Inter Press ServiceGlobal – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 23 Jan 2019 17:39:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.8 Sum & Substance of Climate Diplomacyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/sum-substance-climate-diplomacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sum-substance-climate-diplomacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/sum-substance-climate-diplomacy/#respond Wed, 23 Jan 2019 17:09:51 +0000 Chandra Bhushan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159771 As I was attending the 24th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—to create a rulebook to operationalise the Paris Agreement—in Katowice, Poland, it dawned on me, like never before, that the negotiations were taking place in a make-believe world. There was a stark disconnect between what is required to […]

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Credit: Getty Images

By Chandra Bhushan
NEW DELHI, Jan 23 2019 (IPS)

As I was attending the 24th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—to create a rulebook to operationalise the Paris Agreement—in Katowice, Poland, it dawned on me, like never before, that the negotiations were taking place in a make-believe world.

There was a stark disconnect between what is required to contain the impacts of climate change and what representatives of 197 parties were trying to achieve.

The world is reeling under the effects of climate disasters. From Kerala to California, extreme weather events are killing people, destroying properties and businesses.

This, when the global temperature has only increased by 1.0°C from preindustrial levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C makes it clear that the impacts are going to be substantially higher at 1.5°C warming and catastrophic at 2.0°C.

The worst part is that most countries, including the US and the European Union, were not even on track to meet their meagre commitments to curb emissions.

So why is it that three years after the “historic” Paris Agreement was signed, the global collective effort is in tatters? The reason is the architecture of the Paris Agreement itself.

The Paris Agreement is a voluntary agreement in which countries are free to choose their own climate targets, called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Developed countries and rich developing countries were expected to take higher emission reduction targets than poor developing countries.

But if a rich country doesn’t commit to a higher emissions cut, no one can demand a revision of targets. Worse, if a country fails to meet its NDCs, there is no penalty. The agreement, therefore, based on the goodwill of countries.
Herein lies the catch.

Since the beginning, climate negotiations have been viewed as an economic negotiation and not as an environmental negotiation. So, instead of cooperation, competition is the foundation of these negotiations. Worst still, the negotiations are viewed as a zero-sum game.

For instance, Donald Trump believes that reducing emissions will hurt the US economy and benefit China, so he has walked out of the Paris Agreement. China too believes in this viewpoint, and despite being the world’s largest polluter today, it has not yet committed to any absolute emissions cut.

The fact is every country is looking for its own narrow interest and not the larger interest of the whole world. They are, therefore, committing to as little climate targets as possible.

This is the Achilles heel of the Paris Agreement. This is the reason why the Paris Agreement will not be able meet its own goal of limiting global warming well below 2°C. The negotiations, however, are devoid of this realisation.

We need to understand that the interest of countries and the interest of the world are two sides of the same coin. Climate change demands countries cooperate and work together to reduce emissions.

But this can only happen if the climate change negotiations move from being a zero-sum game to a positive-sum game. Today, it is possible to make this changeover because reducing emissions and increasing economic growth are no more incompatible to each other.

Costs of technologies such as batteries, super-efficient appliances and smart grids are falling so rapidly that they are already competitive with fossil fuel technologies.

So the reason for countries to compete with each other for carbon budget is becoming immaterial. If countries cooperate, the cost of low and no-carbon technologies can be reduced at a much faster pace, which will benefit everyone.

The bottom line is negotiations cannot continue in a business-as-usual fashion. The time has come to devise new mechanisms for a meaningful international collaboration to fight climate change.

The link to the original article:
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/climate-change/cop24-sum-and-substance-of-climate-diplomacy-62483

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Protecting Your Security and Rights Onlinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/protecting-security-rights-online/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-security-rights-online http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/protecting-security-rights-online/#respond Wed, 23 Jan 2019 13:32:49 +0000 Rebecca Ricks http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159762 On December 6, the Australian parliament rushed to pass a bill that could weaken security on the phones and software people rely on every day, in Australia and worldwide. The sweeping law could force tech companies to take vaguely described actions to access encrypted data. For example, authorities could order Apple and WhatsApp to send […]

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the Australian parliament rushed to pass a bill that could weaken security on the phones and software people rely on every day, in Australia and worldwide. The Australian law passed despite strong opposition by cybersecurity experts, human rights groups, and some members of parliament. It is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which similarly requires companies to potentially break encryption and hack into their own systems.

Credit: Dinh Manh Tai

By Rebecca Ricks
CAMBRIDGE, MA, USA, Jan 23 2019 (IPS)

On December 6, the Australian parliament rushed to pass a bill that could weaken security on the phones and software people rely on every day, in Australia and worldwide. The sweeping law could force tech companies to take vaguely described actions to access encrypted data.

For example, authorities could order Apple and WhatsApp to send secretly altered software updates that would undermine the encryption they use to protect our data and communications.

At a time when governments across the globe are engaging in increasingly invasive surveillance, unfettered public access to encryption protects our basic rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Users should call on their governments to promote strong encryption, not undercut efforts to protect our safety and rights.

Encryption ensures that our information stays private, whether we are browsing the web, buying things, chatting online, or sending an email. We may not always know it, but the security of our networks relies on encryption, which scrambles our data so no one else can see what we’ve written or said unless we want to share it with them.

The Australian law passed despite strong opposition by cybersecurity experts, human rights groups, and some members of parliament. It is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which similarly requires companies to potentially break encryption and hack into their own systems

Strong encryption also ensures our safety in other critical ways. It protects our communications networks, our power grids, our hospitals, and our transportation systems.

Encryption is especially important for the most vulnerable among us. Access to encrypted tools is critical to maintaining the safety of people who are disproportionately subjected to surveillance and scrutiny, whether victims of domestic abuse or minorities and other marginalized members of society. Political dissidents, journalists, and activists are vulnerable to retaliation for expressing their views or exposing wrongdoing. By encrypting our devices and our messages by default, we–along with the companies that build these tools–are taking steps to ensure that we can speak out without endangering ourselves.

Encryption also helps protect us in our personal lives, keeping us safe from online harassers, abusive partners, or other malicious people. The market for commercial spyware products has skyrocketed, and there is mounting evidence that these tools are being used to monitor, abuse, intimidate, and victimize people, especially intimate partners. When our tools use encryption by default, we have more control over our information from people in our lives who might want to hurt us.

As companies and nongovernmental organizations have taken steps to secure communications by using encryption, many governments have complained that it is hampering their ability to investigate criminals and conduct surveillance. In recent years, some governments have called for building intentional weaknesses, or backdoors, into encrypted technologies.

The Australian law passed despite strong opposition by cybersecurity experts, human rights groups, and some members of parliament. It is modelled on the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which similarly requires companies to potentially break encryption and hack into their own systems. In the US, law enforcement officials continue to call for anti-encryption legislation, even though they have been criticized for overstating the problem encryption poses to investigations.

Cybersecurity experts have repeatedly explained that laws addressing the challenges raised by encryption misunderstand how the technology  works. There is no plausible way to build tools to undermine encryption without eroding everyone’s security.  People with technical expertise and bad intentions will figure out how to manipulate such tools. By weakening encrypted technologies for government agencies, we weaken it for everyone.

The issue is so important that UN human rights experts have warned governments that weakening encryption could have a devastating impact on human rights.  Governments should be seeking to strengthen, not weaken, encryption.

Digital security is about tradeoffs: There will always be risks when you use the internet. Encryption simply helps us manage those risks and make sure that we are taking steps toward securing our communications. Human Rights Watch has created a new interactive game about digital security to help people understand why encryption is needed to protect us.

The Australian government promised to consider amendments to the anti-encryption law next year in response to opposition. We hope the public will use the game to understand just how much their security could be put at risk if the law isn’t substantially revised to prevent encryption backdoors.

We all pay a price when the tools we rely on every day to keep us secure are compromised.

 

Rebecca Ricks was the 2017-2018 Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow at Human Rights Watch. She now works as an independent researcher.

 

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Hospital PPPs Undermine Healthcarehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/hospital-ppps-undermine-healthcare/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hospital-ppps-undermine-healthcare http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/hospital-ppps-undermine-healthcare/#respond Tue, 22 Jan 2019 14:39:07 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159754 Despite all the evidence to the contrary, and substantial opposition from community groups, public-private partnerships (PPPs) are still being promoted to deliver sustainable development. Public-private hospital partnerships are supposed to ensure that the private sector will offer much needed efficiency in healthcare provision. However, any government considering healthcare PPPs should be aware of the Australian […]

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By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY & KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 2019 (IPS)

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, and substantial opposition from community groups, public-private partnerships (PPPs) are still being promoted to deliver sustainable development.

Public-private hospital partnerships are supposed to ensure that the private sector will offer much needed efficiency in healthcare provision.

Anis Chowdhury

However, any government considering healthcare PPPs should be aware of the Australian experience, especially after what has happened with the Northern Beaches Hospital, a PPP between the New South Wales government and Healthscope.

The A$600m facility was officially opened with much fanfare on 19 November 2018. With a A$2.2 billion 20-year contract, it was billed as the flagship project for the NSW government to hand over to the private sector delivery of a wide range of public services from prisons to technical education to health.

Profits before patients
The chief executive officer resigned two days after the official opening amidst claims of critical shortages of staff, medicines and supplies since it opened to its first patients on 30 October. Anaesthetists at the hospital have threatened to stop performing elective surgery until critical problems are addressed, leading to a crisis atmosphere.

The government and hospital authority describe the staffing and supply shortages as ‘hiccups’ and ‘teething problems’. But these are not trivial, often involving life and death issues. In one particular case, a new mother’s life was put in danger after undergoing a caesarean section at the hospital. Her attending doctors and nurses had to frantically try to source blood and equipment to operate safely. Thankfully, that episode did not end in any tragedies.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported on complaints that the hospital has been forced to cancel elective surgery perhaps due to lack of staff. The facility suffers from a lack of basic supplies including syringes, intravenous lines, medical swabs, saline bags, needles, wash cloths, rubbing alcohol and maternity pads. It also reported inadequate nursing staff and a large number of locum nurses.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Australian doctors’ union has warned the head of NSW Health that junior medical officers were required to do ‘unsafe work hours’. For instance, one intern was assigned 60 patients while junior medical officers were expected to work up to six hours of overtime daily, usually unpaid. One doctor reported working 110 hours in a week.

Costing taxpayers more
This latest healthcare PPP is also costing taxpayers more than what the government announced before. For example, before the 2015 state election, the former health minister said that the hospital would cost only A$1 billion. However, the true cost to taxpayers was A$2.14 billion.

This is not the only instance of healthcare PPPs going wrong. In the early 1990s, the NSW government opened the privately-operated Port Macquarie Base Hospital. The authorities announced savings by ignoring additional administrative and legal costs; it ended up costing about A$6 million more than a public hospital of an equivalent size. The Auditor-General’s report concluded, “The government is, in effect, paying for the hospital twice and giving it away”.

Yet, the ‘teething problems’ had not gone away 13 years after it was privatised by the Conservative Government. Before its 20-year contract period ended, the Labour Government felt compelled to buy back the hospital for A$80 million.

Similarly, after years of losses, the South Australian government was forced to buy back a privately run hospital opened by Healthscope in 1995 at a cost of A$17.5 million to the taxpayer. The Victorian government bought back Latrobe Regional Hospital, opened in 1998 under a similar agreement, two years later, after suffering A$8.9 million worth of losses. Years later, the Victorian government announced plans to buy back Mildura Base Hospital, the last remaining privately run hospital in the state.

Private operators not more efficient
Despite these spectacular failures, governments do not seem to learn from past mistakes, instead continuing with more PPPs. Therefore, a dogmatic belief that the market will provide healthcare more efficiently must be behind the push for these partnerships.

The Australian Productivity Commission’s 2009 report found that, on average, the efficiency of public and private hospitals is similar nationwide. Public hospitals in NSW and Victoria were more efficient than their private counterparts by more than 3% and 4% respectively despite operating far more in rural areas (generally much more costly), and their high-cost responsibility to provide accident and emergency services.

More recently, the independent McKell Institute reported similar findings, and noted a disconcerting trend of private operators only picking the most profitable services to run, leaving the public sector with the more costly, less profitable and onerous work. This allows private operators to capture more profits while leaving the government, and taxpayers, with more risks and costs.

Health rights undermined
Health is a right, and society (and therefore government) has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to health services. But with PPPs, the state becomes health service purchaser, instead of provider. Under PPPs, private operators, previously earning patient fees and health insurance payments, can profitably earn public funds meant to finance patient services.

Profit-seeking is ‘distorting’ patient-health service provider relations. As noted by the New England Journal of Medicine, “Our main objection to investor-owned care is not that it wastes taxpayers’ money, nor even that it causes modest decrements in quality. The most serious problem with such care is that it embodies a new value system that severs the communal roots and Samaritan traditions of hospitals, makes doctors and nurses the instruments of investors, and views patients as commodities.’’

Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University & University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Why Are so Many Humanitarian Crises Under-reported?http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/many-humanitarian-crises-reported/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=many-humanitarian-crises-reported http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/many-humanitarian-crises-reported/#respond Tue, 22 Jan 2019 11:17:38 +0000 Martin Scott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159751 Dr Martin Scott* is a Senior Lecturer in Media and International Development at the University of East Anglia, UK.

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We need to understand the main causes of this acute lack of coverage of humanitarian affairs, in order to know what can be done about it.

A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

By Martin Scott
NORWICH, UK, Jan 22 2019 (IPS)

According to a recent poll of aid agencies by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the most under-reported crisis of 2018 was the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, commented that, ‘the brutality of the conflict is shocking, the national and international neglect outrageous… I have seldom witnessed such a gap between needs and assistance’.

Other ‘forgotten crises’, according to the agencies polled, include the Central African Republic, Lake Chad Basin, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Burundi, Nigeria and, for the first time, Venezuela.

Highlighting such ‘reporting gaps’ is important because international news coverage plays a key role in raising awareness of and drawing attention to humanitarian crises, in order to secure the funding needed to help.

The 2018 U.N. funding appeal for the Democratic Republic of the Congo was less than 50 percent funded. Such under-funding is linked, albeit indirectly, to a lack of public awareness. In the UK, for example, a recent survey, commissioned by Human Appeal, showed that two thirds of adults were not aware of the recent violence in the DRC.

In response, it is not enough to simply urge news organisations to do more. We need to understand the main causes of this acute lack of coverage of humanitarian affairs, in order to know what can be done about it.

Dr Martin Scott

This is the aim of an ongoing academic research project into Humanitarian Journalism and was the focus of a report I published late last year entitled The State of Humanitarian Journalism with Dr Kate Wright at the University of Edinburgh and Dr Mel Bunce from City, University of London.

 

Humanitarian journalism in crisis

The research makes clear that humanitarian journalism is itself in crisis.

Our survey of over 1500 individuals involved in the aid sector, revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of mainstream news coverage of humanitarian affairs. 73% of respondents agreed that mainstream news media does not produce enough coverage of humanitarian issues. News coverage was also criticised for being selective, sporadic, simplistic and partial.

It is not enough to simply urge news organisations to do more. We need to understand the main causes of this acute lack of coverage of humanitarian affairs, in order to know what can be done about it.
We also examined coverage of over 20,000 news outlets to find out how many were regularly reporting on humanitarian affairs. Only 12 covered the four humanitarian events we analysed. These events included the ongoing crisis in South Sudan, the 2016 Aceh earthquake, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the 2017 UN appeal for humanitarian funding.

The 12 news organisations which did cover all four of these events included Al Jazeera English, the Guardian Global Development site, IRIN News, the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Voice of America.

Our analysis of their coverage showed that they do a better job than most at reporting humanitarian crises. These particular news organisations generally offer sustained and detailed coverage, regularly producing features, analysis pieces and even some campaigning reports.

Furthermore, while journalists are often accused of telling very similar stories about disasters, we find that these particular news outlets actually varied significantly in how they covered such crises.

For instance, we found that Thomson Reuters focused on stories about dramatic and timely events, while the specialist humanitarian news outlet IRIN wrote thematic pieces and analysis, targeted at global audiences.

 

The challenges of funding humanitarian news

The main reason why few news organisations, and particularly commercial news outlets, regularly produce original coverage of humanitarian affairs is the very high costs involved.

It is very expensive to fund on-the-ground reporters and the kinds of time-consuming research and travel necessary to explain the complex causes of humanitarian crises.

In fact, we find that almost all international news outlets regularly covering humanitarian affairs rely on support from either states or private foundations. There are issues with both sources of funding.

Foundation funding alone rarely offers journalists long-term financial sustainability. Professor Rodney Benson, in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, at New York University, explains that, ‘most major foundations see themselves as providing… short-term start-up support with the expectation that non-profits will eventually achieve commercial sustainability’.

In addition, there just isn’t enough donor money to go around. Very few foundations are active in this area; often because of their objectives don’t align with those of journalists or because of the difficulty of measuring the impact of their investments.

This is why specialist non-profit news outlets reporting on humanitarian issues struggle to survive.

For example, despite featuring in our list as one of just 12 news outlets regularly covering humanitarian affairs, the news non-profit Humanosphere closed down in 2017 due to a loss of funding.

Other foundation-dependent news organisations in this area that have either closed or dramatically downsized in recent months include News Deeply and the International Reporting Project.

Support from Western governments can also subsidise the high costs of producing regular, original coverage of humanitarian affairs for radio stations like the BBC World Service and Voice of America (VoA).

For instance, we found that humanitarian issues were mentioned in nearly one in five (19%) items on the news bulletins of the BBC World Service.

However, there are important questions to be asked about the ways in which humanitarian news might be affected when governments support journalism as part of their foreign policy objectives – and to achieve ‘soft power’.

We found no evidence that government officials directly interfered in editorial output of either World Service or VoA. However, a key problem, at both organisations, was the way in which journalists’ ability to cover humanitarian issues in particular geographic regions waxed and waned in relation to governments’ strategic and funding priorities.

Such problems were even more acute at international news outlets, based outside the West and funded by state money. Journalists at Al Jazeera English, for example, faced considerable ethical dilemmas about how to cover events in areas where Qatar was involved militarily, or had diplomatic interests. This includes Yemen, Syria, Sudan and South Sudan.

 

Paying for humanitarian reporting

Given the inherent costs and challenges associated with funding humanitarian news, there are no easy answers to the question of how to increase coverage of under-reported crises.

However, there is also some cause for optimism. In the Aid Attitudes Tracker, a largescale survey of audiences in the UK, France, Germany and the US, more people claimed to follow news about “humanitarian disasters” (59%) either “closely” or “fairly closely” than any other type of international news (see Clarke et al 2018).

Perhaps audiences are more interested in humanitarian journalism than many journalists think. Some may even be willing to pay for it.

An audience survey for IRIN recently found that a majority (57%) would consider signing up to some form of paid subscription model.

Encouraging audiences to pay directly for journalism they trust and value may ultimately be the only sustainable solution to the crisis facing humanitarian news.

* https://people.uea.ac.uk/en/persons/martin-scott

 

The State of Humanitarian Journalism report is the latest publication from the ongoing Humanitarian Journalism Research Project by Dr Martin Scott, Dr Kate Wright and Dr Mel Bunce. This AHRC-supported research has involved interviews with nearly 200 journalists and media funders; as well as surveys and extensive newsroom observations. More information about this project can be found here.

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Excerpt:

Dr Martin Scott* is a Senior Lecturer in Media and International Development at the University of East Anglia, UK.

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Never Been a Worse Time to be a Journalisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/never-worse-time-journalist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=never-worse-time-journalist http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/never-worse-time-journalist/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2019 11:05:15 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159746 “I’ve never known a time when it was as bad as it is now,” says Beata Balogova, the Vice-Chair of the International Press Institute (IPI) and Editor in Chief of the Slovak Spectator Sme. “In terms of what’s going on with journalists, we’re in a very unique period,” she adds. Balogova explains during a break […]

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A protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, Jan 22 2019 (IPS)

“I’ve never known a time when it was as bad as it is now,” says Beata Balogova, the Vice-Chair of the International Press Institute (IPI) and Editor in Chief of the Slovak Spectator Sme. “In terms of what’s going on with journalists, we’re in a very unique period,” she adds.

Balogova explains during a break from editing the paper at its headquarters in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, how growing animosity towards journalists in Slovakia and other parts of Europe, is being increasingly violently expressed.

“It’s more intense now, there are verbal attacks, threats and the internet discussions on stories are much more aggressive [than before],” she tells IPS.

She says she is just finishing filing legal action against an anonymous person after she received online threats, including calls for a massacre at her newspaperspecifically a repeat of the 2015 one at French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo where two brothers opened fire in the newsroom and killed 12.

It is just under a year since the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, who had been investigating links between the Slovak government and the Italian mafia, and Balogova says journalists are having to take all threats more seriously.

“What’s changed over the course of the last year is that in the past a lot of journalists didn’t pay much attention to anonymous threats or aggressions, but as they are seeing now, this kind of hate is being expressed in physical attacks on journalists,” she says.

The murder of Kuciak and his fiancee last February made headlines around the world and led to the resignation of the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. It also raised questions about press freedom and the safety of journalists in the country and focused international attention on apparent serious shortfalls in press freedom in other countries in the region.

This month a new special investigative journalism centre has been set up in Slovakia in memory of Kuciakthe Jan Kuciak Investigative Centreand is the first such centre in Slovakia.

But while its founders believe it can become an important investigative journalism hub facilitating cross-border investigations into global organised crime, it opens at a time when Slovakia continues to struggle with eroding press freedom, as well as growing and very serious concerns about not just declining press freedom in Eastern Europe, but a complete lack of it in some places, even in European Union (EU) member states.

Romania has taken over the EU presidency this month at the same time it has been criticised for serious shortcomings in press freedom. In Hungary, critics say Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz have virtually liquidated all opposition media, and the Polish ruling party is, according to critics, systematically doing the same.

There remain concerns about the Czech media being controlled by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and his business associates, as well as the President’s openly hostile attitude to reporters. There have also been massive protests in the last few weeks in Serbia against President Aleksander Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party, in part over a lack of press freedom.

Meanwhile, just last week a court in Montenegro sentenced investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic to 18 months in prison on charges of drug trafficking and criminal associations. He maintains his contacts with criminals were part of his investigative work and that the case against him was politically motivated and press freedom advocates said his sentence had been handed down as a warning to other journalists in the region.

“The ruling will have a chilling effect on other journalists in the region – they will think that if they infiltrate the mafia and work with them, they need to fear not just the mafia but the government of their own country too,” Pauline Ades-Mevel of media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told IPS.

Media watchdogs like RSF as well as international organisations such as the European Commission, have highlighted declining press freedom across the region in recent years.

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Serbia have all fallen significantly in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom rankings in the last few years amid concerns over authoritarian governments’ use of legislation, taxes, takeovers, forced closures and, some believe, even security service surveillance, to try and silence critical news outlets.

Meanwhile, public denigration of individual journalists and media by politicians have helped fuel what some describe as a “hostile environment” for journalists and encouraged verbal and physical attacks on them.

“The rhetoric from certain politicians has certainly played its part in the [increased] number of attacks on journalists,” Slovak journalist and founder of the Jan Kuciak Investigative Centre, Arpad Soltesz, told IPS.

One of the latest cases of violence against a journalist was an attempt to break into the apartment of investigative reporter Milan Jovanovic on Dec. 30just weeks after his home in Belgrade, Serbia, had been burnt down after someone threw a Molotov cocktail into it. His requests for police protection after the first attack had not been answered.

The response of Vucicwho dismissed the attack as ‘just a burglary’and the court ruling in Montenegro is typical, said Ades-Mevel, of governments only paying lip-service to international bodies over media freedom commitments. Both countries are pursuing accession negotiations with the EU.

“These are examples of how politicians can pretend to the EU that there are improvements to the rule of law and press freedom, but that the reality is different,” she said.

But while the situation looks grim in many countries, their relations with Brussels could provide a way of effecting change and improving the environment for journalists and media.

“It is important that the governments in Serbia and Montenegro understand they are under scrutiny. Pressure needs to come from outside for governments to clear up from the inside,” said Ades-Mevel.

She added that if action were taken against existing EU members over dwindling press freedom, it would send a strong signal to those hoping to join the bloc.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament (MEPs), agreed to back proposed measures to cut funding for member states where the rule of law, including press freedom, was seen to be undermined. They will come into force if backed by EU member states.

But governments, such as those in Poland and Hungary, have brushed off concerns over media freedom in the past, pointing out examples of critical news outlets as evidence of healthy media plurality.

“Orban has often used the argument that ‘look, there is media plurality, there are over 300 media outlets that can be described as opposition’. But these are normally small and don’t have a national reach,” says Balogova.

“What [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban and his oligarch friends have actually done is ….. changed the public service media into an extended branch of the cabinet office. There is coordinated news production, there are weekly meetings where bosses of the pro-Orban media meet and set the news agenda. It is the worst nightmare version of what the communists tried, and failed, to do, and now Orban has done it to perfection,” she adds.

Jelena Kleut, Assistant Professor at the Department of Media Studies at the University of Novi Sad, in Serbia, told IPS: “We may be already past the point of no return here. So much has been done to weaken press freedom in Serbia, not just the attacks on journalists but the ruling party gaining control of the media, so I’m not sure if even EU pressure could really change anything.”

Other journalists believe that third-sector organisations hold the key to creating a less hostile environment for journalists to work in.

Pavla Holcova, a prominent Czech investigative journalist, told IPS: “Politicians have been involved in creating a hostile environment for journalists [but] we, as journalists, can’t do very much to stop them [verbally attacking journalists]. We need civil society to stand up and do that for us, to try and get politicians to change.”

However, few people are expecting the environment for journalists to change anytime soon in the region, and some are fearing the worst.

“It was just pure luck that Milan Jovanovic was not in his house at the time it was set on fire. I hope no journalist gets killed but with the frequency of attacks we are seeing now it is something that could happen,” said Kleut.

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Bringing Greener Pastures Back Homehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bringing-greener-pastures-back-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-greener-pastures-back-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bringing-greener-pastures-back-home/#respond Tue, 22 Jan 2019 10:00:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159741 One month on since the Global Compact for Migration was approved, civil society has highlighted the need to turn words into action, supporting those who have been displaced or forced to migrate as a result of environmental degradation. In December, over 160 countries adopted the landmark Global Compact for Migration (GCM) which recognised environmental degradation […]

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Drone visual of the area in Upper East Region, Ghana prior to restoration taken in 2015. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), inaction on land degradation in Africa costs 286 billion dollars annually as 280 million tons of cereal crops are lost each year. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah /IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 22 2019 (IPS)

One month on since the Global Compact for Migration was approved, civil society has highlighted the need to turn words into action, supporting those who have been displaced or forced to migrate as a result of environmental degradation.

In December, over 160 countries adopted the landmark Global Compact for Migration (GCM) which recognised environmental degradation and climate change as drivers of migration. It is the first time a major migration policy has specifically addressed such issues.

While there have been some hiccups along the way, including the withdrawals by the United States and most recently Brazil, the next steps are even more uncertain.

“Now we have the recognition in the GCM, now we need to move from text to action,” Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Senior Advisor on Disaster Displacement and Climate Change Nina Birkeland said to IPS.

“Because people are moving, we can’t pretend that it is not happening,” she added.

According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, approximately 135 million people may be displaced by 2045 as a result of land degradation and desertification.

A study by the University of Oxford estimates that up to 200 million may be displaced due to climate change by 2050.

But this is not simply a phenomenon that will happen in the future—it is already a reality for some.

As migrant caravans from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador continue to make their way towards the U.S., many have pointed to climate change and years of crop failure as the main drivers.

Lesser known is the role of deforestation and land degradation in prompting such movements.

Between 1990 and 2005, almost 20 percent of Guatemala’s rainforests were cut down for palm oil plantations and cattle ranches. This has since lead to soil degradation and eroded land in a country where one-third of the population is employed by the agricultural industry.

Across Africa, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of employment but land degradation is leaving families and young people without food or income security and thus forcing them to search for greener pastures.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), inaction on land degradation in Africa costs 286 billion dollars annually as 280 million tons of cereal crops are lost each year.

“If land is degrading and the productive capacity of the land is degrading and there are no income opportunities anymore, there is no reason for people, young people in particular, to stay in the village,” World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Sustainable Land Management Specialist Chris Reij told IPS.

“The general lesson is: fight land degradation, improve living conditions and more young people will stay rather than leave,” he added.

According to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), restoring just 12 percent of degraded agricultural land could boost smallholders’ incomes by 35-40 billion dollars per year.

Reij pointed to the case of Burkina Faso which saw promising results after villages invested in sustainable land management practices.

According to a study by Reij and his team, Burkina Faso’s Ranawa village saw a decline in land productivity, prompting almost a quarter of its population to leave between 1975 and 1985.

Once the village began improving soil and water conservation techniques, there was no recorded outmigration and some families even returned due to restored productivity. 

Comparing villages that implemented sustainable land management and those that did not, the study found that rural poverty decreased as much as 50 percent in the former while poverty increased in the latter.

‘‘In 1980 only two families had cattle, now all families have cattle. Almost no one had a roof of corrugated iron…just look around you and you’ll notice that almost every family has such roofs…the land where we stand used to be barren, but now it has become productive again,” one farmer from Ranawa told Reij’s team.

In 2016, UNCCD implemented a similar project known as the 3S initiative which aims to restore 10 million hectares of land in areas most impacted by land degradation in Africa. It also hopes to provide 2 million green jobs to the 11 million young Africans who enter the job market each year.

Though it is not the silver bullet and migration will of course still continue to some capacity, investing in land restoration and providing economic opportunities is certainly a part of the solution.

While many countries focus on border security as part of their migration policy, Birkeland urged governments to look at reduction and prevention of displacement.

“We need to look at where this is actually happening and why it is happening. Before you even start to talk about border control, you need to look at how you can try to reduce displacement,” she said.

This includes investments into projects in developing countries, especially with climate change or environmental degradation-induced displacement in mind, and increased protections for those who are forced or choose to leave. 

While it is an enormous challenge, Reij highlighted the need for donors and governments to focus action on improving livelihoods and economic well-being as well as supporting land restoration.

“If you look at the most extreme scenario, unless the economic perspectives of young people can be improved in the next decade, what choice do they have? They can migrate to cities and maybe continue subsequently to Europe, or they can join Boko Haram and similar groups,” he told IPS.

“I think donors and governments have an interest in supporting the scaling of existing restoration success so that millions of smallholders will be able to improve their lives and livelihoods, and that will help reduce migration….we know what to do, we know how to do it. We now need to do it,” Reij concluded.

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Eat Plants, Save the Planethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/eat-plants-save-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eat-plants-save-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/eat-plants-save-planet/#respond Mon, 21 Jan 2019 11:17:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159717 While the modern agricultural system has helped stave off famines and feed the world’s 7 billion residents, the way we eat and produce food is posing a threat to future populations’ food security. With an expected increase in population to 10 billion in 2050, ensuring food security is more important than ever. However, current food […]

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A plantain farm on the outskirts of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. Current food production is among the largest sources of environmental degradation across the world. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 21 2019 (IPS)

While the modern agricultural system has helped stave off famines and feed the world’s 7 billion residents, the way we eat and produce food is posing a threat to future populations’ food security.

With an expected increase in population to 10 billion in 2050, ensuring food security is more important than ever.

However, current food production is among the largest sources of environmental degradation across the world.

If such production and consumption patterns continue, we will soon exceed our planetary boundaries such climate change and land use needed to survive and thrive.

“It was quite dramatic to see how much those planetary boundaries would be exceeded if we don’t do anything,” said Marco Springmann, one of the authors of a report examining the impact of the food system on the environment.

“The food system puts pressure on land management, in particular deforestation. If you knock down too many forests, you basically really mess up the regulating system of the ecosystem because forests store carbon dioxide but they also are habitats for wild species and biodiversity reservoirs,” he added.

Over 40 percent of the world’s land has been converted or set aside for agriculture alone. This has resulted in the loss of more than half of the world’s forests.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) notes that commercial agriculture is a key driver, especially the production of beef, soy beans, and palm oil.

This can be seen in the Amazon where trees have been cut down and land converted to make way for agricultural activities such as cattle ranching and soy cultivation, much of which is used as animal feed rather than for human consumption.

In fact, half of the planet’s usable land surface is devoted to livestock or the growing of feed for those animals, an area equivalent to North and South America combined.

The intensive use of fertilisers has further diminished land productivity, leading to degradation and even desertification.

Moreover, such actions have contributed significantly to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

According to the “Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits” report, published in the Nature journal, the food system emitted over 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2010 alone.

The study also estimates that the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50-90 percent without any targeted measures, beyond the “safe operating space for humanity.”

Springmann pointed to three ambitious measures that are necessary in order to stay within environmental limits including technological improvements which can increase sustainable food production and thus decrease the demand for more cropland.

Another measure seems to be even more daunting: shifting to a plant-based diet.

“If you go even more plant-based that would be even better for greenhouse gas emissions, and also it is more well-balanced and better for your health….the estimates are such that we would reduce the pressure on land use if we changed our diets,” Springmann told IPS.

The Nature report found that dietary changes towards healthier diets could help reduce GHG emissions and other environmental impacts by almost 30 percent.

A new report from the EAT-Lancet Commission also highlighted the need for dietary changes for environmental sustainability and public health.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” says one of the commission authors Tim Lang.

“We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is unchartered policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach.…the scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change,” he added.

EAT-Lancet Commission’s recommended planetary health diet requires the consumption of red meat to be cut by half, while vegetables, fruit, and nuts must double.

North America has one of the highest meat consumption rates in the world. In 2018, American meat consumption hit a record high as the average consumer ate over 222 pounds of red meat and poultry.

If they are to follow the planetary health guidelines, North Americas would have to cut their consumption of red meat by 84 percent and eat six times more beans and lentils.

While plant-based diets have gained popularity in the region, seen through the success of the Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger companies, Springmann noted that information alone may not be enough to promote dietary changes.

“Of course everyone can change their diet and it would be great if they can do that. But if it is not made easy for the average consumer to do that then many people won’t do it,” he said.

Springmann suggested changing the prices of food products to include health and environmental impacts.

Beef for example would need to cost 40 percent more on average due to its contribution to GHG emissions.

This provides governments with potential revenue to invest in other areas such as the subsidisation of healthier products.

In addition to dietary changes, the EAT-Lancet Commission state that zero loss biodiversity, net zero expansion of agricultural land into natural ecosystems, and improvements in fertiliser and water use efficient are needed.

“The transformation that this Commission calls for is not superficial or simple, and requires a focus on complex systems, incentives, and regulations, with communities and governments at multiple levels having a part to play in redefining how we eat,” said The Lancet’s Editor-in-Chief Richard Horton.

“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored. The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival,” he added.

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Quenching Humanity’s Freshwater Thirst Creates a Salty Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat/#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2019 15:09:54 +0000 Edward Jones http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159704 Vladimir Smakhtin is Director, and Manzoor Qadir is Assistant Director, of the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) in Canada, hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University. Edward Jones, who worked on the paper at UNU-INWEH, is now a researcher at Wageningen University, The Netherlands

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Desalination plant, UAE: http://bit.ly/2Rbco3H

By Edward Jones, Manzoor Qadir and Vladimir Smakhtin
HAMILTON, Canada, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

Starting from a few, mostly Middle Eastern facilities in the 1960s, today almost 16,000 desalination plants are in operation in 177 countries, producing 95 million cubic meters of freshwater every day – equal to about half the flow over Niagara Falls.

Falling economic costs of desalination and the development in membrane technologies, particularly reverse osmosis, have made desalination a cost-competitive and attractive source of freshwater around the globe.

The increase in desalination has been driven by intensifying water scarcity due to rising water demands associated with population growth, increased water consumption per capita, and economic growth, coupled with diminishing water supplies due to climate change and contamination.

Worldwide, roughly half a billion people experience water scarcity year round; for 1.5 to 2 billion people water resources are insufficient to meet demands for at least part of the year. Desalination technologies can provide an unlimited, climate independent and steady supply of high quality water, predominantly used by the municipal and industrial sectors.

In particular, desalination is an essential technology in the Middle East and for small island nations which typically lack renewable water resources. In coming decades, according to predictions, the number of desalination plants will increase to quench a growing thirst for freshwater in homes, industrial facilities, and on farms.

This fast-growing number of plants, however, creates a salty dilemma: how to deal with all the chemical-laden leftover brine?

We analyzed a newly-updated dataset — the most complete ever compiled — to revise the world’s badly outdated statistics on desalination plants. Most startling was our finding that the volume of hypersaline brine produced overall is about 50% more than previously estimated.

Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day — enough in a single year (51.8 billion cubic meters) to cover Florida under 1 foot (30.5 cm) of brine.

Considered another way, the data shows that for every unit of freshwater output, desalination plants produce on average 1.5 units of brine (though values vary dramatically, depending on the feedwater salinity, the desalination technology used, and local conditions).

Some two-thirds of desalination plants are in high-income countries, with capacity concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa. And over half — 55% — of global brine is produced in just four countries: Saudi Arabia (22%), UAE (20.2%), Kuwait (6.6%) and Qatar (5.8%).

Middle Eastern plants, which largely operate using seawater and thermal desalination technologies, typically produce four times as much brine per cubic meter of clean water as plants where river water membrane processes dominate, such as in the US.

Brine disposal methods, meanwhile, are largely dictated by geography but traditionally include direct discharge into oceans, surface water or sewers, deep well injection and brine evaporation ponds.

Desalination plants near the ocean (almost 80% of brine is produced within 10km of a coastline) most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment.

Brine raises the salinity of the receiving seawater, and brine underflows deplete dissolved oxygen needed to sustain life in the marine environment. This high salinity and reduced levels of dissolved oxygen can have profound impacts on marine ecosystems and organisms, especially those living on the seafloor, which can translate into ecological effects observable throughout the food chain.

Furthermore, the oceans are polluted with toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process (copper and chlorine are of major concern).

There is a clear need for improved brine management strategies to meet this rising challenge. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

In fact, we can convert this environmental problem into an economic opportunity. Brine has many potential uses, offering commercial, social and environmental gains.

It has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to irrigate salt tolerant species, to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, to generate electricity, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinization).

With improved technologies, a large number of metals, salt and other minerals in desalination plant effluent could be mined.

These include sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, boron, strontium, lithium, rubidium and uranium, all used by industry, in products, and in agriculture.

The needed technologies are immature, however; recovery of these resources is economically uncompetitive today.

UNU-INWEH is actively pursuing research and ideas related to a variety of unconventional water sources, all of which need to be scaled up urgently to meet the even greater deficit in freshwater supplies looming in much of the world.

In particular, we need to make desalination technologies more affordable and extend them to low-income and lower-middle income countries.

Thankfully, costs are falling from continued improvements in membrane technologies, energy recovery systems, and the coupling of desalination plants with renewable energy sources.

At the same time, we have to address potentially severe downsides of desalination — the harm of brine and chemical pollution to the marine environment and human health.

The good news is that efforts have been made in recent years and, with continuing technology refinement and improving economic affordability, we see a positive and promising outlook.

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Excerpt:

Vladimir Smakhtin is Director, and Manzoor Qadir is Assistant Director, of the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) in Canada, hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University. Edward Jones, who worked on the paper at UNU-INWEH, is now a researcher at Wageningen University, The Netherlands

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Davos, Inequality & the Climate Emergencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/davos-inequality-climate-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-inequality-climate-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/davos-inequality-climate-emergency/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 14:39:54 +0000 Daniel Mittler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159702 Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International and is on the steering committee of the global Fight Inequality alliance.

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Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International and is on the steering committee of the global Fight Inequality alliance.

By Daniel Mittler
BERLIN, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

Four of the top five most impactful threats in this year’s World Economic Forum´s Global Risks report are related to climate change. The report warns that we are “sleepwalking to disaster” . But that is not true.

The disaster is already here, it´s not something we are still walking towards. Climate change is no future threat, it´s a current one. We have entered a new phase, one in which the impacts are coming faster, with greater intensity.

Already this year, Thailand has seen its worst storm in 30 years rip through coastal areas. In the Alps, just east of Davos, extreme weather is causing snow chaos.

The climate crisis also isn´t caused by sleep or ignorance. The rich and powerful gathered in Davos brought us to the existential brink wide awake. The “profit first” neoliberal economic model has dominated policy making around the world for too long.

It has resulted in national laws, trade and finance rules that drive our current overconsumption of resources, lead to climate disruption – and bring about more and more inequality.

The world’s richest 1% took home an obscene 82% of all new wealth last year and, according to the World Bank, almost half of all people worldwide are one medical bill or crop failure away from destitution. Inequality continues to rise as the world warms and the causes of both are linked.

As Oxfam has shown, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half carbon emissions caused by consumption. And yet all around the world it’s the poor and marginalised that are most at risk from the devastating effects of climate change.

The failure by governments to prioritize climate action and the fight against inequality is caused by state institutions and decision-makers – in South as well as North – being captured by specific corporate interests.

Statue of Justice Activity in Davos

The report Justice for People and Planet, for example, showcases 20 examples of how the rules that govern our global economy (and sometimes the lack thereof) result in environmental destruction and corporate human rights abuses.

The sad truth is, that those cases are just the tip of the iceberg. They merely illustrate the systemic problem we face.

Because the crises we face are the result of our current economic and political rules, neither the climate emergency nor inequality can be fixed by public private partnerships, as Klaus Schwab, the founder and director of the World Economic Forum tries to make us believe.

To the contrary. We only have a chance to stop walking towards catastrophe if we force our governments to adopt new rules – nationally and globally – that have ending climate pollution and inequality at their heart.

This is certainly possible. At the global level, we do have some regulations with teeth. The World Trade Organisation, for example, can sanction countries that break its rules.

Those very rules have prevented many positive laws and changes – because the threat of the WTO overruling a social or environmental measure always looms.

We need similarly strong rules to counter the climate emergency and to fight inequality. Environmental and social bodies should be able to impose sanctions and fines. Corporate accountability and liability needs to extend to all corporate impacts on people and the environment around the world. Trade rules, similarly, need to be revamped to put people and planet first.

At the national level, we need binding targets to at least halve global emissions by 2030, and we need tax rules that ensure that the corporations and the rich pay their fair share. We can take heart in some rules that are already on the statute books.

France, for example, requires corporations to identify potential risks to people and the environment as a result of their activities, and act to prevent harm to people and the environment.

The UK’s Modern Slavery Act meanwhile require businesses to tackle slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains – one extreme part of the inequality crisis.

We need more such laws, in more countries. Urgently. And that´s, luckily, what grassroots movements are demanding around the world.

As the World Economic Forum gathers in Davos, January 22-25, people are mobilizing in many countries to put an end to inequality as part of the Fight Inequality alliance week of action.

Feminists, workers, environmentalists and many more movements have come together in this alliance in the knowledge that we do not need nice words or acts of charity from the Davos elite but fundamentally different rules for our global economy if we are to survive.

As the global Fight Inequality alliance manifesto says: “We stand together to build a world of greater equality – where all people’s rights are respected and fulfilled, a world of shared prosperity, opportunity and dignity, living within the planet’s boundaries.”

That world is possible. Via collective mobilization around the world we are making it a little bit more real every day.

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Excerpt:

Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International and is on the steering committee of the global Fight Inequality alliance.

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Q&A: 17 Percent of the Problem, but 30 Percent of the Solutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 10:46:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159697 IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage interviews United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch TIM CHRISTOPHERSEN

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If forest loss continues at the current rate, it will be impossible to keep warming below two degrees Celsius as pledged in the Paris Agreement. Credit: José Garth Medina/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

From expansive evergreen forests to lush tropical forests, the Earth’s forests are disappearing on a massive scale. While deforestation poses a significant problem to the environment and climate, trees also offer a solution.

After a series of eye-opening reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) were published in 2018, it was clear that international action is more urgent than ever to reduce emissions and conserve the environment.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for approximately 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.

Tropical deforestation alone accounts for 8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. If it were a country, it would be the world’s third-biggest emitter, just behind China and the United States of America.

In fact, according to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the land-use sector represents between 25 to 30 percent of total global emissions.

If such forest loss continues at the current rate, it will be impossible to keep warming below two degrees Celsius as pledged in the Paris Agreement.

While forests represent a quarter of all planned emissions reductions under Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, there is still a long way to go to fulfil these goals.

The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) is among the international groups working to reverse deforestation. It supports countries’ REDD+ processes, a mechanism established to promote conservation and sustainable management of forests.

IPS spoke with UNEP’s Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch Tim Christophersen about the issues and solutions surrounding deforestation. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What is the current state of deforestation globally?

Tim Christophersen: The rate of deforestation has slowed since 2000 globally. At some point, it had even slowed by about 50 percent. We still have a lot of deforestation—it’s just that the rate has gone down so that’s partially good news.

The good news side is we see a lot of restoration and reemergence of forests on deforested land. But often those forests of course cannot replace the biodiversity or ecosystem values that they once had.

The bad news is that in some countries, deforestation has accelerated.

This picture is mixed but it is not all gloom and doom.

IPS: Where have you seen improvements and what cases are most concerning to you? 

TC: In general, the picture is quite positive in Europe where forest area is increasing by a million hectares per year.

In Asia and the Pacific, the picture is quite mixed with China investing heavily in restoration and planting millions of hectares of new forests and other countries such as Myanmar where the pace of deforestation is accelerating.

Recently, an area of concern is of course Brazil with changes in leadership there that will probably weaken protections of the Amazon rainforest. We expect they might not be able to keep their positive track record that they had especially in the years between 2007-2012 where deforestation of the Amazon dropped by 70 percent.

IPS: What has UN-REDD and REDD+’s role in this issue? What are some successful case studies or stories that REDD had a direct role in? 

TC: REDD has, for example, put the issue of indigenous rights front and center to the entire debate about forests and land use.

That is largely thanks to the strong role of indigenous communities in the climate discussions and the strong safeguards that were part of the REDD+ package. So these safeguards have triggered, also across other infrastructure projects, the knowledge and awareness of indigenous communities that they have rights, that they can determine national resource use within their jurisdictions—that was not so much the case before.

For example in Panama, we have worked together with indigenous communities to map forest cover and priority areas for REDD+ investments. In Ecuador, indigenous communities have been involved from the start in the design of the REDD+ framework.

There are [also] other potential buyers that are out there and willing to invest in verified and clearly demonstrated reductions in deforestation.

We have not seen the amount of funding flow into REDD+ that we had anticipated to date but it is picking up now. We also hope that more countries will come online with their emissions reductions that they properly verify with the UNFCC process.

The issue is that land use and forests are about 30 percent of the climate problem and solution—it is a problem that can be turned into a solution. It is currently causing 25 percent of emissions and it could absorb as much as one-third of all the emission sequestration that we need.

But it has only received about 3 percent of climate finance so there’s a huge mismatch between the opportunity that natural solutions provide and the funding that goes into it.

IPS: Over the last year including during the recent COP, many have brought up and discussed nature-based solutions. What are these, and what could such solutions look like on the ground? 

TC: Nature-based solutions are solutions to climate change or other challenges we face where we use the power of nature to restore or improve ecosystem services.

An example would be using forests for flood prevention or purification of drinking water for cities. This is quite widespread in fact but it is not always recognised. About one-third of all major cities in developing countries receive their drinking water from forested watersheds.

If we lose those forests, that would have detrimental impacts on a lot of people’s drinking water supply. It can often be cheaper or at least more cost-effective for cities, provinces or nations to invest in keeping and restoring their forests rather than other solutions for water purification or drinking water supply.

Another example that is often cited is the role of mangroves in storm protection in coastal areas. Again, this can be cheaper to invest in planting and conserving mangroves than building sea walls or other grey infrastructure projects that we have to increasingly invest in for climate adaptation.

IPS: There are many initiatives around the world that involve planting trees as a way to address climate change and land degradation and many have received mixed reviews in terms of its usefulness. Is it enough just to plant trees?

TC: Planting trees is never enough because trees are a bit like children—it’s not enough to put the in the world, you also have to make sure they grow up properly. That’s often overlooked that you cannot just plant trees and then leave them to their fate.

Because often the reasons for landscape degradation, for example overgrazing, will very quickly eliminate any trees that you plant. So it’s more about a longer-term, better natural resource management.

Planting trees can be one activity in a longer process of restoring degraded forests and landscapes.

There are other ecosystems that are also very important—peatlands, wetlands—but forests and trees will play a major role in the next decade. I am convinced there will be more and more investments into this area because if trees are planted and properly looked after, it is a huge opportunity for us to get back onto the 2 degree target in the Paris Agreement.

IPS: Since the planet is still growing in terms of population size and food needs, is there a way to reconcile development and land restoration? And do wealthier countries or even corporations have a responsibility to help with land restoration?

TC: Absolutely. I would even say land restoration on a significant scale is our only option to reconcile the need for increasing food production and meeting the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well most notable goal 13 on climate action.

Without restoration, we are probably not going to achieve the Paris Agreement. That part of nature-based solutions, massive investments in ecosystem restoration is absolutely essential and we see that more and more corporations are recognising that.

The aviation industry is one of those potential buyers with their carbon reduction offset scheme which is called CORSIA.

It certainly is an option to channel financing for forest protection but there are of course limits as to how much emissions we can realistically offset.

Offsets are absolutely no replacement for very drastic, highly ambitious emission mitigation measures. We have to very drastically and quickly reduce industrial emissions.

Offsets can maybe tip the balance in favour of offsetting only those emissions that can otherwise not be reduced or avoided but they are not a replacement for strong action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all industrial sectors including agriculture.

The biggest part of corporate interest we see in restoration is from large agri commodity investors and food systems companies because they want to secure their supply chains and that’s quite encouraging.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity

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Excerpt:

IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage interviews United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch TIM CHRISTOPHERSEN

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Wasting & Dining: the New Water Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/wasting-dining-new-water-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wasting-dining-new-water-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/wasting-dining-new-water-dilemma/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 11:12:02 +0000 Jan Lundqvist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159653 Professor Jan Lundqvist is Senior Advisor at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

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By Jan Lundqvist
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Jan 17 2019 (IPS)

Concerns about the supply side of food systems are shifting from insufficient production and supply, to issues likely to affect food production in the medium and long term, such as water risks, global warming and environmental consequences.

To produce an average diet in rich communities, water budgets are typically estimated to be around 5 tons per capita per day. Even lean diets can hardly be produced with less than a ton of water per person and day.

The range in water budgets for diets of body builders and other big eaters, to vegetarian diets as well as between social groups and individuals is huge.

Based on available crude assumptions of how much water is required to produce the vegetarian and animal components in an average food basket, estimates can be calculated about the human imprints on water and other resources.

Compared to the situation some fifty years ago, the water budget to cater for contemporary food preferences, has increased by about a ton per person and day.

Professor Jan Lundqvist

The difference is due to an amazing increase in average food production/supply and a higher share of animal-based foods in the preferred diets.

Average food supply, i.e. what is available on the market, has increased by about 30 per cent per capita over a fifty-year period, from the beginning of the 1960s to 2011, parallel with a global population increase from about 3 to 7. 5 billion.

Never before have so many been exposed to such an abundance in food supply, from all parts of the world, at all time.

While the poor still have to spend half, or much more than that, of their minute income, a growing number of people may access food which is readily available. The price tag and the display in stores signal the illusion that food is cheaper and cheaper and easier and easier to produce and in turn that it is OK to throw away part of it.

Equally true, but much more disturbing: never before have the losses and waste of food been so large and never before has the triple malnutrition (with obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases) been at the level reported today.

With an abundance in production and lavishness in supply, it is but logical that overeating and the throwing away of food, even food that is fit to eat, is increasing.

Combining figures on losses, waste and overeating, suggests that roughly half of the food produced in the world is misused and that the intended benefits are forgone while negative externalities have increased. It is true and well that the unit cost of food production has been reduced, but there is no such a thing as a free lunch: all food produced has required water, energy, land, investments and generated greenhouse gases and other downstream negative consequences.

Let us be clear that water scarcity is both absolute (e.g. seasonal and in arid areas) and relative; it is more sensible to recognize the implications of demographic trends and lavish spending than blaming water for being scarce.

Food systems and changing habits can make or break the dictum of a water wise world. The world, the poor as well as the rich, needs more nutritious food and efficient and fair distribution, rather than more energy dense food.

Farmers must be given economic and other incentives and support to contribute to a transformation where more nutrition is produced per drop. It is not only farmers that are key players in the required transformation.

With more and more money in our pockets, consumers are drivers in food systems and they are both victims and culprits in the triple malnutrition. Policies are required to align the supply and demand sides with due recognition of water, nutrition and other realities.

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Excerpt:

Professor Jan Lundqvist is Senior Advisor at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

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Survey on UN Sexual Abuse Shifts Focus on Virtual Fugitives from Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/survey-un-sexual-abuse-shifts-focus-virtual-fugitives-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survey-un-sexual-abuse-shifts-focus-virtual-fugitives-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/survey-un-sexual-abuse-shifts-focus-virtual-fugitives-justice/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 10:36:51 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159677 A survey of sexual harassment at the United Nations has uncomfortably shifted the focus to some of the senior UN officials who have either escaped censure – or punishment– despite a rash of charges against them, including abuse and misconduct. Paula Donovan, a women’s rights activist and co-Director of AIDS-Free World and Code Blue Campaign, […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2019 (IPS)

A survey of sexual harassment at the United Nations has uncomfortably shifted the focus to some of the senior UN officials who have either escaped censure – or punishment– despite a rash of charges against them, including abuse and misconduct.

Paula Donovan, a women’s rights activist and co-Director of AIDS-Free World and Code Blue Campaign, told IPS it is interesting that the wires (Reuters, AFP), in citing the fact that Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, will step down in June, appear to be implying that the UN, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in particular, have held senior staff accountable.

But the reality, she pointed out, is that the Secretary-General has never uttered a word about Sidibé, even after a six-month inquiry by an Independent Expert Panel reported last month that he “created a patriarchal culture tolerating harassment and abuse of authority” at UNAIDS and recommended his removal.

“Radio silence from the Secretary-General, who allowed Sidibé to decide when and whether he’d leave — and then let him return to the workplace, uncensured, to continue his documented behavior,” said Donovan, a former Senior Advisor in the office of the UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa.

The panel called for his dismissal. But Guterres has not suspended Sidibé, asked for his resignation, nor made any comment, according to Donovan.

The survey, which was carried out by the consulting firm Deloite Touche Tomhatsu, hired by the UN, said that 10,032 UN employees had reported that they had suffered harassment. They were among the 30,364 of the UN system’s total global workforce of 105,000 who responded to the survey.

The survey, released January 15, found that 12 percent of the harassers were senior leaders in the UN.

Donovan said that in April 2018, Guterres announced that he was initiating a new investigation, through UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), into sexual assault and harassment charges lodged against the former Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, Luiz Loures. Nothing has been announced since about this “new investigation.”

She said the Secretary-General has also never commented on any of the recent public reports of sexual misconduct in several other UN organizations —including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) while the Secretary-General’s senior-level Task Force is headed by Jan Beagle, who was promoted to Under-Secretary-General by Guterres while she herself was under investigation for workplace harassment at UNAIDS.

Meanwhile, the UN’s heavily-hyped “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse was reduced to mockery with the abrupt resignation in mid-December of the head of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) who faced charges of sexual harassment and was the subject of an inquiry by the OIOS.

The resignation of the ICSC chairman, Under-Secretary-General (USG) Kingston Rhodes, who held one of the highest ranking jobs in the UN system, followed the release of the OIOS report to the ICSC. But the contents of the report are still under wraps since neither the OIOS nor ICSC have announced plans to go public with the results of the months-long investigations.

The official stance was that neither the UN nor the Secretary-General could intervene because the ICSC and its staff are the creation of the General Assembly.

Senior UN Official Resigns Undermining Sexual Abuse Charges

Asked to respond to the survey, which found that 12 percent of the harassers were senior leaders in the UN, Peter A. Gallo, a former investigator at the Investigations Division of OIOS, told IPS the whole thing is an exercise in the usual UN hypocrisy.

He said there is nothing materially wrong with the regulations (ST/SGB/2008/5) but the problem is in the enforcement:

– most staff members are (understandably) unwilling to report sexual harassment, and
– the “investigations” are carried out by the deaf, dumb, blind and stupid, and they do not want to find misconduct, because that would reflect badly on the Organization, he added.

“The result is that the UN is quite happy because they can claim that the low level of reporting is a sign of there being no problem, and the even lower rate of investigations actually substantiating the complaint reinforces this image of there not being a problem,” he noted.

In cases of “sexual exploitation and abuse” there is an obligation on the UN to report the numbers to the General Assembly (GA) every year. (They manipulate those numbers, but never mind.)

In the case of sexual harassment however, Under ST/SGB/2008/5 section 6 – the staff member is told to send a copy of the complaint to the ASG/OHRM (assistant secretary-general for human resources) for “monitoring” purposes, “but I do not believe they ever report the number of complaints publicly to the GA, said Gallo, an Attorney and director of the non-governmental organization ”Hear Their Cries”.

Antonia Kirkland, Legal Equality Global Lead at Equality Now, a non-governmental organization advocating women’s rights, told IPS that the survey points out, proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment, as well as the way the UN responds when staff members report allegations, are good indicators that a zero tolerance policy is in place and actually being effectively implemented.

But she pointed out that “proactive measures to prevent and respond to sexual harassment should be undertaken with regard to all who work with UN staff members regardless of their position, including appointees of the General Assembly, on the pay roll of the United Nations.”

Meanwhile, when the proposed survey was announced, Donovan wrote a letter to the Secretary-General expressing concerns about the validity of the UN’s Safe Space survey data.

In it, she informed Guterres that staff had alerted the UN that it was possible for anyone to take the survey, and to take it as many times as they wished, so long as they used a unique device each time. Some concerned staff had succeeded in doing that.

Guterres’ office sent a one-line email acknowledging receipt, “and we heard nothing more — which at a minimum, seems to fall short of “civility”, but also demonstrates the seriousness with which this Secretary-General undertakes efforts to solve this longstanding crisis.”

“We are left with the indisputable fact that the design of the system-wide Safe Space survey does not prevent external parties from responding and does not protect against multiple entries from respondents with malign motives. Whether or not the survey has been compromised enough times by enough people to render it statistically invalid is uncertain. The risk that data has been manipulate significantly seems high enough to invalidate this survey,” the letter said.

Ian Richards, President, of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS that a survey, conducted in December by the CCISUA on harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of authority, differed from the current UN survey, in that it covers all forms of prohibited conduct.

“We believe that focusing on sexual harassment, the tip of the iceberg in terms of prohibited conduct at the UN, avoids discussion of other types of abuse of power and prevents accountability at senior levels,” he added.

The key findings of the CCISUA survey were:

    • • Sexual harassment, while abhorrent, constitutes only 16 percent of all forms of harassment and abuse of authority.

 

    • • The results show a worrying trend in terms of complaints not investigated. Where an investigation was conducted, a significant proportion of staff was kept waiting more than six months to get the results. Most who complained were not kept informed of progress on the investigation.

 

    • Twenty percent of staff felt they were retaliated against for reporting misconduct.

“While the UN’s actions are very much focused on sexual harassment, which is important, this shouldn’t divert energies away from addressing the UN’s broader problem with abuse of authority,” declared Richards.

He also said: ” We feel the Deloitte survey missed an important opportunity’

”By restricting itself to sexual harassment, abhorrent in itself, it neatly avoided topics such as discrimination, bullying and abuse of power that would have raised serious questions about how our organisations are managed and run”.

This, Richards said, would also address the biggest finding, that staff continue, perhaps rightfully, to fear retaliation for reporting such behaviours and are far from satisfied with how complaints are treated.

“These are fundamental to the problems of international organizations, which operate something of a legal vacuum.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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A Salty Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/a-salty-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-salty-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/a-salty-dilemma/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2019 11:57:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159655 As the threat of water scarcity increasingly grows, many have turned to the Earth’s plentiful oceans for a solution. However, this has created a new risk threatening public and environmental health: brine. In a new study, the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health (UNU-INWEH) assessed the state of desalination around the world […]

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A desalination plant. Across 177 countries, there are now 16,000 desalination plants, many of which are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa where water scarcity is already a reality.As desalination plants continue to pop up, so does a hypersaline, chemical by-product known as brine. Credit: RoPlant

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

As the threat of water scarcity increasingly grows, many have turned to the Earth’s plentiful oceans for a solution. However, this has created a new risk threatening public and environmental health: brine.

In a new study, the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health (UNU-INWEH) assessed the state of desalination around the world as countries increasingly convert sea water into freshwater for its citizens.

“There is an increasing level of water scarcity across the globe, but there are hot spots of water scarcity like those in the Middle East and parts of Africa. They really need an additional supply of water that they can use to meet the requirements of their population,” one of the report’s authors Manzoor Qadir told IPS.

Across 177 countries, there are now 16,000 desalination plants, many of which are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa where water scarcity is already a reality.

As desalination plants continue to pop up, so does a hypersaline, chemical by-product known as brine.

In fact, for every litre of freshwater a plant produces, 1.5 litres of brine is produced, a figure that is 50 percent more than previously estimated.

Globally, desalination plants produce enough brine in one year to cover all of Florida in one foot of the waste.

“Historically what we used to see was the equal volumes of brine versus desalinated water—that is not true…there is more brine produced than desalinated water. It really needs efficient management,” Qadir said.

Countries are increasingly turning to the oceans as a solution to water scarcity. Pictured here is Sri Lanka’s southern coast near Hikkaduwa town. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The study, which is the first to quantify brine production across the world, found that just four countries are responsible for 55 percent of global brine: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Almost 80 percent of brine is produced in plants near the ocean and are often discharged back into the ocean, posing major risks to ocean life and marine ecosystems.

According to the UNU-INWEH report, untreated brine increases both the temperature and salt concentration of sea water. Together, these conditions decreases the water’s oxygen levels, impacting sea organisms and the food chain.

The desalination process also uses toxic chemicals such as copper and chlorine, polluting oceans when released.

As desalination plants are predicted to increase in number, the assessment highlighted the need for improved brine management strategies to avoid further and future environmental damage.

The report’s authors pointed to the various economic opportunities to use brine including in the irrigation of salt tolerant crops,  electricity generation, and even aquaculture.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains.  Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300 percent achieved,” Qadir said.

“”There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity,” he added.

But first and foremost, countries need to minimise the volume of brine produced including the adoption of more efficient modern technologies, Qadir noted.

“[Middle Eastern countries] especially need to take concrete action just to make sure that there is an environmentally feasible management of brine,” he told IPS, while also acknowledging the importance of desalination.

UNU-INWEH found that eight countries including the Maldives, Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda and Qatar can meet all their water needs through desalination. And it is predicted that more and more countries will rely on such plants for their water needs.

“We need to raise the importance of global water scarcity and the key contributions of desalinated water, but at the same time we should not just ignore the other part of desalinated technology which is brine production,” Qadir concluded.

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Honduran Crisis Produces New Caravanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan/#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:34:52 +0000 Jan Egeland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159650 Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), visited Honduras in December 2018.

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The first caravan of Central American migrants reached the town of Matías Romero in Oaxaca state on November 1, 2018. The Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs estimates that 4,000 people spent the night there. Credit: IOM / Rafael Rodríguez

By Jan Egeland
OSLO, Norway, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

A new caravan heading towards Mexico and the United States was reportedly set to leave San Pedro Sula in Honduras on 15 January. The large number of people expected to leave Central America is a true testimony to the desperate situation for children, women and men in this poor and violence affected region.

Instead of talking about a crisis at the US-Mexican border, North Americans must wake up and address the real humanitarian crisis in Central America. The long walk north will be extremely dangerous and exhausting for the thousands of families from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that will join the caravans planned in 2019.

Obstacles on the way are likely to increase, as there is fatigue and frustration from communities who supported migrants during last year’s exodus. There is rising xenophobia in both the United States (US) and Mexico and increasingly tough border regulations in every country on the way.

Border controls, guards or walls will never stop people who are hunted by gang violence and flee for fear for their lives. Youth who have lost all hope for a better future in Central America will try repeatedly to reach a better life in the US, Canada or Mexico.

To tackle the current crisis, the more affluent American nations need to understand their own neighborhood and invest much more in bringing hope, security and good governance for people who currently see no other option than to flee.

Having spoken to many desperate Honduran families who have been or will be on the caravans, I am convinced that the current policies from the US through Mexico and Central America will only deepen the crisis, the desperation and the exodus. Investment in education, livelihoods and violence prevention are better alternatives to detention and deportation back to places where there is only misery and violence.

Hondurans who have managed to reach Mexico during previous journeys have told NRC staff that they were held in shelters, forced to sign deportation papers and deported without a fair hearing of their asylum claims. In spite of the hardships and the dangers many are still planning on leaving again even though they know of the slim chances of reaching the US.

“Dying here or dying there, it doesn’t make much difference. At least there I have a small chance to see that my life improves,” said one person who is planning to leave again for the north with the caravan.

If a gang is extorting you, if you are a witness to a crime or if your neighborhood is taken over by organized crime you may have no other option than to flee. People will only stay if they are protected from violence, lawlessness and crime and provided with education and livelihood opportunities.

Thousands of people remain stranded and blocked on the border between Mexico and the US where processing is extremely slow. The US and Mexico recently signed the agreement ‘Remain in Mexico’ in which the US will be able to send people back to Mexico while they go through the refugee status determination process.

This process can take years due to a backlog in the system. The agreement comes on top of President Trump’s attempts to build a wall, migrant children dying in US custody and last summer’s family separations crisis. 75,279 people were deported from Mexico and the US in 2018, according to a Honduran centre for migration: Observatorio Consular y Migratorio de Honduras (CONMIGHO).

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Excerpt:

Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), visited Honduras in December 2018.

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Bridging the Infrastructure Financing Gap in the Asia Pacific Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 15:33:03 +0000 Tientip Subhanij and Daniel W. Lin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159647 Tientip Subhanij is Chief, Financing for Development, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP & Daniel W. Lin is Consultant, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP

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Credit: Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

By Tientip Subhanij and Daniel W. Lin
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

Infrastructure development is undoubtedly critical for a country’s long-term economic growth and competitiveness as it impacts economic activities by increasing productivity, facilitating trade, and promoting innovation.

Across the Asia Pacific region, however, economic growth as well as broader development goals are hindered by a shortage of roads, mass rapid transit systems, telecommunications, power plants, water and sanitation and other basic infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that the average infrastructure requirement for a representative group of 24 developing countries in the region for 2016 to 2020 is 8.2 per cent of the GDP when China is excluded.

However, their current investments average only 3.2 per cent of GDP, leaving the financing gap as large as 5 per cent of GDP. Notably, of the 3.2 per cent of GDP currently invested in infrastructure on average, only 1 per cent of GDP comes from the private sector.

Adding to this challenge, private sector participation in infrastructure investment in emerging markets dropped by 37 percent between 2015 and 2016 globally, reaching the lowest level in 10 years.

Understanding the decline in private investment and how countries can encourage more private sector participation will, therefore, be important in achieving sustainable infrastructure development in the region.

The most recent successful example of engaging private sector financing is from Thailand, where the government has launched a new way to raise private capital through Thailand Future Fund (TFF). Traded on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, the TFF is a 44.7 billion Baht infrastructure mutual fund that aims at raising capital from institutional and private retail investors for the country’s infrastructure development.

The fund invests in value-enhancing state agencies’ infrastructure assets and projects to create long-term distribution growth potential, including expressways, railways, electricity generation and distribution, airports, and deep seaports.

An IPO was made from October 12 to 19 with prices set at 10 Baht each. Since then, major local institutional investors have shown great interest in TFF.

The TTF has the advantage of reducing the government’s burden on public finance by providing fund raising alternative. This is expected to accelerate the Thai government investment in infrastructure projects, which can be injected into TFF in the future, thus, providing institutional and retail investors the opportunity to invest in high performing and stable income infrastructure projects.

The Fund also promotes the development of Thailand’s capital markets by facilitating private sector investment in infrastructure development, which is considered a low risk long-term investment, allowing greater diversification for private investors.

The mobilization of private resources, including through public-private partnerships (PPP) has indeed been attracting strong interest from governments in Asia and the Pacific.

Recognizing this potential, the Regional Road Map for Implementing the 2030 Agenda, endorsed by ESCAP member States in May 2017, highlights the need to undertake research, analysis and consensus-building initiatives to enhance regional knowledge of infrastructure financing, including PPP.

Subsequently, in December 2017 the Committee on Macroeconomic Policy, Poverty Reduction and Financing for Development, requested the ESCAP secretariat to consider developing a network on PPP and infrastructure financing to provide a regular platform where member States can exchange their experiences, disseminate knowledge, engage private sector and build consensus regarding good practices on infrastructure financing.

To this end, ESCAP took the initiative to serve member States’ needs and successfully organized the first meeting of PPP and infrastructure financing network with support from the China Public Private Partnerships Center at the City of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China on 12 and 13 September 2018.

This was the first regional event, among many more to come, that leverages on the fact that countries in the region are increasingly accumulating experience in engaging private sector for their infrastructure investment.

It gathered the heads of PPP units, infrastructure specialists and capital market experts from 22 countries in the region to enhance knowledge and capacity of PPP units on the effective use of PPP mechanisms as well as other infrastructure financing strategies to support the pursuit of sustainable infrastructure development.

Given that the Asia-Pacific region’s infrastructure investment requirement is immense and public resources are limited, it is important to carefully design financing strategies to fill the existing gaps and meet future infrastructure demand.

As highlighted by the recent Thai example, this can be supported by mobilizing more resources from institutional investors by further deepening capital markets in the regions as well as increasing the availability of investable assets.

Moving forward, member States in Asia and the Pacific would greatly benefit from sharing established good practices with other countries and engaging the private sector in addressing their infrastructure financing challenges, with ESCAP playing an enabling role in such endeavours.

The post Bridging the Infrastructure Financing Gap in the Asia Pacific Region appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Tientip Subhanij is Chief, Financing for Development, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP & Daniel W. Lin is Consultant, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP

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Gloom Ahead of World Economic Stormhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/gloom-ahead-world-economic-storm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gloom-ahead-world-economic-storm http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/gloom-ahead-world-economic-storm/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 07:50:43 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159629 In light of the uncertainty caused by the US-China trade war, the IMF expects the US economic growth to slow from a three-year high of 2.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.5 per cent in 2019, while China’s expansion has already slowed in recent years, albeit from much higher levels. Trump stimulus dissipates US President […]

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By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY & KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

In light of the uncertainty caused by the US-China trade war, the IMF expects the US economic growth to slow from a three-year high of 2.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.5 per cent in 2019, while China’s expansion has already slowed in recent years, albeit from much higher levels.

Trump stimulus dissipates
US President Trump and the previous GOP-controlled US Congress claimed to be breathing new life into the US economy with generous tax cuts. The US economy is now overheating, with inflation rising above target, causing the Federal Reserve to continue raising the federal funds rate to dampen demand.

Anis Chowdhury

As most families hardly gained from the tax changes, US purchases of houses and consumer durables continued to decline through 2018. Instead of investing in expanding productive capacity, US companies spent much of their tax savings on a $1.1 trillion stock buy-back spree in 2018.

Hence, the positive impacts of tax cuts were not only modest, but are also diminishing. Nearly half of 226 US chief financial officers recently surveyed believe that the US will go into recession by the end of 2019, with 82 per cent believing that it will have begun by the end of 2020. Wall Street’s biggest banks, JP Morgan and Bank of America, are also preparing for a slowdown in 2019.

As if to confirm their concerns, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 had their worst ever December performance since 1931, when stocks were battered after the Great Crash.

European recession
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is expecting sluggish 1.7 per cent regional growth in 2019. Europe is close to recession with the collapse of industrial output in Germany, France, UK and Italy.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Germany’s industrial output fell by 1.9 per cent month-on-month in November 2018, and was in negative territory in 5 of the 6 months before December. Its GDP fell by 0.2 per cent in the 3rd quarter of 2018. France’s industrial production fell 1.3 per cent in November 2018, reversing a 1.3 per cent growth recovery in October from a 1.7 per cent decline in September. Italy, Europe’s third largest economy, recorded negative growth in the 3rd quarter of 2018 as GDP fell by 0.1 per cent in July-September 2018 with weaker domestic demand.

As the UK remains mired in its Brexit mess, GDP growth was dragged down to 0.3 per cent in the three months to November with the biggest industrial output contraction since 2012. 2018 final quarter growth is expected to be 0.1 per cent, i.e., negligible.

Not preparing for the inevitable?
David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, warned in early January 2019, “The next recession is somewhere over the horizon, and we are less prepared to deal with that than we should be . . . [and] less prepared than in the last [crisis in 2008].”

Although the IMF had projected 3.7 per cent global economic growth for 2019 in October 2018, Lipton’s statement suggests that the IMF is likely to revise its 2019 growth forecast downward.

There have also been growing concerns over the continued efficacy of unconventional monetary policy since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC). Undoubtedly, countries now have less fiscal space than in 2009, and overall borrowing, including public debt has risen since.

Reaping what you sow
The policy blunders since the GFC have only made things much worse. The ideologically driven case for fiscal consolidation did not boost investor confidence for a robust recovery, as promised.

Despite acknowledging false claims cited to justify fiscal consolidation, including the IMF’s admission that its early advice was based on faulty calculations, there was no recommended change in policy course.

Instead, all responsibility for recovery was put on the monetary authorities who resorted to unconventional policies, especially ‘quantitative easing’ (QE). However, the global economic recovery since then has remained tepid and easily reversible.

Additional liquidity, made available by QE, has largely been used to buy financial assets and for speculation, amplifying the financial vulnerability of emerging market economies, which have experienced increased volatility.

Governments also failed to take advantage of historically low, even negative real interest rates to borrow and invest to boost productive capacity in the longer term.

By mainly benefiting financial asset holders, QE has exacerbated wealth concentration. Meanwhile, cuts in public services and social spending have worsened social polarization, as tax cuts for the rich have failed to generate promised additional investments and jobs growth.

The failure to achieve a robust recovery has not only worsened the debt situation, but also made lives harder for ordinary people. Growing polarization has also worsened resentments, eroding trust, undermining solidarity and progressive alternatives.

Ethno-populist jingoism undermines cooperation
But lack of preparedness can hardly be due to ignorance as there have been many such predictions recently, certainly more than in 2007-2008, before the GFC.

The cooperation that enabled co-ordinated actions to prevent the Great Recession from becoming a depression has not only waned, but major countries are now at loggerheads, preventing collective action.

National political environments are also more hostile. In Europe, the rise of ethno-populist nationalism is making it harder to pursue EU-level policies and to act together to prevent and mitigate the next financial crisis and downturn.

The “new sovereigntists” and false prophets of American exceptionalism are undermining multilateral cooperation when needed most. Thus, a recession in 2019 may well elevate geo-political tensions, exacerbating the negative feedback loop for a ‘perfect storm’.

Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Is Love an Embarrassment?http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/is-love-an-embarrassment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-love-an-embarrassment http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/is-love-an-embarrassment/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 15:34:00 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159616
I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

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I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jan 14 2019 (IPS)

I do not understand a word of Persian and cannot determine whether these lines, taken from a German translation, are a correct interpretation of Muhammad Hāfez-e-Shīrāzī´s original poem. Nevertheless, Hāfez, who lived 1315-1390 CE, was apparently one of those great writers able to provide bemused couples with points of reference after being struck by the tumultuous sensation of passionate love.

All over the world we find a wealth of poems that with tenderness and empathy express love and compassion. Several of them have been written by men to women, by women to women, and men to men. Such tenderness is easily forgotten when we are confronted with men’s cruelty towards women; their power abuse, contempt for “the weaker sex”, drunkenness and sadism, as well as men’s obsession with brutal sex and machismo and repeated claims about male reluctance to demonstrate affection. We are becoming used to consider men as warriors, playboys, or power-drunk world leaders, while offensive role models and ideologies by various media outlets are presented as guiding principles for male behaviour.

In spite of advocacy and involvement of many activist organizations, violence against women remains one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations worldwide. It ensues in both public and private spheres and may occur at any time in a woman´s life span. Violence against women might limit their contributions to social, economic, and political development, as well as it impedes them from exercising their human rights. Gender-based violence prevails regardless of age, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and specific geographical areas.

Since the issue of gender equality is present in both public and private spheres, affecting us all by influencing even our most intimate relationships, it is very difficult to address it in a balanced, objective and multi-faceted manner. We tend to limit problems related to gender equality to “neutral” spheres, like economic and social justice combined with a struggle to tear down barriers to equal participation, rights and possibilities for men and women. The thorny issue of human emotions is generally ignored, while men and women are bunched together as one-dimensional stereotypes.

While working with gender equality issues within development cooperation organizations, I actually never heard anyone talking seriously about love between men and women. Words like love, or compassion, were not mentioned during any of the countless meetings and gatherings I attended. If I mentioned such words in speech or writing, they were criticized, censored and obliterated. A word like compassion was for some reason considered to be “embarrassing”, “falsely emotional”, “disparaging”, or “overly sentimental”. On the contrary, words like fighting spirit and competition were welcomed. Do we not like love? Does the gender equality struggle have no need for positive role models, except for empowered, energized women, and tolerant, supportive men? Why is it often easier to recommend fighting and violent action, instead of negotiations and compromises? Patience and understanding, combined with an unselfish and benevolent concern for the good of others, i.e. love, may be considered as a prerequisite for peaceful cooperation and positive outcomes, like in the Beatles song:

Love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game.
It’s easy.
There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time.
It’s easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love.
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

To me it appears as if any official discourse about harmonious, respectful love between human beings tends to be considered as somewhat embarrassing. Is it not politically correct to talk about that kind of love? In the current debate about gender equality we seldom hear the word love (not in the sense of sexual satisfaction, but as a general, overarching concept), nor words like tenderness or compassion.

Maybe it would not be harmful to point out that there are indeed good men around, not only chauvinists and abusers. Positive male role models do exist. Everywhere we find men who are supportive of, respectful and affectionate to women. I assume we have to search for expressions of that kind of love and as poets and songwriters often do – praise it.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

The post Is Love an Embarrassment? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

The post Is Love an Embarrassment? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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UN Lambasted on High-Level Appointmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/un-lambasted-high-level-appointments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-lambasted-high-level-appointments http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/un-lambasted-high-level-appointments/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 11:15:11 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159611 The world’s developing countries, comprising over two-thirds of the 193 UN member states, are complaining they are not being adequately represented in the higher echelons of the world body –- despite competent candidates with strong professional and academic qualifications vying for these jobs. The 134-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, […]

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António Guterres takes the oath of office for his five-year term as UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2019 (IPS)

The world’s developing countries, comprising over two-thirds of the 193 UN member states, are complaining they are not being adequately represented in the higher echelons of the world body –- despite competent candidates with strong professional and academic qualifications vying for these jobs.

The 134-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, says “persistent imbalances in equitable geographic representation in the UN Secretariat are a major concern.”

While the UN is being commended for ensuring equitable representation of women in recent years, it still stands accused of neglecting qualified nationals of developing countries, including from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The high-level jobs go mostly to nationals of either Western nations, big donors or the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5), namely, the US, UK, France, Russia and China.

“Every Secretary-General, with no exception, caves into the demands of big powers,” one Asian diplomat told IPS, “These countries think high-ranking UN jobs are their political birthright”.

Addressing the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee), and speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, Karim Ismail of Egypt, told delegates last November that equitable geographic representation is key to ensuring the Organization’s international character and its Member States.

Urging the Secretariat to expedite efforts in this direction, including the representation of troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs), he called for more transparency in how geographical representation is measured and the basis for such assessment.

“The Assembly needs more complete and easily understandable information on how gender parity and geographical representation are reflected in the 38,000 posts across the Secretariat,” he added.

The high-level posts include Under Secretaries-Generals (USGs), Assistant Secretaries-Generals (ASGs), Directors (categorized as D-1s and D-2s), heads of UN peacekeeping missions overseas, mostly based in Africa, and Special Envoys of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

According to a system of geographical balance, when the secretary-general is from a Western nation, the deputy secretary-general is from the developing world, and vice versa. Currently, Amina Mohammed from Nigeria, holds the second highest ranking job in the world body, next in command to Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal.

Ian Richards, president of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of the UN’s International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “The current situation in which staff from developing countries are less likely to make it to the top is unacceptable and unfortunately mirrors political and financial influence in the system.”

An organization cannot talk about putting performance at the heart of human resources management and selection, if nationality continues to be a key consideration at senior levels, he pointed out.

Linked to this, he said, is the ongoing revolving door between the General Assembly and senior staff positions, for which there is no cooling-off period, and which undermines the independence of the UN.

“Guterres needs to have a frank discussion on this,” declared Richards. Otherwise, he warned, the UN’s much-touted reforms will be an exercise in futility—
and will not mean much.

The biggest contributors to the UN’s regular budget, who stake their claims for top jobs, include: the US, China, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Russia. Amongst Asian countries, China (a member of the G77) and Japan (although Asian, but not a G77 member, still wielding economic clout as a major donor) are both favoured in senior UN appointments.

But Asia is not merely China, Japan or India, one of the world’s most populous nations.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS it is widely known that the UN adopts a pro-active policy towards recruiting Japanese by sending head-hunting teams to Japan acknowledging the major financial contribution Japan makes.

“This needs to be done with others too so that talent can be spotted. There are major gaps in Human Resource recruitment within the UN, with the West getting the plum jobs, although progress has been made with regard to the recruitment of women redressing the imbalances of the past”, he added.

Asked who should be blamed for the continued under-representation—whether it should be Guterres or member states, former UN Assistant Secretary-General Dr Ramesh Thakur, emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, told IPS: “Both– but mainly member states”.

He said Asian countries need to do two things. (1) lobby for their own nationals, and, (2) lobby for the Asian group as a whole.

For example, he said, they could demand that, as the UN University is the only part of the UN system that has its global headquarters in Asia, the Rector (USG rank) must always be an Asian.

In point of fact, only one Rector has been Asian, one Latin American, zero African, and four from West European and Other States (as categorized by the UN).

Dr Thakur said there should be a demand by member states for a report, every two years, by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on regional representation in the ranks of USG, ASG and D2.

“The very fact of having to provide this documentation will make the Secretary-General and the UN system much more sensitive to the inequitable representation,” he declared.

Samir Sanbar, a former Assistant Secretary-General and one-time head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS that “equitable geographical representation by developing members –as required by the U.N. Charter– has been eroding consistently over the last two decades, despite the availability of qualified candidates.”

In the current unusual situation, he pointed out, two UK citizens now head two Secretariat Departments (Humanitarian Affairs and Global Communications) while a citizen of New Zealand heads Management, Portugal heads the office of legal affairs, France keeps heading the Peacekeeping Department (since 1996) and China holds Economic/Social Affairs. The US traditionally heads the Department of Political Affairs, and Russia heads the UN office in Vienna, after earlier heading the office in Geneva.

Initially, appointments from key countries were made selectively by the Secretary-General based on the merit of presented candidates.

Sanbar also pointed out there were some illustrious USGs—irrespective of their nationalities—- because of their superlative credentials.

For example, he said, Brian Urquhart was the most distinguished head of the Peacekeeping Department regardless of his solid U.K. citizenship. So was Bernard Miyet of France.

Similarly, were other heads of departments from developing countries like Sergio Vieira de Mello (Brazil), Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka) and Nitin Desai (India), said Sanbar, who served under five different secretaries-general during his career at the UN.

So is Guterres’ highly regarded Chef de Cabinet

“Our inspiring Dag Hammarskjold reportedly quipped: The U. N. needs the big powers to survive and small powers to succeed,” declared Sanbar.

Meanwhile, the 53-member Asia Pacific Group accounts for about 27 percent of UN member states and over half the world’s population– but still constitutes only around 17 per cent of the Secretariat’s international staff.

Pointing out these discrepancies, Mahesh Kumar of India told the Administrative and Budgetary that while the UN Charter puts equitable geographical representation at the heart of human resources management, challenges continue to persist.

He said out of a total UN Secretariat staff of 38,000, less than 10 per cent are covered by the system of desirable ranges. Even for these 3,600 posts, 64 countries are listed as un-represented or under-represented and 50 of these 64 are developing countries.

Further, the number of member states in the category of un-represented or under-represented continues to increase since 2014.

In addition, nearly 60 more developing countries are close to the lower level of their desirable range of representation and remain at risk of slipping into the under-represented category, he said.

“These numbers paint a very stark picture of the current inequitable representation,” he said.

He complained that regional disparity remains especially stark at senior level positions, adding that in peacekeeping positions too, the regional disparity is glaring.

Nearly half of the Force commanders — six out of 14 – are from Western European and Others Group, comprising only 14% of total member states.

Currently, the five biggest troop-contributors to the 90,000-strong UN peacekeeping force overseas include: Ethiopia (7,597 troops), Bangladesh (6,624), Rwanda (6,528), India (6,445) and Nepal (6,098).

In contrast, among the P-5 countries, China is the 10th largest troop contributor with 2,515 troops, France ranks 31 with 729, UK ranks 36 with 618, Russia ranks 68 with 85 and the US ranks 77 with 51 troops.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Q&A: ‘There’s a Lot More Climate Finance Available than People Think’http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-theres-lot-climate-finance-available-people-think/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-theres-lot-climate-finance-available-people-think http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-theres-lot-climate-finance-available-people-think/#respond Fri, 11 Jan 2019 18:07:00 +0000 Yazeed Kamaldien http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159590 IPS Correspondent Yazeed Kamaldien speaks to DR. FRANK RIJSBERMAN, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) about accessing finance for climate mitigation.

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Communities in rural Papua New Guinea install their own cost effective and energy efficient solar panels. GGGI says that governments should rather invest in renewable energy. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Yazeed Kamaldien
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Jan 11 2019 (IPS)

While growth in the green economy looks promising, government regulation and a business-as-usual approach are among the hurdles inhibiting cleaner energy production.

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), believes shifts are needed to realise more projects. And he believes funding is available.

“We have teams in more than 30 countries. We work on policy barriers and help develop bankable projects. In the last two years we have helped our member countries mobilise at least one billion dollars in green and climate finance,” Rijsberman told IPS. GGGI is a treaty-based international organisation that assists countries develop a green growth model.

Rijsberman was among panelists discussing ‘Unlocking Finance for Sustainability’ at the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) Ministerial Conference being held in Cape Town, South Africa from Jan. 10 to 11. It gathered government leaders, businesses and environmentalists to focus on the challenge to “reduce inequalities, protect the environment and grow the economy”.

The conference focused on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted three years ago.

“It is time now to take these global goals and turn them into real changes in the lives of people and nations. It’s time for action,” stated the conference agenda.

“We can restructure our economic and financial systems to transform them into drivers of sustainability and social inclusion; the two prerequisites for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change,” it continued.

At the December United Nations’ Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland, where ministers from around the world negotiated on how best to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, which outlines commitments to mitigate climate change, accessing finance was a topical issue. IPS reported from the  that the African team of negotiators had been concerned about who would carry the burden of financing the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

PAGE gathered around 500 innovators and leaders from governments, civil society, private sector, development organisations, media and the general public. The idea was to showcase “the experiences and creativity of first-movers…and engage in an open debate about what it is going to take to for us to have a ‘just transition’ to economics and societies that are more inclusive, stable and sustainable.”

Rijsberman offered his insights gained from working in different countries on accessing financing for green projects.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Dr. Frank Rijsberman, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), says the largest amounts of money available is with the private sector and institutional development such as pension funds. This, he says, can be accessed for climate change mitigation. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Inter Press Service (IPS): Where is this money that you mention for green projects?

Frank Rijsberman (FR): There’s a lot more finance available than people think. There tends to be an over focus on development money but the largest amounts of money is with the private sector and institutional development such as pension funds. We need to get the private sector off the sidelines and to invest in renewable energy.

IPS: And how can that be done?

FR: They need to realise that green investments are attractive. If you want to do socially important projects then renewable energy is it. It has become the cheapest, most attractive form of energy.

IPS: What about the role that governments play in this? They are the regulators that sometimes inhibit the private sector.

FR: Sometimes we sit in the room with the private sector and ask them what stops them from investing and they say it’s regulation and policies. We have to find a more welcoming environment.

We talk to governments and they talk about a study they did three years ago and tell us renewable energy is expensive. But we tell them prices have come down. All that governments know is how to build fossil fuel power plants. Fossil fuel project developers are still in their contact lists. The banks know what to do. They need to look at an energy mix.

IPS: So what is it about government policies that hinder moves to renewable energy?

FR: Some governments have laws that they use to disconnect companies from power if they put solar on their rooftops. Other countries, like Finland, still have old polices that are bad and that are still on the books. It is also difficult politically when the government subsidises fuel and not renewable energy. Governments need to remove policy barriers.

We are in the middle of such a rapid transition but if you sit in a country where governments don’t see that it’s difficult.

Coal and oil is more certain [to produce power] but for countries that need to import that, where prices are uncertain, it’s a lot more certain to use the sun and wind if you have this in your country.

IPS: How is the prospect for renewable energy looking in the developing world?

FR: If you are using only coal-fired power plants then you will sit with a stranded asset. Countries that already have a lot of investment in fossil fuels will find the change to renewable energy painful.

In Africa, most countries don’t have this. In some countries only 20 percent of people have energy access. These countries can invest in green energy and they can avoid making bad investments and can leapfrog into renewables.

They don’t have to look like Asia where they have rapidly developed economies and sit with coal-fired power stations that pollute their cities.

There is a real opportunity to avoid the problems that other countries have.

IPS: What about developing country examples of renewable energy that worked?

FR: Just two years ago when the Indian government wanted to a build a power plant they found the prices of large-scale solar panels less than coal-fired power plants. They scrapped all their plans. They are looking at solar power projects.

But there is still a lot of inertia. People are still continuing to invest in fossil fuels. We are trying to show governments through information and projects that this is feasible. We want to show how it can reduce risk.

We are working on projects. In Fiji the government gives a subsidy to low-income houses for electricity. We have proposed a project where the government puts solar panels on the roof and uses the same subsidy to finance this. It’s about using that money for sustainability.

Low-income houses have TVs and mobile phones. Making a package for people that puts solar on their roof is better. They can charge their mobile phones and [solar] also connects to their fridge and TV. Social movements have done this in some countries.

The post Q&A: ‘There’s a Lot More Climate Finance Available than People Think’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

IPS Correspondent Yazeed Kamaldien speaks to DR. FRANK RIJSBERMAN, director-general of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) about accessing finance for climate mitigation.

The post Q&A: ‘There’s a Lot More Climate Finance Available than People Think’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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We Are All DukDukDiya: Humming Bird with One Drop of Water at a Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/dukdukdiya-humming-bird-one-drop-water-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dukdukdiya-humming-bird-one-drop-water-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/dukdukdiya-humming-bird-one-drop-water-time/#respond Fri, 11 Jan 2019 12:59:09 +0000 Jamison Ervin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159580 Jamison Ervin is Manager, UNDP’s Global Programme on Nature for Development

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Community members restoring mangroves at Mikoko Pamoja in Kenya, winners of the Equator Prize in 2017. Credit: UNDP Equator Initiative

By Jamison Ervin
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 11 2019 (IPS)

There is a Quechan fable about a hummingbird named Dukdukdiya. During a fierce forest fire, while all other animals stood in stunned fear, Dukdukdiya alone took action by repeatedly carrying a single drop of water in her beak to the flames. When asked why she bothered with such paltry efforts, she replied that she was simply doing everything in her power to stop the fire.

Over the past several months, the release of three global reports, each tied to one of the three Rio Conventions, has made many of us feel like DukDukDiya, battling the dual challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change with one drop of water at a time.

The Living Planet Report, released in November, put a point on negotiations at the biennial UN Biodiversity Conference by painting a stark picture of biodiversity loss, showing an overall decline of 60 percent in population sizes of more than 4,000 species since 1970.

A new atlas on global desertification, linked to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, portrays a world struggling to cope with growing water scarcity, land degradation and desertification. And just prior to the annual UN Climate Conference, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special climate report that sent shock waves around the world – stating unequivocally that we have just 12 years to tackle climate change before largely irreversible and profound changes shape our world.

These reports, along with droves of supporting evidence and research, have resulted in apocalyptic news stories, with headlines claiming, for example, that 2019 and 2020 are “humanity’s two most crucial years” that will determine “to what extent Earth remains habitable.“ Despite these headlines, and the global media attention to biodiversity loss and climate change, the world seems almost paralyzed to take action. 2018, for example, will be the worst year in a decade for tropical forest loss, and greenhouse gas emissions increased by 2.7 percent in 2018.

What is required is nothing less than a system transformation of three basic elements of society: how we provide enough food, water, energy and consumer goods for 7.7 billion of us; how we invest our more than $100 trillion in investable wealth and how we spend our roughly $75 trillion in annual global GDP; and how we protect, manage and restore our world’s single most important asset, worth more than $125 trillion annually in goods and services: nature.

We know that stemming the loss of biodiversity and tackling our climate crisis will require all members of society, doing all that they can, starting now. Already there are signs of change. Commodity traders such as Wilmar, which supplies 40 percent of the world’s palm oil, recently published a plan to completely eliminate deforestation from its supply chain, as part of its commitment as an endorser of the New York Declaration on Forests.

El Salvador is leading the world toward a global decade of ecosystem restoration. Recently, 415 investors worth $32 trillion in assets sent an open letter to governments at the climate conference, urging them to take climate action.

Societal transformation takes bold leadership, not only from companies, governments and investors, but from everyone. One of boldest, most memorable leaders during the climate conference this month was Greta Thunberg, a slight 15-year-old Swedish girl with Asperger’s Syndrome. Her poignant speech to UN delegates begins with a simple statement: “I’ve learned that you’re never too small to make a difference.” Her message, that system change is necessary and is upon us, has been shared on YouTube more than 250,000 times, and she’s amassed a Twitter following of nearly 70,000 since she joined in June.

Not all of us can easily transform whole businesses, government policy or large asset investments. But we can transform our own lives, and we can have transformative conversations with others. For example, we can ask ourselves, our employers and our religious institutions whether our retirement savings are invested in businesses linked to deforestation, or to fossil fuels, and whether or not they are climate proof – most aren’t.

We can ensure that events we host professionally offer vegetarian options and avoid food waste – two of the most potent ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we can talk to others about these choices. There are so many actions we can take and so many conversations we can have in our personal and professional lives that can transform our world. Even if our beaks are very small, and we can only carry one drop of water at a time, what matters most is that we do everything in our power that we can.

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Excerpt:

Jamison Ervin is Manager, UNDP’s Global Programme on Nature for Development

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