went to five nations in West Africa and Central Africa: Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Bénin, Cameroon, and Nigeria,” Brown told IPS.

In Geneva, the World Alliance fielded a talented team from across the globe, including a coalition of environmental, dental, and consumer non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – each with a record of major achievements in its home country.

The progress in Africa was described as exceptional. Nigeria, being the economic and population colossus of Africa, got the attention it deserves, said Brown.

The World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, working with the NGO SEDI of Benin City, Nigeria, held a workshop for Edo State in the South-South region.

The workshop concluded with the Edo State Stakeholder Resolution calling for amalgam use to cease in Edo State, Nigeria, on 1 July 2018—specifically for children under 16, for pregnant women, and for nursing mothers.

Tom Aneni of SEDI said: “The Edo State Stakeholder Resolution is a model for Nigeria and for the continent. For the children of Africa, we must do, as we already decided in this state in Nigeria’s South-South: No amalgam for children, no amalgam for pregnant women, no amalgam for breastfeeding women.”

Other recommendations include “updating dental schools training curriculum to emphasize mercury-free dentistry and implementation of a phase down work plan. This must also include legislative review and development of guidelines, gathering baseline data and developing the national overview”.

The participants also called for an urgent need for Nigeria to domesticate the Minamata Convention as soon as possible.

The meeting in Nigeria also declared that “mercury is a chemical of global concern owing to its long range atmospheric transport, its persistence in the environment once anthropogenically introduced and its ability to bio-accumulate in ecosystems.

Leslie Adogame of the NGO SRADev, Lagos, pointed to the paradigm shift at Nigerian dental colleges.

“The major dental schools have reversed their teaching, stressing the teaching of mercury-free fillings, which are non-polluting and tooth-friendly, in contrast to dental amalgam. The dental colleges are instructing the dental students that amalgam has no future in Africa.”

The English-language daily, the Guardian of Nigeria, reported that stakeholders from the health sector, media, civil societies, called on governments at all levels to end the use of dental amalgam, a liquid mercury and metal alloy mixture used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay in children under 16 years, regnant and breast feeding women. The chemical is said to be injurious to health.

They therefore advocated that this should become a government policy that should take effect from July 1 2018.

The decision was reached at a stakeholders workshop on phase down of dental amalgam organised by the Sustainable Environment Development Initiative (SEDl), where its Executive Director, Tom Aneni, said exposure to mercury could harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, cardiovascular and immune systems in women, unborn children and infants.

Meanwhile, Cameroon has been witnessing significant changes towards mercury-free dentistry not only in cities like Yaoundé but in more rural areas too, such as the Far North Region.

Gilbert Kuepouo of the NGO CREPD said, “Cameroon civil society – comprising dentists, consumers, hospitals, dental schools – is ready for mercury-free dentistry. Our goal is nothing less than the end of amalgam in Cameroon – a goal that is now realistic.”

Dominique Bally of the African Center for Environmental Health took Brown through three francophone West African nations: Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, and Bénin, where they had meetings with top officials of the three environmental ministries, toured dental colleges, consulted with a top military dentist, and met with NGO leaders.

Bally said, “To donate, sell, or otherwise bring amalgam to Africa is not helping the people of our region – it is dumping a neurotoxin into our environment and our bodies. Africans are tired to see their continent being seen as the world dumping site”.

The World Alliance President, together with the President of the African Centre for Environmental Health, Dominique Bally, an Ivoirian, are partnering with environmental NGOs, Les Amis de la Terre in Togo and with GAPROFFA in Benin.

While delivering his opening speech at COP 1, Brown saluted the work of the Africa region and of the African governments in the march toward mercury-free dentistry.

He said, “The Abuja Declaration for Mercury-Free Dentistry for Africa sets the pace. The government of Mauritius ended amalgam use for children. Dental schools from “Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria across to Tanzania and Kenya have made major curriculum shifts to educate this generation of dentists.”

Meanwhile, the Minamata Convention holds critical obligations for all 84 State Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.

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Thousands Rally to Mark Second Anniversary of UN´s SDGshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/thousands-rally-mark-second-anniversary-uns-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-rally-mark-second-anniversary-uns-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/thousands-rally-mark-second-anniversary-uns-sdgs/#respond Wed, 27 Sep 2017 09:34:01 +0000 Tanja Gohlert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152257 Tanja Gohlert is Member, European Secretariat of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty

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Tanja Gohlert is Member, European Secretariat of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty

By Tanja Gohlert
BRUSSELS, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Two years ago on 25 September 2015, 193 governments agreed to an action plan to end poverty, protect the planet and foster international peace by adopting the UN´s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To mark the anniversary, thousands of people participated in over 850 events across 110 countries to raise awareness for the goals and to hold governments accountable for their slow rollout of national implementation programs.

Thousands Rally to Mark Second Anniversary of UN´s SDGs

Map: Over 850 events across 110+ countries, led by Global Call for Action against Poverty, Action for Sustainable Development, the UN´s SDG Action Campaign and in conjunction with CIVICUS´SPEAK! Campaign.

“The goals will only be implemented if people demand action by their governments” said Beckie Malay from the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), who organised an event with university students in Manila, Philippines

Community events were held all shapes and sizes, with marches, panel discussions, art performances, lesson plans and an #Act4SDGs social media conversation that reached over 80 million people. Central to these actions, was the recognition that the most marginalised groups of people require priority access to the resources and programs being mobilised by the goals.

“Today we should be celebrating, but the situation is worrying. Social injustices are increasing and people are going hungry again” commented Salina Sanou of Action for Sustainable Development in Kenya. Last week, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced that despite a steady decline in recent years, 815 million people suffered from hunger in 2016 – 38 million more than 2015. This is unacceptable in these times of over-production and over-consumption in rich countries, says Sanou. “It is time to break the cycle of inequality in all our systems.”

Standing in front of a large pink elephant in front of the EU’s headquarters in Brussels, Ingo Ritz, coordinator of the Global Day of Action, pointed out that the European Commission was very supportive when the Agenda 2030 was negotiated. “However, now the EU leadership is not seriously interested and the SDGs have become the elephant in the room. They cannot afford to ignore them – making Europe sustainable for all will be key for the legitimacy of the EU.”

Thousands Rally to Mark Second Anniversary of UN´s SDGs

The elephant in the room for governments: The Sustainable Development Goals

46 events were organised in India alone. Young people, women, Dalits, urban poor and religious minorities, gathered at various landmarks with banners and placards highlighting which SDGs would have an impact on their lives. The goals have not reached these communities, the main concerns continue to be basic – education, housing issues, health issues, as well as water and sanitation, noted Manshi Singh of the national network Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA).

Thousands Rally to Mark Second Anniversary of UN´s SDGs

Wadanatodo organised a public mobilisation event outside the red fort in Delhi

In Buenos Aires, banners highlighting the SDGs were hung on main streets in all 15 communes of the city and murga dancers and jugglers shared information on the SDGs. Agustina Carpio, from the Argentinian NGO FOCO, said the idea is to have an impact on each and every citizen. “We need everybody to be aware of what the SDGs mean and understand that we have a humanitarian commitment ahead of us and not an act of propaganda.”

Note: More information as well as photos and stories from all over the world can be found at act4sdgs.org

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Excerpt:

Tanja Gohlert is Member, European Secretariat of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty

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Towards a Resource Efficient and Pollution Free Asia-Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/towards-resource-efficient-pollution-free-asia-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=towards-resource-efficient-pollution-free-asia-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/towards-resource-efficient-pollution-free-asia-pacific/#respond Mon, 04 Sep 2017 10:31:46 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar and Erik Solheim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151906 Shamshad Akhtar, is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Erik Solheim, is Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

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Shamshad Akhtar, is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Erik Solheim, is Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

By Shamshad Akhtar and Erik Solheim
BANGKOK, Thailand, Sep 4 2017 (IPS)

Senior government officials from across Asia and the Pacific will meet in Bangkok this week for the first-ever Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment. The high-level meeting is co-convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) and UN Environment and is a unique opportunity for the region’s environment leaders to discuss how they can work together towards a resource efficient and pollution-free Asia-Pacific.

Shamshad Akhtar

At the core of the meeting is the question: how can we use our resources more efficiently to continue to grow our economies in a manner that does not tax our natural environment or generate pollution affecting public health and ecosystem health. There is certainly much room for improvement to make in this area.

Resources such as fossil fuels, biomass, metals and minerals are essential to build economies. However, the region’s resource efficiency has regressed in recent years. Asia is unfortunately the least resource efficient region in the world. In 2015, we used one third more materials to produce each unit of GDP than in 1990. Developing countries use five times as many resources per dollar of GDP in comparison to rest of the world and10 times more than industrialized countries in the region. This inefficiency of resource use results into wastage and pollution further affecting the natural resources and public health which are the basic elements for ensuring sustainable economic growth.

As the speed and scale of economic growth continues to accelerate across the region, pollution has become a critical area for action. While the challenge of pollution is a global one, the impacts are overwhelmingly felt in developing countries. About 95 per cent of adults and children who are impacted by pollution-related illnesses live in low and middle-income countries. Asia and the Pacific produces more chemicals and waste than any other region in the world and accounts for the bulk – 25 out of 30 – of cities with highest levels of PM 2.5, the tiny atmospheric particulate matter that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer. More than 80 per cent of our rivers are heavily polluted while five of the top land-based ocean plastic sources are from countries in our region. Estimates put the cost of marine pollution to regional economies at a staggering US$1.3 billion.

Erik Solheim

If left unattended, these trends threaten to up end hard-won economic gains and hamper human development. But while these challenges appear intractable, the region has tremendous strengths and opportunities to draw from. Many countries hold solid track records of successful economic transformation. The capacity for promoting environmental sustainability as an integral pillar of sustainable development must now be developed across all countries in the region

There are some profound changes underway in Asia and the Pacific. The region is experiencing the largest rural to urban migration in history. Developing these new urban areas with resource-efficient buildings, waste water and solid waste management systems can do much to advance this agenda. Advancing the “sharing economy” might mean we have better utilization of assets such as vehicles, houses or other assets, greatly reducing material inputs and pollution. The widespread move to renewable energy should rein in fossil fuel use. And advances in recycling, materials technology, 3D printing and manufacturing could also support greater resource circularity.

Moving to green technologies and eco innovation offer economic and employment opportunities. Renewable energy provided jobs for 9.8 million people worldwide in 2016. Waste can be converted into economic opportunities, including jobs. In Cebu City– the second-largest city in the Philippines, concerted Solid Waste Management has borne fruit: waste has been reduced by 30 per cent in 2012; treatment of organic waste in neigbourhoods has led to lower transportation costs and longer use period in landfills. The poor have largely benefited from hundreds of jobs that have been created.

At the policy level, it is vital that resource efficiency and pollution prevention targets are integrated into national development agendas, and targeted legal and regulatory measures to enforce resource efficiency standards should be established. For example, the Government of China has instituted a national system of legislation, rules and regulations that led to the adoption of a compulsory national cleaner production audit system that has been in place for more than 10 years. The direct economic benefits from this system is estimated to be more than $3 billion annually.

Further, we need an urgent reform of financial instruments. Too little capital is supporting the transition to green and resource efficient economy – major portion of current investments is still in high-carbon and resource-intensive, polluting economies. Polluter pay principle and environmental externalities are not yet fully integrated into pricing mechanisms and investment models. The availability of innovative financing mechanisms and integrated evaluation methods are important for upscaling and replicating resource-efficient practices. For example, the large-scale promotion of biogas plants in Viet Nam was made possible by harnessing global climate finance funds. Several countries in the region area are already emerging as leaders in the development of comprehensive, systemic approaches that embed sustainable finance at the heart of financial market development, such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and we should draw from the positive lessons learned from these experiences.

Resource efficiency and pollution prevention must be recognized as an important target for action by science, technological and innovation systems. This is important for the ongoing development of technology, and for scaling up technologies. Research shows that developing countries could cut their annual energy demand by more than half, from 3.4 percent to 1.4 percent, over the next 12 years. This would leave energy consumption some 22 percent lower than it would otherwise have been – an abatement equivalent to the entire energy consumption in China today.

We need to move to a more resource efficient and pollution free growth path that supports and promotes healthy environments. The cost of inaction for managing resources efficiently and preventing pollution is too high and a threat to economies, livelihoods and health across the region.

The post Towards a Resource Efficient and Pollution Free Asia-Pacific appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Shamshad Akhtar, is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Erik Solheim, is Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

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US Lags Far Behind in Banning Dental Health Hazardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2017 05:16:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151496 The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry. The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced […]

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The United States is refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry

Example of mercury use in the healthcare sector. From left to right: Mercury Sphygmomanometer, Dental Amalgam and a Fever Thermometer. Credit: UNDP

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry.

The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced its decision to ban amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. The ban comes into effect July 2018.

“In sharp contrast, the U.S. government has done nothing to protect these vulnerable populations from exposure to amalgam’s mercury,” says a petition filed by Consumers for Dental Choice (CDC), which has been vigorously campaigning for mercury-free dentistry, since its founding back in 1996.

In Norway and Sweden, dental amalgam is no longer in use, while it is being phased out in Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. In Mauritius and EU nations, it is banned from use on children. Denmark uses dental amalgam for only 5% of restorations and Germany for 10% of restorations.

In Bangladesh, it is to be phased out in 2018, and in India, there is a dental school requirement of eliminating amalgam in favour of alternatives.

In Nigeria, the government has printed and distributed consumer-information brochures while the government of Canada has recommended that all dentists stop its use in children and pregnant women — and those with kidney disorders.

Dental amalgam has been described as a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. And it is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper.

In its petition, addressed to the FDA Commissioner, CDC says the United States – the only developed nation with no warnings or restrictions on the use of dental amalgam in children – is the outlier.

“Why are other countries protecting their children while the FDA lets American children be exposed to dental mercury? In order to catch up with other developed nations, the Commissioner must amend FDA’s mercury amalgam rule,” says the lengthy petition replete with facts and figures—and worthy of a research project.

The petition presents its case citing several sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-Identified Health Risks and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

According to the Wall Street Journal last week, FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb, in a sweeping regulatory overhaul of Big Tobacco, has cracked down on tobacco companies, demanding that all cigarettes should have such low levels of nicotine so they no longer are considered addictive.

But dental mercury apparently continues to get a free pass.

Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice, told IPS that with all the modern mercury-free dental fillings available today, it is inexcusable that FDA remains the world’s chief defender of implanting neurotoxic mercury in children’s mouths – mere centimeters from their developing brains.”

It’s time for FDA to catch up to the European Union and ban amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers,” he added.

Michael Bender, Director, Mercury Policy Project in Vermont, USA, told IPS: “During negotiations, the U.S. stated position was ‘to achieve the phase down, with the goal, the eventual phase out’ of dental amalgam. FDA should stop acting like a rogue agency and follow the US position.”

In its petition, CDC urges the Commissioner to take three key measures to stop amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers:

Firstly, issue a safety communication warning dentists, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Secondly, require manufacturers to distribute patient-labeling that includes warnings against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Thirdly, develop and implement a public information campaign (including FDA’s website, social media, press releases, and a press conference) to warn dentists, dental associations, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

The petition also says the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury requires nations to “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

The U.S. government signed and accepted the Minamata Convention on 6 November 2013. FDA’s official support for “change towards use of dental amalgam” and its rejection of “any change away from use of dental amalgam” in its 2009 dental amalgam rule is contrary to the Minamata Convention’s requirement that parties “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

FDA’s push for phasing up amalgam use has raised major concerns in the international community, says the petition.

The Convention enters into force – and becomes legally binding– on 16 August. On 18 May the 50th nation ratified, and with that threshold reached, the Convention enters into force in 90 days– namely, 16 August. Jamaica was the 71st nation to ratify the convention last week.

Asked for an FDA response, Stephanie Caccomo, Press Officer, Office of Media Affairs & Office of External Affairs, told IPS the FDA has neither promoted the use of dental amalgams nor supported an increase in their use.

FDA serves as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lead representative to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and takes very seriously the Convention’s objective of protecting human health from the possible adverse health effects of mercury exposure, she added.

“The U.S. actively supported the Convention throughout its development and the FDA continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of State on how the United States will implement the treaty obligations.”

She pointed out that the U.S. government is committed to complying with the Convention by taking at least two of the nine specific measures set forth in Part II of Annex A of the Convention with respect to dental amalgam.

Elaborating further, she said in an email message, that dental amalgam contains elemental mercury. It releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys.

“FDA has reviewed the best available scientific evidence to determine whether the low levels of mercury vapor associated with dental amalgam fillings are a cause for concern. Based on this evidence, FDA considers dental amalgam fillings safe for adults and children ages 6 and above.”

The weight of credible scientific evidence reviewed by FDA does not establish an association between dental amalgam use and adverse health effects in the general population. Clinical studies in adults and children ages 6 and above have found no link between dental amalgam fillings and health problems, she noted.

“The developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapor. Very limited to no clinical data is available regarding long-term health outcomes in pregnant women and their developing fetuses, and children under the age of six, including infants who are breastfed. Pregnant women and parents with children under six who are concerned about the absence of clinical data as to long-term health outcomes should talk to their dentist.”

However, the estimated amount of mercury in breast milk attributable to dental amalgam is low and falls well below general levels for oral intake that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe, she added.

“Despite the limited clinical information, FDA concludes that the existing risk information supports a finding that infants are not at risk for adverse health effects from the mercury in breast milk of women exposed to mercury vapor from dental amalgam.”

Some individuals have an allergy or sensitivity to mercury or the other components of dental amalgam (such as silver, copper, or tin). Dental amalgam might cause these individuals to develop oral lesions or other contact reactions.

“If you are allergic to any of the metals in dental amalgam, you should not get amalgam fillings. You can discuss other treatment options with your dentist,” she advised.

To the extent there are any potential risks to health generally associated with the use of dental amalgam, FDA issued a final rule and related guidance document establishing special regulatory controls to mitigate any such risks.

“Moreover, while FDA does not believe additional action is warranted at this time, FDA continues to evaluate the literature on dental amalgam and any other new information it receives in light of the 2010 advisory panel recommendations and will take further action on dental amalgam as warranted,” Caccomo added.

Asked for a response to the FDA statement, Charlie Brown said: “Consumers for Dental Choice’s petition demands that FDA carry out its duty to provide American children the same protection from amalgam’s mercury that the European Union does over there.”

He pointed out that FDA admits repeatedly that no evidence exist that amalgam’s mercury is safe for young children, yet FDA will not stop being the world’s most stubborn defender of implanting mercury into children’s mouths (and bodies).

“FDA must now fish or cut bait. With our petition in its lap, FDA must choose between, on the one hand, doing its duty as a federal agency, and, on the other hand, keeping in place its four-decade-long program of putting profits for pro-mercury dentists ahead of lives of American children,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Consumers for Dental Choice says its campaign goal for Mercury-Free Dentistry is to phase out the use of amalgam, a 50% mercury product — worldwide. The recently concluded draft mercury treaty requires each signing nation to phase down its use of amalgam, and it provides a road map how.

“We aim to: educate consumers about the use of mercury in dentistry so they can make informed decisions; stop dental mercury pollution; protect consumers – especially vulnerable populations such as children and the unborn – from exposure to dental mercury; empower dental workers – dental assistants and hygienists – to protect themselves from mercury in the workplace; and promote access to mercury-free alternatives to amalgam.

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To Achieve Ambitious Goals – We Need to Start with our Basic Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:16:40 +0000 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151434 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

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By Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin
NEW YORK, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Recent protests in Ethiopia have seen people demonstrate in their thousands, angry at their authoritarian government, its favouritism towards those close to the ruling elite, and its failure to share the country’s wealth more equally.

The response of the state, in a country where dissent is simply not tolerated, has been predictably brutal: at the height of protests last year hundreds of people were killed, and a staggering estimated 24,000 were arrested, many of whom remain in detention today.

Perhaps not many of those marching in Ethiopia were aware of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies with provisions to protect civic freedoms, ensure equal access to justice and uphold the rule of law.

Clearly, in countries like Ethiopia, the current reality falls a long way short of these basic standards: if people felt that the government was listening to them and they could take part in making the decisions that affect their lives, they wouldn’t have protested in such large numbers.

If fundamental freedoms were upheld, including the essential civil society rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression, then people wouldn’t have been met with mass killings and detentions. It is no surprise that on the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online platform that assesses the space for civil society – civic space – in every country of the world, Ethiopia is rated in the worst category, as having an entirely closed civic space.

It’s a matter of disappointment for civil society that progress on Goal 16 was not one of the goals reviewed by the governance body of the global goals at last week´s High Level Political Forum, which convened all UN member states and leaders from across sectors to review goal progress. A common concern amongst the 2,5000 civil society representatives that attended the global forum is that without progress on Goal 16, all the other goals cannot be achieved. And Goal 16 can only be realised if the role of civil society is respected and civic freedoms are protected.

On this score, two years into the Sustainable Development Goals, the early signs are worrying. Of the 44 countries whose progress was checked, four of them – Azerbaijan, Belarus and Iran, alongside Ethiopia – have entirely closed civic space, according to CIVICUS Monitor ratings. A further 18 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and from Brazil to Thailand – are rated as also having serious civic space restrictions. Only ten countries are assessed as having entirely open civic space.

The fact that there are worrying levels of restrictions placed on civil society in over three quarters of the countries up for review in New York indicates that civil society’s ability to realise Goal 16 is being hampered, and potential for SDG progress is being lost.

The SDGs must go further than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which enabled governments to receive praise for making advances on a narrow set of indicators even while they were cracking down on fundamental freedoms: Ethiopia, for example, was rated highly for its MDG performance, alongside other countries where civic space is heavily restricted. It must be remembered that the promise of the SDGs is to be much more ambitious than the MDGs, and to advance social justice and human rights.

The ambition of the SDGs calls for everyone – governments, businesses and civil society – to play their part; the agenda is too big for any one sector to deliver on its own. But when civil society is being constrained – including widespread restrictions on the ability of civil society organisations (CSOs) to receive funds and organise the masses – then its capacity to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals at the community level is severally limited.

Goal 16 must be on the agenda whenever countries meet to evaluate progress on the SDGs. As of now it is only scheduled to be reviewed in 2019. The key test for Goal 16, for Ethiopia’s citizens, and the many other countries with restricted civic space, is if people are able to freely express their opinions, protest in peace and promote the interests of their communities without fear of persecution. On these measures, the Sustainable Development Goals still have a long way to go.

The post To Achieve Ambitious Goals – We Need to Start with our Basic Rights appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

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We Have to Reclaim the Public Policy Space for SDGshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/reclaim-public-policy-space-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reclaim-public-policy-space-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/reclaim-public-policy-space-sdgs/#respond Thu, 13 Jul 2017 14:28:36 +0000 Jens Martens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151286 Jens Martens is Executive Director of Global Policy Forum and coordinates the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

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New report states that various forms of privatization and corporate capture have become obstacles to implement the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs

Open drains in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakotondravony/IPS

By Jens Martens
BONN, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

At the High-Level Political Forum which currently takes place at the United Nations in New York several events, for instance a SDG Business Forum, are devoted to the critical role of business and public-private partnerships (PPPs) in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

New report states that various forms of privatization and corporate capture have become obstacles to implement the 2030 Agenda and its SDGsBut many civil society organizations and trade unions warn in their joint report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2017 that the various forms of privatization and corporate capture have become obstacles to implement the 2030 Agenda and its goals.

Weakening the State: A vicious circle

The trend towards partnerships with the private sector is based on a number of assumptions, not least the belief that global problems are too big and the public sector is too weak to solve them alone.

But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?

In fact, the lack of capacity and financial resources is not an inevitable phenomenon but has been caused by deliberate political decisions. To give just one example, over the past three decades corporate income tax rates have declined in both countries of the global North and South by 15 to 20 percent. Hundreds of billions of US dollars are lost every year through corporate tax incentives and various forms of tax avoidance.

Through their business-friendly fiscal policies and the lack of effective global tax cooperation, governments have weakened their revenue base substantially. This has been driven not least by corporate lobbying.

A recent analysis by Oxfam America estimates that between 2009 and 2015, the USA’s 50 largest companies spent approximately US$ 2.5 billion on lobbying, with approximately US$ 352 million lobbying on tax issues. In the same period, they received over US$ 423 billion in tax breaks.

What we see is a vicious circle of weakening the State: the combination of neoliberal ideology, corporate lobbying, business-friendly fiscal policies, tax avoidance and tax evasion has led to the massive weakening of the public sector and its ability to provide essential goods and services.

These failures have been used by the proponents of privatization and PPPs to present the private sector as the better alternative and to demand its further strengthening. This in turn further weakened the public sector – and so on….

In parallel, the same corporate strategies and fiscal and regulatory policies that led to the weakening of the public sector enabled an unprecedented accumulation of individual wealth and increasing market concentration, often at the expense of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Concentrated power

According to various statistics of the largest national economies, transnational corporations, banks and asset management firms, among the 50 largest global economic entities are more private corporations than countries. The assets under management by the world’s largest asset management company BlackRock are US$ 5.12 trillion (end of 2016), thus higher than the GDP of Japan or Germany.

Large institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies are also the drivers of a new generation of PPPs in infrastructure, forcing governments to offer ‘bankable’ projects that meet the needs of these investors rather than the needs of the affected population.

Particularly alarming for the implementation of SDG 2 on food security and sustainable agriculture are the announced mega-mergers in the food and agriculture sector, especially the acquisition of Syngenta by China National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina), the merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont and the takeover of Monsanto by Bayer.

If all of these mergers are allowed, the new corporate giants will together control at least 60 percent of global commercial seed sales and 71 percent of global pesticide sales.

Devastating impacts

The Spotlight Report 2017 clearly shows, that privatization, PPPs and the rise of corporate power affect all areas and goals of the 2030 Agenda. One example is the mushrooming of private, fee-charging, profit-making schools in Africa and Asia.

Detrimental corporate influence occurs in the energy sector with the still dominant role of coal and fossil fuel industries, undermining effective measures against climate change and the transformation towards sustainable energy systems.

But why is it apparently a matter of fact that the public sector is too weak to meet the challenges of the 2030 Agenda? Why are public coffers empty?
Studies by scholars, CSOs and trade unions like Public Services International (PSI) have shown that the privatization of public infrastructure and services and various forms of PPPs involve disproportionate risks for the affected people and costs for the public sector. They can even exacerbate inequalities, decrease equitable access to essential services, and thus jeopardize the fulfilment of human rights, particularly the rights of women.

Counter-movements and breaking ranks

Responding to the experiences and testimonies from the ground about the devastating impacts of privatization and PPPs, counter-movements emerged in many parts of the world. Over the past 15 years there has been a significant rise in the number of communities that have taken privatized services back into public hands – a phenomenon called “remunicipalization”. Remunicipalization refers particularly to the return of water supply and sanitation services to public service delivery. Between March 2000 and March 2015 researchers documented 235 cases of water remunicipalization in 37 countries, affecting more than 100 million people.

Furthermore, some pioneering companies are already on the path towards – at least environmentally – sustainable development solutions, for instance in the area of renewable energies.

The private sector is in no way a monolithic bloc. Firms in the social and solidarity economy, social impact investors and small and medium-sized businesses are already making a positive difference, challenging the proponents of global techno-fix solutions and the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel lobby.

Even the firm opposition to international corporate regulation in the field of business and human rights by those pretending to represent business interests is showing cracks. A survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit revealed that 20 percent of business representatives who responded to the survey said that a binding international treaty would help them with their responsibilities to respect human rights.

What has to be done?

To be sure, the business sector certainly has an important role to play in the implementation process of the 2030 Agenda, as sustainable development will require large-scale changes in business practices.

However, acknowledging corporations’ role should not mean promoting the accumulation of wealth and economic power, giving them undue influence on policy-making and ignoring their responsibility in creating and exacerbating many of the problems that the 2030 Agenda is supposed to tackle.

Instead of further promoting the misleading discourse of ‘multi-stakeholderism’ and partnerships between inherently unequal partners a fundamental change of course is necessary. In order to achieve the SDGs and to turn the vision of the transformation of our world, as proclaimed in the title of the 2030 Agenda, into reality, we have to reclaim the public policy space.

Governments should strengthen public finance at all levels, fundamentally rethink their approach towards trade and investment liberalization, reconsider PPPs, create binding rules on business and human rights, take effective measures to dismantle corporate power and prevent the further existence of corporate ‘too big to fail’ entities.

The post We Have to Reclaim the Public Policy Space for SDGs appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Jens Martens is Executive Director of Global Policy Forum and coordinates the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

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Positive Signs as Asia-pacific Moves Towards Global Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/positive-signs-as-asia-pacific-moves-towards-global-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=positive-signs-as-asia-pacific-moves-towards-global-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/positive-signs-as-asia-pacific-moves-towards-global-development-goals/#comments Fri, 31 Mar 2017 16:13:01 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149735 Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

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Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

By Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Thailand, Mar 31 2017 (IPS)

With just over a year since the adoption of a historic blueprint to end poverty and protect the planet, positive signs have already started to emerge among countries in the Asia-Pacific region as they push ahead with the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Shamshad Akhtar

Shamshad Akhtar

It is encouraging to note that most countries in the region have made serious attempts to domesticate the landmark global action-plan by developing national sustainable development strategies– a first and crucial step if we are to fully realize the ambitious targets set out in the landmark agreement.

Steady economic growth over the past year has seen a decline in poverty and an improvement in the quality of life. A bright spot worth highlighting is the progress on gender equality. Gender parity has been achieved in primary education, and maternal mortality rates have been brought down across the region with the exception of certain pockets. For example, maternal mortality dropped by 64 per cent in South Asia from 1990 to 2015 and by 57 per cent in the Pacific over the same period.

Notwithstanding these incremental gains, a number of outstanding challenges remain which if not effectively addressed may scuttle our collective efforts.

A joint study undertaken by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) reveals that some 400 million people in Asia and the Pacific continue to live in extreme income poverty and more than one in four people experience poverty in multiple dimensions that impact their health, education, and standard of living. South Asia is the worst affected with 15 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty, and 86 per cent residing in rural areas where income diversification opportunities are limited and challenges of poor natural resource management persist. Of equal concern is the rise in income inequality within countries. The challenge is to ensure that prosperity is felt by all, and not just a fortunate few.

With 12 per cent of the population, or 490 million people, still undernourished in our region, ending hunger and poverty will heavily depend on introducing sustainable food production systems and more resilient agricultural practices. Despite reductions in infant mortality rates, children in low income countries are still nearly nine times more likely to die before reaching the age of one than those in high income countries.

Enhancing the health of citizens will also require expansion of coverage of health services in many countries. This means increasing government spending on health, as per capita government spending is as low as $4 per person in low income economies of our region.

Despite progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment made in Asia and the Pacific on several fronts, significant gaps still remain. Women continue to be paid less and are more likely to find themselves in vulnerable employment with low wages, no formal contracts or labour rights and minimal social protection. In 2015, the gender pay gap in the region as a whole reached an astounding 20 per cent.

As a whole, the region has also experienced declining biodiversity levels – a major source of distress for Pacific island economies – where the value of fish caught in the territorial waters of some small island developing States is worth up to three times their GDP. Future risks to ocean resources are further underscored by the fact that 40 per cent of our oceans are heavily affected by unsustainable practices.

Finally, the Asia-Pacific region faces a high infrastructure deficit. At the same time, demand pressures will grow as the urban population will swell by 50 million each year, aggravating congestion, air pollution and waste management.

Needless to say, these challenges must be urgently addressed. Strong continued leadership, knowledge sharing and UN system collaboration, are pivotal tools that will move us all closer to realizing the aspirations set out by the 2030 Agenda. The dynamism and development track record of our region lends us hope that we can achieve balanced economic, social and environmental development by pursuing the right blend of rebalancing to revive domestic and regional demand.

ESCAP remains committed to strengthening the capacity of countries, so that they can embrace integrated strategies to confront the multidimensional facets of poverty, and promote the opportunity for prosperity for all.

This week ESCAP held the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD 2017) in Bangkok from 28-31 March, which brought together senior representatives from across the region to define a road map that will support member States’ implementation of the 2030 Agenda over the next 15 years.

We are all working to come up with concrete measures that will enhance the region’s achievement of the SDGs to deal with multidimensional poverty, which when considered raises the level of the vulnerable population in Asia and the Pacific region to 900 million. Forums like these are key to marshalling the international support required to achieve this ambitious agenda. Progressing the SDGs in Asia and the Pacific is central to achieving the global 2030 Agenda. We have the opportunity for action now.

The post Positive Signs as Asia-pacific Moves Towards Global Development Goals appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

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No Medals for Sanitation at Rio Olympicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:24:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146273 The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons. The opportunity to give a decisive push to the clean up of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara bay […]

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Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 27 2016 (IPS)

The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons.

The opportunity to give a decisive push to the clean up of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara bay and its lagoons has been lost. The drive against waterborne pollution was part of the proposal which won the city the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This failure may hardly register in the awareness of residents and visitors, given the higher visibility of the urban transport projects and the revitalisation of Rio’s central district.

What happened confirms the national tradition of giving sanitation low priority on the government agenda. So far only half the Brazilian population has access to piped water, and only a small proportion of transported water is treated.

“The environment pays no taxes and neither does it vote, therefore it does not command the attention of our political leaders nor of society as a whole,” complained biologist Mario Moscatelli, a well known water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Park, which is at the heart of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, was built on the west side of the city on the shores of Jacarepaguá lagoon, yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated. Filthy water from rivers and streams continues to flow into it all the time, Moscatelli told IPS.

Most of the foreign Olympic athletes and spectators from abroad will arrive in Rio at Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport, also known as Galeão. Planes touch down here on the edge of one of the most polluted parts of Guanabara bay, although visitors may not realise it.

The airport , on the western tip of Ilha do Governador (Governador Island), which was home to 212,754 people in 2010 according to the official census, is close to canals  taking untreated effluent and rubbish from millions of people living on the mainland, brought by rivers that are little more than open sewers.

Fundão canal can be glimpsed from the southbound highway towards the city centre. It is full of raw sewage and bad smells in spite of recent dredging, because it is still connected to the polluted Cunha canal.

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Five rivers converge in the Cunha canal after crossing densely populated areas including several “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial zones.

North of Galeao airport, the fishing village of Tubiacanga illustrates the ecological disaster in Guanabara bay, which has a surface area of 412 square kilometres and stretches from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu (Niterói) in the east.

At the narrowest point in the channel between Ilha do Governador and the adjacent mainland city of Duque de Caxias, “there used to be a depth of seven or eight metres; but now at low tide you can walk along with the water only chest-high,” 66-year-old Souza, who has lived in Tubiacanga for two-thirds of his life, told IPS.

Landfills, silting by rivers and rubbish tipping have all reduced the depth of the bay, he said.

“Tubiacanga is at a meeting point of dirty water from tides rising at the bay entrance, from several canals including Fundão, and from rivers. Sediments and rubbish pile up in front of our village,” where the white sandy beach has become a quagmire and rubbish dump over the past few decades, Souza complained.

Guanabara bay receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and 18,000 litres per second of untreated waste water, mainly via the 55 rivers and canals that flow into it, according to Sergio Ricardo de Lima, an ecologist and founder of the Bahia Viva (Living Bay) movement.

Rio’s Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80 percent of the effluents reaching the bay. The actual proportion achieved was 55 percent, Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said at a press conference with foreign journalists on July 7.

“I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers,” said Moscatelli, voicing the scepticism of environmentalists.

The 80 percent target was not realistic; completely decontaminating the bay would require 25 to 30 years and sanitation investments equivalent to six billion dollars, André Correa, environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, admitted on July 20 at the inauguration of an “eco barrier” on the river Merití, one of the polluting waterways.

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The barriers are floating interconnected booms that are an emergency measure to ensure that aquatic Olympic sports can take place in some parts in the bay. Trash scooping vessels or “eco boats”  collect the floating debris that accumulates against them and send it for recycling.

Seventeen eco barriers have been promised, but these will be woefully inadequate, and in any case they should be anchored where floating garbage is most concentrated, like Tubiacanga, not close to the Guanabara bay entrance where water sports will be held, Lima complained.

The barrier in the Merití river is suitably placed, in Lima’s view, but it is “palliative action only.” The real solution is to promote selective garbage collection at source, that is, in households, shops and industries, and recycle as much solid waste as possible, as stipulated by a 2010 law.

“At present only one percent of the garbage produced in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region (which has a population of 12 million) is recycled,” Lima said.

Cleaning up Guanabara bay is a longstanding ambition. It was the goal of a project begun in 1995 that has already cost the equivalent of three billion dollars at the current exchange rate, but that has not prevented environmental deterioration of local beaches and water resources.

Eight wastewater treatment stations were built or expanded to improve water quality. However, they have always operated well below capacity, because the main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the treatment stations have never been built, according to Lima.

Pollution of the bay is exacerbated by oil spills. There is a refinery and petrochemical hub on the banks of the lagoon in Duque de Caxias; in addition, all along the Tubiacanga waterfront the bay is increasingly crisscrossed by pipes carrying crude oil, refinery subproducts and natural gas.

The effects of a large oil spill in January 2000 are still felt today. It had a direct impact on Tubiacanga and on the fish catch.

“We fisherfolk are the ones who suffer most from the consequences of pollution, and who best know the bay; but we are not listened to, we are penned in and threatened with extinction,” said Souza dos Santos, who is encouraging his four sons to take up trades other than fishing.

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Forests and Crops Make Friendly Neighbors in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-and-crops-grow-hand-by-hand-in-costa-rica/#respond Tue, 26 Jul 2016 18:55:58 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146239 While Latin America keeps expanding its agricultural frontier by converting large areas of forest, one country, Costa Rica, has taken a different path and is now a role model for a peaceful coexistence between food production and sustainable forestry. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests revealed […]

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Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

Tapantí National Park lies east from the capital San José covering more than 50.000 hectares of forest, which in turn provides valuable watershed protection. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

While Latin America keeps expanding its agricultural frontier by converting large areas of forest, one country, Costa Rica, has taken a different path and is now a role model for a peaceful coexistence between food production and sustainable forestry.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests revealed that commercial agriculture was responsible for 70 percent of forest conversion in Latin America between 2000 and 2010.

“What FAO mentions about the rest of Latin America, clearing forests for agriculture or livestock, happened in Costa Rica during the 1970s and 1980s,” Jorge Mario Rodríguez, the director of Costa Rica’s National Fund for Forestry Finance (Fonafifo), told IPS.“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness" -- Octavio Ramírez.

At its worst moment, during the 1980s, Costa Rica’s forest cover was limited to 21 to 25 percent of its land area. Now, forests account for 53 percent of the country’s 51,000 square kilometers, with almost five million inhabitants.

The country has managed to hold and even push back the advance of the agricultural frontier while strengthening its food security, according to FAO, which says that Costa Rica’s malnutrition rate is under 5 percent, something the organisation accounts as “zero hunger”.

“Here’s a learned lesson: there’s no need to chop down forests to produce more crops,” FAO Costa Rica director Octavio Ramírez told IPS.

Despite the increase in forest cover, FAO states the average value of food production per person increased by 26 percent in the period 1990–1992 to 2011–2013.

FAO attributes this change “to structural changes in the economy and the priority given to forest conservation and sustainable management” which were seized upon by Costa Rican authorities in a specific context.

“It has to do with the livestock crisis during the 1980s but also the priority given by Costa Rica to forest management,” said Ramírez, born in Nicaragua but Costa Rican by naturalisation.

In The State of the World’s Forests report, launched on July 18, FAO explains that Costa Rican forests were regarded as “land banks” that could be converted as necessary to meet agricultural needs.

“To keep the forest intact was looked upon as a synonym of laziness and unwillingness to work,” Ramírez explained.

But there were two key elements during the 1980s that led to better forest protection, the environmental economist Juan Robalino told IPS.

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

José Alberto Chacón weeds between bean plants on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano, in Costa Rica. The terraces help control water run-off that would otherwise cause soil erosion. Picture: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Meat prices plummeted while eco-tourism became a leading economic activity in the country, explained the specialist from Universidad de Costa Rica and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center.

“This paved the way for very interesting policy-making, like the creation of the Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program,” said Robalino, one of the top experts in Costa Rican forest cover.

FAO states that a big part of Costa Rica’s success comes from PES, a financial incentive that acknowledges those ecosystem services resulting from forest conservation and management, reforestation, natural regeneration and agroforestry systems.

The program, established in 1997 and ran by Fonafifo, has a simple logic at its core: the Costa Rican state pays landowners who protect forest cover as they provide an ecosystem service.

From its launch until 2015, a total of 318 million dollars were invested in forest-related PES projects.  64 percent of the funding came from fossil fuel tax, 22 percent from World Bank credits and the remainder from other sources.

After studying PES impacts for years, Robalino explains the challenge for 2016 is to look for landowners with less incentives to protect their forests and bring them on board with the financial argument.

“The goal is to always look for those who’ll change their behavior because of the program,” Robalino stated.

Because of budget limitations, the program must decide which properties to work with, as applications exceed its capacity fivefold, according to Fonafifo director Rodríguez.

Priorities for PES funding include ecosystem services like watershed protection, carbon capture, scenic beauty and biodiversity conservation.

“Costa Rica learned that forests are worth more for their environmental services than because of their timber,” Rodríguez pointed out.

Fonafifo is now looking for new partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to launch a new program focused on small landowners who require more technical support, a road also favoured by FAO.

“Agricultural development doesn’t necessarily require the expansion of croplands; rather, it demands the coexistence with the forest and the intensification of production by improving national farmers’ productivity and competitiveness,” said Ramírez, FAO’s local representative.

Both FAO and local experts interviewed by IPS agreed that PES seized upon a national and international crossroads to launch a program that despite its success, is not the only cause for Costa Rica’s recovery.

“Costa Rica’s success cannot be exclusively attributed to PES since other policies, like the creation of the National Protected Areas System and its education system, also played a major role,” Rodríguez explained.

Beyond this program, the country has a longstanding environmental tradition: close to a quarter of its territory is under some type of protection, the forestry law bans forest conversion, and sports hunting, open-air metallic mining and oil exploitation are all illegal.

The country’s Constitution declares citizens’ right to a healthy environment in its article 50.

“I remember my school teacher telling us students that we had to protect the forest,” Robalino recalled.

However, Costa Rica’s forest recovery didn’t reach all ecosystems in the country and left mangroves behind. Their area has diminished in the past decades.

According to the country’s 2014 report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, mangrove coverage fell from 64.452 hectares in 1979 to 37.420 hectares in 2013, a 42 percent loss.

This ecosystem is particularly vulnerable to large monoculture plantations on the Pacific coast, where the local Environmental Administrative Tribunal denounced the disappearance of 400 hectares between 2010 and 2014, due to human-induced fire, logging and invasion.

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Germany’s Energy Transition: The Good, the Bad and the Uglyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/germanys-energy-transition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:19:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146128 Immerath, 90 km away from the German city of Cologne, has become a ghost town. The local church bells no longer ring and no children are seen in the streets riding their bicycles. Its former residents have even carried off their dead from its cemetery. Expansion of Garzweiler, an open-pit lignite mine, has led to […]

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In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Germany, wind and solar energy coexist with energy generated by burning fossil fuels. A wind farm next to one of the electric power plants fired by lignite in the Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
COLOGNE, Germany, Jul 19 2016 (IPS)

Immerath, 90 km away from the German city of Cologne, has become a ghost town. The local church bells no longer ring and no children are seen in the streets riding their bicycles. Its former residents have even carried off their dead from its cemetery.

Expansion of Garzweiler, an open-pit lignite mine, has led to the town’s remaining residents being relocated to New Immerath, several kilometres away from the original town site, in North Rhine-Westphalia, whose biggest city is Cologne.

The fate of this small village, which in 2015 was home to 70 people, reflects the advances, retreats and contradictions of the world-renowned transition to renewable energy in Germany.

Since 2011, Germany has implemented a comprehensive energy transition policy, backed by a broad political consensus, seeking to make steps towards a low-carbon economy. This has encouraged the generation and consumption of alternative energy sources.

But so far these policies have not facilitated the release from the country’s industry based on coal and lignite, a highly polluting fossil fuel.

“The initial phases of the energy transition have been successful so far, with strong growth in renewables, broad public support for the idea of the transition and major medium and long term goals for government,” told IPS analyst Sascha Samadi of the non-governmental Wuppertal Institute, devoted to studies on energy transformation.

Renewable electricity generation accounted for 30 percent of the total of Germany’s electrical power in 2015, while lignite fuelled 24 percent, coal 18 percent, nuclear energy 14 percent, gas 8.8 percent and other sources the rest.

This European country is the third world power in renewable energies – excluding hydropower – and holds third place in wind power and biodiesel and fifth place in geothermal power.

Germany is also renowned for having the highest solar power capacity per capita in photovoltaic technology, even though its climate is not the most suitable for that purpose.

But the persistence of fossil fuels casts a shadow on this green energy matrix.

“The successful phasing out of fossil fuels entails a great deal of planning and organisation. If we do not promote renewables, we will have to import energy at some point,” Johannes Remmel, the minister for climate protection and the environment for North Rhine-Westphalia, told IPS.

Germany has nine lignite mines operating in three regions. Combined, the mines employ 16,000 people, produce 170 million tonnes of lignite a year and have combined reserves of three billion tonnes. China, Greece and Poland are other large world producers of lignite.

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A part of the Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine, in North Rhine-Westphalia. One of the greatest challenges facing the energy transition in Germany is the future of this polluting fuel. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Garzweiler, which is owned by the private company RWE, produces 35 million tonnes of lignite a year. From a distance it is possible to see its cut-out terraces and blackened soil, waiting for giant steel jaws to devour it and start to separate the lignite.

Lignite from this mine fuels nearby electricity generators at Frimmersdorf, Neurath, Niederaussen and Weisweiller, some of the most polluting power plants in Germany.

RWE is one of the four main power generation companies in Germany, together with E.ON, EnBW and Swedish-based Vattenfall.

Coal has an expiry date

The fate of coal is different. The government has already decided that its demise will be in 2018, when the two mines that are still currently active will cease to operate.

The Rhine watershed, comprising North Rhine-Westphalia together with other states, has traditionally been the hub of Germany’s industry. Mining and its consumers are an aftermath of that world, whose rattling is interspersed with the emergence of a decarbonized economy.

A tour of the mine and the adjoining power plant of  Ibberbüren in North Rhine-Westphalia shows the struggle between two models that still coexist.

In the mine compound, underground mouths splutter the coal that feeds the hungry plant at a pace of 157 kilowatt-hour per tonne.

In 2015 the mine produced 6.2 million tonnes of extracted coal, an amount projected to be reduced to 3.6 million tonnes this year and next, and to further drop to 2.9 million in 2018.

The mine employs 1,600 people and has a 300,000 tonne inventory which needs to be sold by 2018.

“I am a miner, and I am very much attached to my job. I speak on behalf of my co-workers. It is hard to close it down. There is a feeling of sadness, we are attending our own funeral”, told IPS the manager of the mine operator, Hubert Hüls.

Before the energy transition policy was in place, laws that promoted renewable energies had been passed in 1991 and 2000, with measures such as a special royalty fee included in electricity tariffs paid to generators that are fuelled by renewable energy sources.

The renewable energy sector invests some 20 billion dollars yearly and employs around 370.000 people.

Another measure, adopted in 2015 by the government in Berlin, sets out an auction plan for the purchase of photovoltaic solar power, but opponents have argued that large generation companies are being favoured over small ones as the successful bidder will be the one offering the lowest price.

Energy transition and climate change

Energy transition also seeks to meet Germany’s global warming mitigation commitments.

Germany has undertaken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent in 2020 and by 95 per cent in 2015. Moreover, it has set itself the goal of increasing the share of renewable energies in the end-use power market from the current figure of 12 per cent to 60 per cent in 2050.

In the second half of the year, the German government will analyse the drafting of the 2050 Climate Action Plan, which envisages actions towards reducing by half the amount of emissions from the power sector and a fossil fuel phase-out programme.

In 2014, Germany reduced its emissions by 346 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 27.7 per cent of the 1990 total. However, the German Federal Agency for Environment warned that in 2015 emissions went up by six million tonnes, amounting to 0.7 per cent, reaching a total of 908 million tonnes.

Polluting gases are derived mainly from the generation and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

In 2019, the government will review the current incentives for the development of renewable energies and will seek to make adjustments aimed at fostering the sector.

Meanwhile, Germany’s last three nuclear power plants will cease operation in 2022. However, Garzweiler mine will continue to operate until 2045.

“There are technological, infrastructure, investment, political, social and innovation challenges to overcome. Recent decisions taken by the government are indicative of a lack of political will to undertake the tough decisions that are required for deep decarbonisation”, pointed out Samadi.

Companies “now try to mitigate the damage and leave the search for solutions in the hands of the (central) government. There will be fierce debate over how to expand renewable energies. The process may be slowed but not halted”, pointed out academic Heinz-J Bontrup, of the state University of Applied Sciences Gelsenkirchen.

Meanwhile, the regional government has opted to reduce the Garzweiler mine extension plan, leaving 400 million tonnes of lignite underground.

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Indigenous Villages in Honduras Overcome Hunger at Schoolshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools/#respond Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:14:53 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146074 Barely 11 years old and in the sixth grade of primary school, this student dreams of becoming a farmer in order to produce food so that the children in his community never have to go hungry. Josué Orlando Torres of the indigenous Lenca people lives in a remote corner of the west of Honduras. He […]

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Students at the “República de Venezuela” School in the indigenous Lenca village of Coloaca in western Honduras, where they have a vegetable garden to grow produce and at the same time learn about the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students at the “República de Venezuela” School in the indigenous Lenca village of Coloaca in western Honduras, where they have a vegetable garden to grow produce and at the same time learn about the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
COALACA, Honduras, Jul 15 2016 (IPS)

Barely 11 years old and in the sixth grade of primary school, this student dreams of becoming a farmer in order to produce food so that the children in his community never have to go hungry. Josué Orlando Torres of the indigenous Lenca people lives in a remote corner of the west of Honduras.

He is part of a success story in this village of Coalaca, population 750, in the municipality of Las Flores in the department (province) of Lempira.

Five years ago a Sustainable School Feeding Programme (PAES) was launched in this area. It has improved local children’s nutritional status and enjoys plenty of local, governmental and international participation.

Torres is proud of his school, named for the Republic of Venezuela, where 107 students are supported by their three teachers in their work in a “teaching vegetable garden”. They grow peas and beans, fruit and vegetables that are used daily in their school meals.

Torres told IPS that he did not used to like green vegetables, but now “I’ve started to like them, and I love the fresh salads and green juices.”

Josué Orlando Torres, an 11-year-old student, dreams of becoming a farmer to ensure that children like himself have access to free high-quality food at this school in the indigenous community of Coloaca, where a sustainable school programme is beginning to overcome chronic malnutrition. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Josué Orlando Torres, an 11-year-old student, dreams of becoming a farmer to ensure that children like himself have access to free high-quality food at this school in the indigenous community of Coloaca, where a sustainable school programme is beginning to overcome chronic malnutrition. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“Here they taught us what is good for us to eat, and also to plant produce so that there will always be food for us. We have a vegetable garden in which we all plant coriander, radishes, cucumbers, cassava (yucca), squash (pumpkin), mustard and cress, lettuce, carrots and other nutritious foods,” he said while indicating each plant in the school garden.

When he grows up, Torres does not want to be a doctor, engineer or fireman like other children of his age. He wants to be “a good farmer to grow food to help my community, help kids like me to be well-fed and not to fall asleep in class because they had not eaten and were ill,” as happened before, he said.

The 48 schools scattered throughout Las Flores municipality, together with other schools in Lempira province, especially those located within what is called the dry corridor of Honduras, characterised by poverty and the onslaughts of climate change, are part of a series of sustainable pilot projects being promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and PAES is one of these.

The purpose of these sustainable school projects is to improve the nutritional status of students and at the same time give direct support to small farmers, by means of a comprehensive approach and effective local-local, local-regional and central government-international aid  interactions.

As a result of this effort in indigenous Lenca communities and Ladino (mixed indigenous-white or mestizo) communities such as Coalaca, La Cañada, Belén and Lepaera (all of them in Lempira province), schoolchildren and teachers alike have said goodbye to fizzy drinks and sweets, and undertaken a radical change in their food habits.

Parents, teachers, students, each community and municipal government, three national Secretariats (Ministries) and FAO have joined forces so that these remote Honduran regions may see off the problems of famine and malnutrition that once were rife here.

A family production chain was developed to supply the schools with food for their students, who average over 100 at each educational centre, complementing the school vegetable gardens.

Every Monday, small farmers bring their produce to a central distribution centre, and municipal vehicles distribute it to the schools.

View of Belén, a town that is the head of a rural municipality of the same name amid the mountains of western Honduras, in the department (province) of Lempira, where a programme rooted in local schools is improving nutrition among remote indigenous communities. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

View of Belén, a town that is the head of a rural municipality of the same name amid the mountains of western Honduras, in the department (province) of Lempira, where a programme rooted in local schools is improving nutrition among remote indigenous communities. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

Erlín Omar Perdomo, from the village of La Cañada in Belén municipality, told IPS: “When FAO first started to organise us we never thought things would go as far as they did, our initial concern was to stave off the hunger there was around here and help our children to be better nourished.”

“But as the project developed, they trained us to become food providers as well. Today this community is supplying 13 schools in Belén with fresh, high-quality produce,” the community leader said with satisfaction.

They organised themselves as savings micro-cooperatives to which members pay small subscriptions and which finance projects or businesses at lowinterest rates and without the need for collateral, as required by banks, or for payment of abusive interest rates, as charged by intermediaries known as “coyotes”.

“We never dreamed the project would reach the size it is today. FAO sent us to Brazil to see for ourselves how food was being supplied to schools by the families of students, but, here we are and this is our story,” said the 36-year-old Perdomo.

“We all participate, we generate income and bring development to our communities, to the extent that now the drop-out rate is practically nil, and our women have also joined the project. They organise themselves in groups to attend the school every week to cook our children’s food,” he said.

Rubenia Cortes, a mother and volunteer cook at the school in the remote village of La Cañada in the department (province) of Lempira, in western Honduras. They cook in a kitchen that was built by parents and teachers at the school. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

Rubenia Cortes, a mother and volunteer cook at the school in the remote village of La Cañada in the department (province) of Lempira, in western Honduras. They cook in a kitchen that was built by parents and teachers at the school. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

A 2012 report by the World Food Programmme (WFP) indicated that in Central America, Honduras had the second worst child malnutrition levels, after Guatemala. According to the WFP, one in four children suffers from chronic malnutrition, with the worst problems seen in the south and west of the country.

But in Coalaca, La Cañada and other nearby villages and small towns, the situation has begun to be reverted in the past five years. The FAO project is based on the creation of a new nutritional culture; an expert advises and educates local families in eating a healthy and balanced diet.

“We don’t put salt and pepper on our food any more. We have replaced them with aromatic herbs. FAO trained us, teaching us what nutrients were to be found in each vegetable, fruit or pulse, and in what quantities,” said Rubenia Cortes.

“Look, our children now have beautiful skin, not dull like before,” she explained proudly to IPS. Cortes is a cook at the Claudio Barrera school in La Cañada, population 700, part of Belén municipality where there are 32 PAES centres.

Cortes and the other women are all heads of households who do voluntary work to prepare food at the school. “Before, we would sell our oranges and buy fizzy drinks or sweets, but now we do not; it is better to make orange juice for all of us to drink,” she said as an example.

From Monday to Friday, students at the PAES schools have a highly nutritious meal which they eat mid-morning.

The change is remarkable, according to Edwin Cortes, the head teacher of the La Cañada school. “The children no longer fall asleep in class. I used to ask them, ‘Did you understand the lesson?’ But what could they answer? They had come to school on an empty stomach. How could they learn anything?” he exclaimed.

In the view of María Julia Cárdenas, the FAO representative in Honduras, the most valuable thing about this project is that “we can leave the project, but it will not die, because everyone has appropriated it.”

“It is highly sustainable, and models like this one overcome frontiers and barriers, because everyone is united in a common purpose, that of feeding the children,” she told IPS after giving a delegation of experts and Central American Parliamentarians a guided tour of the untold stories that arise in this part of the dry corridor of Honduras.

There are 1.4 million children in primary and basic secondary schooling in Honduras, out of a total population of 8.7 million people. Seven ethnic groups live alongside each other in the country, of which the largest is the Lenca people, a group of just over 400,000 people.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/ Translated by Valerie Dee

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Global Coalition Seeks Ban on Mercury Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/global-coalition-seeks-ban-on-mercury-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-coalition-seeks-ban-on-mercury-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/global-coalition-seeks-ban-on-mercury-use/#respond Tue, 12 Jul 2016 14:27:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146008 A coalition of over 25 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has launched a global campaign to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry. Spearheading the campaign is the Washington-based World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, which is seeking to phase out dental amalgam, described as a “primitive pollutant”, by the year […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2016 (IPS)

A coalition of over 25 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has launched a global campaign to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry.

Spearheading the campaign is the Washington-based World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, which is seeking to phase out dental amalgam, described as a “primitive pollutant”, by the year 2020.

The environmental health benefits from mercury-free dentistry would be “huge to the world”, says the World Alliance, “”The European Union’s science committee calls amalgam a ‘secondary poisoning’ because its mercury gets into fish and vegetables which children eat.”

A proposal before the European Commission calls for the use of dental amalgam in an encapsulated form, and more importantly, the implementation of amalgam separators, which should be mandatory to protect dental practitioners and patients from mercury exposure and to ensure that resulting mercury waste are not released into the environment but are collected and subjected to sound waste management.

Describing dental amalgam as “vastly inferior to today’s alternative materials,” the President of the World Alliance Charles G. Brown, told IPS: “Western corporate interests fund the counter-campaign to protect amalgam sales, especially in developing nations.”

“The game changer in our favour is the 2013 Minimata Convention on Mercury,” (which has been signed by 128 nations), said Brown, a former Attorney General of the US State of Ohio.

But the Convention, which aims to reduce or eliminate all man-made uses of mercury, needs 50 ratifications to become legally binding. But so far, only 28 countries have ratified the Convention, including the US.

The most recent ratifications have included Switzerland and Mali (in May) and Botswana (in June).

“We need a push to get over the finish line,” declared Brown, whose campaign reaches out Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America and the Island States. .

Besides the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, the coalition includes the European Environmental Bureau, Health and Environment Alliance, Women in Europe for a Common Future, International Academy for Oral Medicine and Toxicology, Asian Centre for Environmental Health, Danish Association for Non-Toxic Dentistry and Zero Waste Europe.

In a letter to members of the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, the coalition points out that, after long delays, the European Commission proposed a new mercury package last February, positioning the EU to finally ratify the Minamata Convention.

The package updates existing EU law to conform to the Convention, but falls short in several key areas, including a new proposal that would eventually perpetuate mercury use in EU dentistry.

“This proposal is clearly out of step with both the spirit and intent of the treaty,” the letter warns. The Minamata Convention requires each State party to “phase down the use of dental amalgam”.

The Environment Committee is calling for a phase-out of amalgam in Europe by the year 2021.

But the EC mercury package, on the other hand, proposes merely to require amalgam separators and encapsulated amalgam – two measures that fail to phase down European amalgam use for several reasons.

Asked if this problem is largely confined to the EU, described as the largest user of dental mercury in the world, Brown told IPS: “No, this problem is not confined to Europe although the EU is the largest user partly because dental care is more available in general”.

A report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), a mercury monitoring network, shows that North America (including the US) is consuming its share.

“Although use is far less in developing countries right now, it is expected to increase as dental care becomes more available – unless we prevent it by ensuring that mercury-free alternatives are used from the start.”

Achim Steiner, former Executive Director of UNEP, wrote a letter to the World Alliance last year endorsing the activist phasing down of amalgam in general, and singling out the work of the World Alliance of Mercury-Free Dentistry, in particular.

UNEP and the World Alliance have co-hosted two 10-nation conferences to work for mercury-free dentistry: for francophone Africa, April 2014 in Abidjan; and for Asia (South, Southeast, & East Asian nations), March 2016 in Bangkok.

The overall goal of the Global Mercury Partnership, according to UNEP, is to protect human health and the global environment from the release of mercury and its compounds by minimizing and, where feasible, ultimately eliminating global, anthropogenic mercury releases to air, water and land.

UNEP recently developed a brochure to assist nations in phasing down amalgam use. In it, UNEP particularly promoted the following steps:

(a) Raising public awareness of amalgam’s mercury content; (b) Updating dental school curricula to promote mercury-free dentistry; (c) Modifying government programs and insurance to favor mercury-free fillings; and (d) Restricting amalgam use in children and pregnant women.

In its attempts to protect human health and the environment from mercury—and in support of the Minamata Convention on Mercury—the UN Development Programme (UNDP), says sound management of chemicals and wastes is an important component of its efforts to achieve sustainable, inclusive and resilient human development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNDP advocates integrating chemicals management priorities into national environmental and poverty reduction planning frameworks, while helping countries access financial and technical resources, and providing assistance and implementation support to improve the holistic management of chemicals and waste at national, regional and global levels.

UNDP currently supports 42 countries with a Global Environment Facility (GEF) mercury portfolio of $22 million in grants and $32 million in co-financing.

Asked if the medical lobby is powerful enough to keep stalling an eventual ban on dental mercury, Brown said: “It’s actually the dental lobby specifically that opposes the ban (many physicians tend to either not take a stand or they agree with us). “

Are they effective or powerful? It depends on whom you talk with, he said.

Dentistry is divided into two hotly contesting factions: the mercury-free numbers are growing, the pro-mercury faction shrinking – but the latter is represented by the World Dental Federation (FDI, its initials in French) and its constituent Western members, such as the American, British, and Canadian Dental Associations.

The American Dental Association spent $2,850,000 on lobbying expenses in 2013, the year the treaty negotiations ended, but in its arrogance the money was largely wasted, he added.

“At the Minamata Convention, FDI and the American Dental Association (ADA) were represented by white Western males, whereas dentists on our side came from every continent and race, as did our NGO team of talented women and men.”

“We outworked, outpointed, and outsmarted the well-heeled pro-mercury faction of dentistry, and amalgam is crucially placed in Annex A-II of the Minamata Convention.”

Their rearguard action to protect the status quo is not ineffective, but they cannot stall the amalgam ban indefinitely – else their own members will pull out the rug on them, said Brown.

In the United States, the number of mercury-free dentists has grown rapidly. In 2005, a peer reviewed study found that 31.6% of dentists practiced amalgam-free dentistry.

Just two years later in 2007, an ADA survey found that 36.6% of dentists did not use any amalgam – and that number was even higher (37.2%) among pediatric dentists and prosthodontists (the two specialties that perform restorations the most).

A survey by dental marketing firm ‘The Wealthy Dentist’ in 2009 found that 53% were not using amalgam. Seven years later, said Brown, it is safe to say that these numbers are on the conservative side today because of two trends.

Younger dentists use less amalgam than older dentists. According to the 2007 ADA survey, “More dentists 40 years or older (65.0%) currently used amalgam restorations than did dentists younger than 40 years (55.2%).”

So 44.8% of dentists under age 40 were already amalgam-free almost a decade ago in 2007. With many of the older dentists surveyed now retired and more young dentists graduated from dental school, the number of amalgam-free dentists has obviously increased while the number of dentists using amalgam has steadily decreased.

A number of surveyed dentists still using amalgam were dissatisfied with it as a restorative material.

Of the dentists who still used amalgam in the ADA’s 2007 survey, 5.2% were somewhat dissatisfied with amalgam as a restorative material and .8% were very dissatisfied.

Supposedly, said Brown, dentists would have stopped using a material they were already dissatisfied with a decade ago, especially with all the new mercury-free options now on the market.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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