Friday, October 28, 2011

Climate change – strengthen measures of adaptation

By The Zimbabwean (October 28, 2011)

The Mozambican government believes that the next UN climate change conference should strengthen measures of adaptation to and mitigation of the effects of climate change, according to Telma Manjate, the climate change focal point in the Environment Ministry.

South Africa is hosting the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban from 28 November to 9 December. These conferences have been held annually since the Convention on Climate Change entered into force in 1995.

Speaking at a Maputo seminar on climate change on Tuesday, Manjate said “Our greatest concern is with adaptation and mitigation. We would like adaptation to be duly discussed in Durban. We also think that mitigation can be undertaken to help the country develop sustainably”.

This position, Manjate added, is held by rest of the African continent, which also takes adaptation as a top priority, although there is space for individual countries to present their own concerns.

Mozambique’s position, drawn up with the assistance of a hired consultant, is still under debate, but will be finalised before the Durban conference.

Mozambique is likely to be severely affected by climate change, and some of the impacts already being felt are variations in temperature and rainfall patterns and increased frequency of cyclones.

Although some measures of adaptation and mitigation are under way, the Environment Ministry argues that a common vision, principles, strategic goals and national priorities should be drawn up. In such a plan, the role of each stakeholder – the government, private business, civil society organisations, academics, the mass media and cooperation partners – should be set out.

The government also favours greater integration of the challenges posed by climate change into development policies, strategies and programmes. These challenges will be included in a strategic plan on climate change that the Ministry is drawing up, which will become the basis for other sectors to draft their own detailed strategies.

Like other developing countries, Mozambique is concerned about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and sulphur hexafluoride), which are leading to a dangerous warming of the planet.

The Kyoto Protocol expires on 31 December 2012, and the countries most endangered by climate change are concerned about what will happen then. Will any legal instrument at all be in force, before a new protocol is signed and ratified by UN member states, a process which could take years?

“If the Kyoto Protocol dies, then that is the end of the instrument that the world had to oblige developed countries to finance measures of adaptation”, said Manjate. “That means saying goodbye to the Environment Fund. This is our major concern”.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed and ratified by 191 countries. Only one major country has refused to ratify the Protocol – the United States, where many politicians still try to deny the reality of man-made climate change, and act as though the short-term interests of American corporations trump the long term interests of the planet.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nepal: Biogas Offers Poor Country's a Cleaner, Safer Fuel

Amy Lee, The New York Times (October 25, 2011)

In developing countries where domestic animals are ubiquitous and sewage systems rare, biogas technology — in this case methane derived from feces — can provide both valuable fuel and improved sanitation.

Unlike directly burning animal dung, the methane is clean-burning and odorless. And the technology has benign byproducts: reductions in deforestation and disease.

Dalla, a village of a hundred or so mud-walled, thatch-roof huts, clusters along a narrow dirt road a few kilometers from the forests of the Bardiya National Park in southwest Nepal. Buffaloes and cows lounge under thatch lean-tos to escape the hot sun. But unlike typical villages, Dalla’s approximately 550 residents use biogas for cooking in place of wood.

Biogas can also work in urban areas and with human waste. A few hours from Mumbai, a sprawling public toilet complex serving visitors to the temple of the Indian guru Sai Baba generates enough biogas to provide back-up power for the temple complex, which occupies almost a hectare, or two acres.

There are clear environmental benefits to using biogas, for both forest conservation and combating climate change. An average home biogas system can reduce firewood use by about 4.5 tons each year, which translates into 4 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Jeet Bhadur Tharu, a 53-year-old farmer in Dalla, says almost all of his family’s cooking fuel comes from methane piped into the kitchen from an air-tight pit of dung and excrement dug beneath his backyard.

In the hut that is his kitchen, Mr. Tharu turns a valve on a narrow pipe and lights a burner on the floor; a strong blue flame instantly appears.

Before using biogas, Mr. Tharu’s family of five needed five to seven kilograms, or 11 to 15 pounds, of wood each day for cooking. The time-consuming task of gathering wood fell to his wife and daughters who cook in the small, unventilated kitchen. More than 1.5 million people worldwide die each year from diseases like lung cancer and childhood pneumonia caused by indoor air pollution from unventilated cooking fires, according to the World Health Organization.

Mr. Tharu’s wife and daughters “couldn’t always get dry wood,” he said: “It was very smoky, hard for women. Hard for eyes, and coughing. A lot of laundry to wash because clothes got very dirty. Now it’s better.”

There is no stigma attached to using biogas derived from the toilet and his buffaloes and cows for cooking, Mr. Tharu added.

In the Terai, Nepal’s thickly forested south, 61 percent of the people rely on wood for cooking, as fuel like liquid petroleum gas is too expensive for them, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Meanwhile there are 4.5 million cattle in the Terai that produce tons of dung each year. Most rural areas lack sewage systems.

Given this equation, it is not surprising that the government of Nepal, through its Alternative Energy Promotion Center, has helped build 200,000 biogas systems across the country and has set itself an ambitious target to eventually reach two million. The World Wildlife Fund supported the construction of 7,500 of the existing biogas systems in Nepal, including the ones in Dalla village.

The technology for a home biogas plant is simple and low-tech. Dig a pit ranging in size from 4 to 10 cubic meters, or 140 to 350 cubic feet (the average size is 6 cubic meters), line it with concrete and fit it with an air-tight concrete cover. Place animal dung and water into a round, concrete mixing bowl. A metal crank blends the concoction and pushes it into a pipe that feeds into the underground pit. Nearby, build a simple latrine made of concrete and bricks; gravity and water push human excrement into the same pit threough a pipe.

Deprived of oxygen, the waste mix decomposes, giving off methane, which flows under its own pressure into a narrow PVC pipe leading into the kitchen.

Another byproduct of this anaerobic process is pathogen-free manure, which flows out of the pit when it fills up, and can be used by farmers as fertilizer.

Ugan Manandhar, program manager with the World Wildlife Fund in Nepal, says biogas systems require little maintenance and are safer than combustible tanks of liquid petroleum gas. Villagers are taught to use only dung and water in their biogas plants — no chemicals or plastic should go into the pit. They are given a basic training to fix faulty pipes, though Mr. Tharu says there have been no problems with his biogas system since its installation two years ago.

Still, biogas systems are expensive for “middle poor” people like Mr. Tharu. It costs about $550 to build a home biogas system, including quality-control audits and a toilet. Most of that expense is paid by a combination of government subsidies and financing programs for villagers.

For now, biogas systems do not work in the colder conditions of Nepal’s Himalayan ranges, since the bacteria involved need warmth to thrive and multiply. Mr. Manandhar of the World Wildlife Fund says research is being done on insulation for biogas plants that could function at higher altitudes.

On the other hand, biogas plants can work well in urban areas, where their waste treatment role makes them doubly useful. Since 1970, Sulabh International, a nongovernmental organization based in Delhi, has helped build more than a million affordable latrines, which work without running water. Barely a third of India’s 1.2 billion people have access to hygienic latrines, and hundreds of millions have no choice but to relieve themselves in the open, which easily leads to the spread of disease.

Across India, Sulabh has built 200 biogas plants attached to toilets that are approved by the Indian government’s Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources. Some are powered by large public toilet facilities used by thousands of people each day. The biggest is in Shirdi, about four hours’ drive from Mumbai, which serves up to 7,000 people a day. The city is home to a temple devoted to the guru Sai Baba that attracts up to 100,000 visitors a day. With funds from a trust established by Sai Baba, who died in April of this year, Sulabh built what it describes as an “aesthetically exquisite and visually appealing, colorful toilet-cum-bath complex,” with 120 toilets and 108 “bathing cubicles.” Biogas from human waste runs lights at the complex during power failures.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh, argues that biogas technology is inherently safe, and so far there have been no accidents from leaks at Sulabh’s biogas plants, he says. The organization has also helped build sanitary facilities in a dozen African countries including South Africa and Ethiopia, as well as in Laos, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

In Kabul, where the city’s infrastructure is in shambles, five Sulabh community sanitary complexes with biogas plants, financed by the Indian government, were formally opened in 2007 in the presence of Mr. Pathak, the mayor of Kabul, the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan and other dignitaries.

The underground pits remain warm enough even during Kabul’s cold winters for bacterial decomposition to continue, and the design has attracted interest from U.S. Army engineers, who are considering building 40 similar complexes elsewhere in Afghanistan, according to Mr. Pathak.

“Biogas technology from human waste has multiple benefits: sanitation, bioenergy and manure,” Sulabh emphasizes. And in Afghanistan, the unlikely benefits of dung could include an unconventional aid to diplomacy, too.


Samoa leads call for climate action from US and China

By Television New Zealand Limited (October 26, 2011)

South Pacific, African and Caribbean states today said big greenhouse gas emitters China and the United States were dragging their feet on tackling climate change and urged a Commonwealth leaders summit this week to call for urgent action at global climate talks in November.

"The scientific evidence available to us says we ought to act now," said Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi after a meeting of 48 small island and developing nations in Perth.

"This is the message that we want to tell the whole world, that we are all one," he told a news conference ahead of the Commonwealth summit starting Friday.

Global warming is set to be a focus for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), ahead of a major UN climate change conference in South Africa from November 28.

Many Commonwealth members are developing nations that are vulnerable to a predicted increase in more extreme droughts, floods, rising sea levels and spread of infectious diseases.

Low-lying Tuvalu in the South Pacific, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and several Caribbean island states fear rising sea levels could wipe them off the map.

Australia, which is hosting CHOGM, said the very existence of some small nations depended on the world avoiding average global warming by two degrees Celsius.

"If we fail to do so we can kiss goodbye to some small island states," said Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

Samoa directly cited China and the United States for failing to act on climate change, while Australia noted that while the 48 small states felt the greatest impact from climate change they represented less than one percent of emissions.

"Two of the biggest countries (China and the United States), which are almost responsible for about 40% of emissions, do not seem to be forthcoming in their commitments," said Malielegaoi.

The Obama administration has shelved efforts to price carbon emissions because of political and business opposition and will only agree to a broader climate deal if all major carbon emitters agree steps to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

China will not sign up unless Washington does, but has enacted carbon intensity targets across the economy and other steps.

Failed harvests

The Commonwealth's poor African members fear failed harvests and mass displacement of people unless rich nations make deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and stump up with more cash to help them adapt.

Poorer nations want wealthier states to pledge deeper emissions cuts as part of a new global climate pact and to offer billions of dollars in long-term financing to pay for clean-energy technology and steps to help farmers become more resilient against increasingly extreme weather.

Samoa said the 48 small states called for the speedy disbursement of funds promised by developed nations.

"Another major focus of small states is the need to ensure that the funds that have been mobilised need to be released speedily to the most disadvantaged and most affected countries," said Malielegaoi.

"We would like to ensure countries that have promised funds to own up, to provide help to countries."

The biggest pot of cash on the table is the $100 billion a year Green Climate Fund. Climate talks last year in Cancun led to an agreement that the Fund should be created and 40 countries have been tasked with trying to sort out how the fund will work by the Durban talks.

A UN committee has completed the draft design of the fund, paving the way for its launch in 2013, the UN's climate chief said on Friday, but it is unclear if nations will agree on the design in Durban.

Samoa said climate change funds should be disbursed via bilateral channels, citing Australia's funds which have been used to help South Pacific island adaptation programmes.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Latin American and Caribbean Women: Green economy not defined and has no form

By the Rio + 20 Secretariat

The women of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), see clear signs that the road to Rio+20 is just beginning and that it requires enormous work and effort to assure participation of women, which is a fundamental element.

The women of LAC promote a diverse, more equal and equitable development. Enormous challenge exist in the LAC region to achieve respect for human rights and women's rights: sexual and reproductive rights, rights to live a life free from violence and femicide and the right to sustainable development. The right to sustainable development means among others: the right to water, land and natural resources, the right to health and food sovereignty, right to education, science and technology, and finally, the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge. They consider:

- Sustainable development as a holistic concept that values equally the social, economic and environmental as well as equity and equal opportunities, access to justice, information and participation of people.

- Sustainable development as a central objective for the "good life" of human beings and as such States should recognize that to achieve this should they should eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

The women of the LAC region specifically propose:

1. An evaluation of the implementation of the Rio Principles, Agenda XXI, this time using clear indicators that show evidence of gender differentiation and fairness in general.
2. Ensure access to land, sea and control over natural resources, education, information and access to environmental justice principles and provide social security, reproductive health care and food sovereignty of life of women.
3. The commitment to recognize, respect, value and position the knowledge of women and especially the traditional knowledge of indigenous women. Traditional knowledge on the issues of adaptation, mitigation and biodiversity conservation of indigenous women has to be valued and recognized, and their role as change agents, promoting the good life of indigenous peoples, should be promoted and strengthen.

On the Green Economy:

➢ Women of Latin America and the Caribbean are concerned about the use of the concept of "green economy". They believe that the use of this terminology carries the risk that economic actors, even internationally, to dominate and determine the policies of sustainable development.

➢ The women of the indigenous peoples of this region are concerned about the force with which certain developed countries are fighting for a proposed green economy and institutional frameworks for endorsing. Developing countries are being forced to follow a proposal is not even defined, which has no form, no one knows how it will work. On governance consider that spaces are still lacking broad participation, inclusive, to define what is not defined.

➢ The economic element of sustainable development should be from our view, embracing the elements and values that underpin the recognition of the rights of Mother Earth and good living. These along with the theme of human rights should guide the way with optimism to the next meeting in Rio plus 20.

➢ The women in the LAC region are clear that a vision focused on sustainable development cannot focus solely on an economic agenda, but it must deepen agendas addressing the social, cultural, and environmental policies that have been implemented since the last meeting in Rio in 1992. They raise a clear front against ‘dollarization’ of life, and assure their willingness to work to make the real change that leads to addressing the real issues that we are urgent to change the paradigm of development on our planet including a priority gender considerations.

➢ In the LAC region, women believe that to achieve sustainable development necessarily must pass through the elimination of all gaps of gender discrimination still facing the Latin America and the Caribbean, and it is urgent to think about a comprehensive approach to development where the contribution of women in the region, is recognized, valued and positioned in the proper place.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uganda: power tariffs to rise due to weak shilling, inflation

By Faridah Kulabako, The Daily Monitor

Power consumers are likely to pay more for every unit of electricity if the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) proposal to adjust tariffs upward is approved by government and the public.

The acting executive director to the authority, Mr Benon Mutambi, said ERA will table its proposal to allow it pass on the increasing production costs arising from exchange rate fluctuations, inflation and fuel prices to final consumers.

“The depreciation of the shilling and high international oil prices, amid unchanged electricity tariffs has increased the burden of government subsidies on power to unsustainable levels,” he told the press at the release of ERA’s third quarter performance report yesterday.

The government subsidises electricity up to 60 per cent, meaning that the final consumer only pays 40 per cent of the total bill. A unit of electricity for domestic consumption goes for Shs385.6 per unit while industrialists pay Shs184 per unit. If government scrapped subsidies by 100 per cent, a unit of electricity for domestic consumption would go for Shs800.

Mr Mutambi said: “We are reviewing the tariff methodology to ensure that electricity sector costs are largely recovered from the tariff with minimal government subsidies. Subsidies are distortionary and affect the availability of funding to other equally important sectors of the economy.” He added: “The situation would probably have been different if the tariff was allowed to adjust to full-cost reflective levels so that the subsidy funds are invested in the construction of power projects.”

Mr Mutambi, however, declined to give any specific figures of the new tariffs, saying it has to be agreed upon by all stakeholders. He added that over-reliance on subsidies is not an effective way to develop the electricity sector and that it has led to difficulties for the government to meet its subsidy requirements because it is difficult to budget for subsidies without creating unnecessary domestic arrears.

Electricity suppliers including, Aggreko, ElectroMax and Jecobson switched off their thermo power supply to the national grid in June over non-payment of Shs207.5b arrears by government, leading to the persistent load-shedding.

The permanent secretary in the ministry of energy, Mr Kabagambe Kaliisa, told this newspaper last evening that ERA is given the mandate under the electricity law to determine tariff structures.

Any increase in tariffs would, however, affect the competitiveness of the local industrial sector and would make electricity expensive for domestic consumers. This is also expected to increase losses in the sector due to illegal connection and power theft which currently stand at 30 per cent.

The executive director Private Sector Foundation Uganda, Mr Gideon Badagawa, said raising tariffs would result in closure of some businesses given the economic meltdown.


15 Principles for Green Economy from The Stakeholder Forum, BioRegional and the Earth Charter Initiative

The Stakeholder Forum, in collaboration with BioRegional and the Earth Charter Initiative, has published principles for the green economy, in recognition of the need for the international community to agree on a common ethical framework of shared values and principles in order to enhance political will to achieve an ambitious outcome at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20).

The document, titled “Principles for the Green Economy: A collection of principles for the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication,” contains 15 principles, together with an analysis and consolidation of the principles. It also offers an overview of the kinds of principles that might constitute a common ethical framework.

The 15 principles are: equitable distribution of wealth; economic equity and fairness; intergenerational equity; precautionary approach; the right to development; internalization of externalities; international cooperation; international liability; information, participation and accountability; sustainable consumption and production (SCP); strategic, coordinated and integrated planning to deliver sustainable development, the green economy and poverty alleviation; a just transition; redefining well-being; gender equality; and safeguarding biodiversity and preventing pollution of any part of the environment.

Read the full document from here

Africa Women’s Major Group on green economy

By the Rio + 20 Secretariat

A truly sustainable ‘green economy’ would involve economic development that takes place within the limits of nature, and ensures a fair distribution of resources among all countries and social groups - as well as between women and men. Social equity and environmental justice must remain at the heart of sustainable development, and the outcomes of the Rio+20 UN conference in 2012.

Environmental conservation is critical for maintaining the earth’s ability to continue to support life, and human livelihoods. As countries confront the challenges of providing food, energy, shelter, health care and employment for growing populations, governments must find ways to preserve vital ecosystems and limit the disruptions of climate change, and to manage the world’s natural resources in an equitable manner, with an emphasis on human rights, gender equality, and environmental justice.

We the Women Major Group in Africa call on governments to reaffirm their commitment on the following:

1. Green Economy

a) Access to water and sanitation

Water and sanitation are essential for women’s economic development. A large number of the world’s people live without access to clean water or basic sanitation. Due to gender roles, it is women and girls who are often most affected by lack of water, as in many countries they are primarily responsible for obtaining and transporting water for daily use. Women and girls travel many kilometres and spend much of their time securing essential water supplies, and their task becomes more difficult as rivers and lakes become polluted and ecosystems degraded. Lack of safe water and sanitation limits women’s development possibilities. Privatization of water resources - in particular of water sources, rivers and lakes - can have a disproportionately damaging impact on women who have less economic power and access to income from formal employment.

We call for environmental protection policies and enforcement of water protection measures, and women should participate in their development and implementation. We also call for dedicated funding programs to ensure that women and girls obtain safe water and sanitation at homes, schools and other public places.

b) Transportation
Access to affordable transport is limited for women in Africa. Changing demographic and land-use patterns have made the distance to fields, water and fuel wood sources greater, increasing travel times to these sources. Transport planning tends to underestimate the economic and social value of women’s time, as well as the economic benefits.

We call on governments to accelerate investment in affordable means of transport and involve women in transport planning and implementation.

c) Land – Agriculture, food security
Property rights for women are still not recognised and respected. Women need secure land, property and resource rights. In many countries, women produce close to 80% of the food, but own only 1% of the land. The significance of the livestock sector and its socio-economic importance to African women cannot be over emphasized.

We call upon governments to expedite implementation of the Land Policy Initiative of the AU, specifically women’s access and ownership to land.

d) Access to Energy

Green energy policies must incorporate a gender perspective. According to the African Development Bank, most of the 2.5 billion people using traditional biomass for household energy live in Africa. African women play a major role in the collection and management of biomass fuel such as fuelwood, dung and agricultural residues for household use. Access to modern energy in rural and poor urban areas leads to improved health services, clean water and sanitation, better education, efficient transportation and a more profitable informal sector. All of these directly benefit women. Gender-equitable energy policies, legislation and investments could effectively boost women’s opportunities for economic and social empowerment and their ability to contribute to the green economy.

We call upon Africa Governments to implement programmes that directly support women’s access to affordable off-grid energy technologies as well as connection to grid.

e) Access to health services Institutional Framework

AIDS/HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases have a devastating effect on women in Africa. There is lack of access to proper medical facilities for women in rural and poor urban areas. This is compounded by conflicting social, economic, cultural and political factors.

We call on governments to invest in more functional health facilities in rural and poor urban communities, educate and train women on health issues that affect them, especially maternal mortality.

f) Governance, Peace and Security

Violent conflict in Africa over natural resources and political power has had adverse effects on women’s health and sustainable livelihoods.

We call upon Africa Governments to guarantee and uphold good governance and democratic processes that ensure peace and security.

Adapted from Africa Women’s Major Group Statement on Rio+20

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NGOs criticise World Bank's new lending plan for poorer countries

By John Vidal, The Guardian (October 21, 2011)

NGOs say Programme-for-Results Lending would allow countries to sidestep tough social and environmental safeguards that recipients of World Bank loans must normally meet

It's couched in 60 pages of near-incomprehensible economic-speak, but a radical World Bank plan to set up a new way to lend money to developing countries is being called a potential disaster for indigenous peoples, the environment and human rights.

The proposal, called A New Instrument to Advance Development Effectiveness: Programme-for-Results Lending (P4R), would lend money according to results achieved by projects. The proposal was published in February, and phase II consultations ended recently. Board approval is expected by the end of the year. Some of the NGOs that keep an eye on the bank's activities – International Rivers, Friends of the Earth US and Bank Information Centre – say the clear intention is to allow countries to sidestep dozens of tough, and expensive, social and environmental safeguards which recipients of World Bank loans must normally meet.

According to the proposals, the new instrument would eliminate or greatly dilute 25 existing safeguards and policies. They include those that apply to forced resettlement, natural habitats, physical and cultural resources, indigenous peoples, forests, safety of dams, natural habitats, and environmental action plans. Most of these policies have taken years of pressure by NGOs to secure.

The bank, which lends more than $50bn a year, is one of the world's largest providers of loans for mega-projects, many of which are particularly damaging to local people, the environment and the climate. If countries wanting to build giant dams, roads, power and water projects are to be largely freed from acting in a socially responsible way, the NGOs fear bank lending could lead to more forced evictions and human rights abuses.

"This is an extremely dangerous initiative that could undermine the rights and protections for communities around the world," said Karen Orenstein, of Friends of the Earth US. "It could undermine decades of work on social safeguards. Given the World Bank's involvement in the Green Climate Fund, it's critical that we don't let such challenges to safeguards set a precedent that can be adopted by the GCF.

"This is the latest development in an alarming trend at the World Bank, in which the institution has created numerous forms of financing to which safeguard and accountability standards are very difficult to apply, if [they are] not completely exempt. A P4R loan could be given to a government for a forests-related programme that ultimately results in land-grabbing and indigenous rights violations. But under P4R, World Bank indigenous peoples policies would not apply to this loan, nor would normal disclosure standards."

The bank argues in its proposals that its accountability mechanism could be used for P4R, but acknowledges that loans could be used to fund activities with significant adverse environmental and community impacts.

"Bank support will help member countries to improve the design and implementation of their own development programmes in infrastructure, education, health and other sectors. While results are at the centre of all that the bank does, Programme-for-Results will place more direct emphasis on development results by linking disbursements to results or performance indicators that are tangible, transparent and verifiable," it says.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Towards the Rio + 20 Conference: Energy challenges in Uganda

By Kimbowa Richard, Global South Development Magazine (October 2011)

Uganda like many members of the United Nations (UN) is preparing itself for a major international conference on sustainable development -The Rio + 20 Summit due on June 4 -6, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to the UN, the Rio+20 Conference will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro (1992, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. It is envisaged as a Conference at the highest possible level, including Heads of State and Government or other representatives. The Conference will result in a focused political document.

The objective of the Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges. It will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Rio + 20 Conference: Uganda’s interests

The Rio + 20 Summit will take place against a backdrop of global development challenges to which some solutions have been found, and where others are yet to be addressed. In this article, I restrict myself to one major challenge for Uganda in relation to ‘green economy in the context of sustainable development’- one of the main themes of Rio + 20. But, I would also like link this with the importance of assessing Uganda and other countries’ performance in implementing the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation that built on the achievements of sustainable development made since 1992, to strengthen the implementation of Agenda 21 (the 40-chapter blue print for action that was adopted in Rio in 1992). Without this action, the agenda for the ‘South’ will be lost in ‘new’ abstract discussions of little practical consequence to addressing sustainable development loopholes.

Hence, for Uganda (and I guess many developing countries), it is important to prepare for this major Conference with unwavering efforts to assess the country’s performance since 2002, so as to inform the themes of the Conference including green economy in the context of sustainable development. I would like to illustrate this below, with a ‘live’ example of the energy situation in Uganda.

‘Energy poverty’: A challenge for Uganda’ economic growth and development

Energy is a vital factor in Uganda’s continued economic development, but today the country faces many energy-related challenges that threaten to undermine this development(GIZ, 2011). For a number of years, there has been significant public investment, primarily in an effort to expand the electricity supply. Nevertheless, the problems facing the energy sector still include an inadequate supply, a situation which is exacerbated by consumers’ inefficient use of the energy which is available.

Outside the urban areas, access to energy services remains very poor as the appropriate mechanisms are still missing. Only 5% of the rural population is connected to an electricity supply and 93% still rely on biomass for cooking. The use of solid fuels such as firewood and charcoal remains chronically inefficient throughout most of the country, and this adds enormous environmental problems to Uganda’s energy equation. The greatest contributing factor to this is the lack of awareness about the environment and the options for energy efficiency.

For example, as I write this article the power outage has happened 3 times due to rationing lasting up to 2-3 hours. This is affecting businesses and the efficient delivery of social services (schools, health centres and banking institutions) all over Uganda. One of the reasons for this is that Uganda’s main power supplier, Umeme, in July 2011 announced a 12-hour load shedding programme after private suppliers Aggreko, ElectroMax, and Jecobson switched off their thermal power supply to the national grid over non-payment of arrears by the government. Worse still, this month (September), Uganda’s Directorate of Water Development (DWD) has instructed to Eskom (Company generating hydropower) to step down hydro generation due to the need to comply with the recent water releases and major abstractions plan from the transboundary Lake Victoria basin water system that binds Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda under the auspices of the East African Community. In effect, this slaps a 24 hour load-shedding cycle once every 4 days on average (Umeme, 2011).

One of the worrisome implications of this is that many households and business entities have rushed to fuel wood (firewood and charcoal) and fossil fuels as alternatives to run generators (for those that can afford). But already for the period of ten years from 1996/7 to 2005/6, the value of household charcoal consumption has increased by more than 100%, attributable to larger consumption volumes and higher prices which two factors together, contribute to rapid forest depletion (NEMA, 2008).This drastic rise can actually be higher than 100% today given the growing urban population that demands charcoal every day due to the above.

This is straining Uganda’s economy more as trees are cut, resulting in deforestation and forest degradation, while the rising pump prices affect people’s disposable incomes, savings and have translated in high prices for basic commodities (since Uganda is a land-locked country). At the end of it all, we risk draining the progress made on reducing poverty and conserving the environment.

It is from the above situation, that I believe any discussion on ‘green economy’(that works for the poor) in relation to the energy challenge in Uganda should consider alternatives to hydropower reliance, expanding affordable and equitable decentralised energy access for the majority rural poor people, promoting energy efficiency in electricity use, fuel wood use, and other available sources, as well as policy wide incentives that can trigger more investment in the modern energy services to meet the needs of private entities and the rural folks.

I also believe that the discussion on ‘green economy’ in a‘Southern’ context should follow a logical assessment that identifies the constraints those who affect / are affected and to what degree, among others, before making strategic and practical recommendations to inform and / or influence the renewed political commitment on sustainable development at the Rio + 20 Summit next year.


Indigenous Adaptation Strategies: Small-scale Farming in Uganda

By Ben Twinomugisha, Tiempo Climate Newswatch

Ben Twinomugisha describes small-scale farmers' livelihoods and food security strategies in Uganda. He argues that traditional approaches to managing extreme weather events can provide a basis for adaptation to climate change, but small-scale farmers need support to make the most of the opportunities these strategies may afford.

A typical Ugandan small-scale farmer is at the mercy of nature when it comes to agricultural production and due to institutional deficiencies has limited access to innovative approaches to help improve production. This article reports on a study that documents climate change impacts on small-scale farmers and reveals that indigenous adaptation options are the best way for these farmers to ensure food security and raise their income.

Indigenous knowledge is an integral part of Ugandan farmers' lives and local coping strategies provide the foundation for their own ideas on how to survive during harsh times. Current adaptation strategies are based on existing knowledge on how to cope, an understanding of seasonality and past experience. Much of this knowledge is passed on from one generation to another.

The study analysed the adaptation knowledge, attitudes and practices of small-scale farmers in the Mubende and Nakasongola districts of Uganda. It used qualitative research tools such as focus group discussions, key informant interviews and semi-structured interviews and analysis of local seasonal calendars and social maps. Myths, beliefs and traditional practices in relation to seasonal changes were identified, along with a list of the climate change-related events the community was experiencing. Community-based socioeconomic infrastructure that could support both climate change adaptation and mitigation was also explored. The study mapped out small-scale farmers' resources, livelihoods, income capacities and vulnerabilities to likely adverse climate change impacts and identified the best interventions and adaptation measures.

Over 75 per cent of people in the study areas depend on subsistence farming as their main source of livelihood. Knowledge about changes in rainfall, drought and the seasons for crop and animal diseases help small-scale farmers survive. Traditional indigenous production strategies are holistic and comprehensive and help small farmers cope with weather extremes. They also aim to conserve and enhance natural ecological processes and maintain a balance with nature.

Traditional resource-use strategies revolve around certain principles. First among these is the use of natural processes and resources. For example, farmers generally avoid eliminating all weeds in the soil because they can counter the impact of pests that attack certain crops. Community elders explained how traditional knowledge considers the interdependencies between food, pest-control and the maintenance of soil health in the same breath.

The second principle is based on the need to maintain crop diversity to maximize output as well as protect against climatic risks. Traditional principles also necessitate a balance between crops and animals and birds. For instance, the sale of goats or chickens is often the first line of defence in cases where families need cash for emergencies.

The study also showed the importance of the traditional care economy. All indigenous knowledge systems include networking and a sharing of intellectual property amongst different community members as part of their moral economy.

Communities use traditional technologies to help increase agricultural productivity. These technologies are mainly built on an understanding of how soils are renewed and how to increase soil fertility whilst avoiding erosion. They include information on contour cropping, how to construct and use fencing and how best to manage mixed farming or agro-forestry to full effect. Traditional technologies also help control and manage pests.

Much of this knowledge has tremendous value in the context of crop production and the threat of climate change. Local knowledge helps interpret changes in the weather and seasons, which are key ingredients of successful adaptation. And maintaining the distinction between crops grown for food and for sale is also an important component of traditional knowledge on adaptation. There is, however, a need to understand the limits and constraints of these practices as well as the opportunities that they provide when it comes to climate change.

Small-scale farmers in the study area have observed several changes in recent years and can no longer effectively predict seasonal changes. Community members do not know the phrase "climate change" but the older people (of 50 years or more) testified that there has been a shift in when the rainy season starts. When the rain comes, it is also interspersed with dry spells. Such unpredictable seasonal changes are having a wide range of inter-related negative impacts on farmers' livelihoods and incomes. Long-term unpredictable drought events are also limiting agricultural productivity since crop farming is mostly rain-fed. Most small-scale farmers grow local varieties of crops such as of maize and cassava that mature late and are, therefore, affected worse by heavy rains and drought.

In addition to unpredictable seasonal changes, small-scale farmers already face multiple barriers to effective agriculture productivity. Few can afford the inputs and technologies needed to boost production and access to improved seeds, markets, credit facilities and relevant information is limited. People suffer from food insecurity, increasing food prices coupled with limited income generation opportunities, extreme drought, poor soils and crop and animal diseases. They have limited access to land and control over land tenure and there are no early warning systems that could alert farmers to likely future climatic catastrophes. These all add to existing poverty-related problems and are all barriers to effective climate change adaptation.

Knowledge and skills to help small-scale farmers adapt to these changing seasons are limited. High levels of illiteracy contribute to this general lack of awareness and limit the adoption of new agricultural production technologies. Government extension and education services are also limited in scope and tend to target marketing rather than production. They use an approach that supports a model group of farmers in the hope that these farmers will share their knowledge with others through a trickledown effect. This approach has not yielded significant results. Farmers also greatly outnumber available extension workers, with the present ratio stagnating at about 1:100,000.

In order to survive, farmers try to secure household food security using food reserves kept in granaries for those few families who have them or kept in baskets and sacks in the house for those that do not. Farmers also grow food crops that can stay in their gardens for long periods, especially tubers like cassava, sweet potatoes and yams. Almost all households have a kitchen garden with vegetables and fruits grown to improve family nutrition. Farmers find that these strategies are more effective at ensuring food security than market-based strategies, which they regard as too risky. Experience has taught them that, when they sell their food crops at harvest time, the prices are usually low and, by the time there are food shortages, market prices are usually too high for them to afford.

Government extension programmes, such as the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture, contain significant climate change adaptation content, including information on the development of drought-resistant cultivars, the provision of water for production, the dissemination of agricultural information, training and research. Conversely, the sectoral programmes of the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture, such as the National Agricultural Advisory Services, are top-down in design. This and similar policies have faced challenges during the implementation stage. The results of such policies have been of little use to poor people who still depend on rain-fed agriculture and lack good land, irrigation facilities and financial resources.

Small-scale farmers are highly vulnerable to future changes in climate and seasonal variability. The impacts of a drought in 2009 on the study community demonstrated this to full effect. As existing climate variability continues to be high and conditions become warmer and possibly wetter, the community is increasingly at risk of the catastrophic impact of climate change on infrastructure, agriculture the environment and ecosystems.

Impacts are felt at several levels. Whilst individual farmers are most immediately affected, families and households will also be adversely impacted. These effects combine in turn to exert negative impacts on communities, regions and the whole nation. Impacts on households can alter the composition and structure of whole communities. For example, changing household composition due to out-migration can influence the price of labour, land and credit at the community level. Changes in aggregated savings rates and credit markets and reduced community expenditure could significantly alter levels of community financial capital. The scale of community-level impacts will depend upon how prevalent negative climate impacts are and upon the local social, economic, cultural and agro-ecological environment. Severe household-level climate change impacts in the hardest hit areas will likely be paralleled at the community level.

What can be done to improve the capacity of the rural people to cope and adapt to climate change?

In rural livelihood systems, food security is the critical adaptation challenge. At farm level, the diversification of production activity, including off-farm income drawing on local systems, to enable drought- and flood-proof livelihood activities is essential. Building rural infrastructure relevant to poorer people will facilitate sustainable adaptation. There is urgent need to support irrigation schemes that are affordable for poorer farmers. For example, investment in treadle pumps can lead to almost a doubling in production. There is also a need for the promotion of early maturing and drought-tolerant crop varieties through farmer-led research.

The capacity of the Ugandan Meteorological Department needs to be strengthened in order to give accurate and timely information on likely weather and rainfall patterns. This effort should promote an early warning system that integrates information dissemination. The government should plan for climate contingencies and develop contingency plans that should anticipate what farmers will do, how markets will react and what roles government authorities need to play. The National Adaptation Programme of Action process should enhance research and capacity-building needs.

Farmers need to be provided with both the space and capacity to engage in climate change policy issues. An awareness strategy regarding national climate policy should be developed. Education and awareness creation on climate change among governments, institutions and individuals should be viewed as a necessary step in promoting adaptation to climate change.

Finally, adaptation activities must undertake a bottom-up approach to diversified development activities that is gendered. The empowerment of women in the agriculture sector must receive attention as it remains a significant challenge to adaptation.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Switch to green economy 'will be painful' to South Africa

By Rio+ 20 Secretariat, October 19, 2011

South Africa's economy will need serious restructuring if the country is to successfully manage its carbon emissions, MPs have heard.

The switch to a greener economy was going to be painful, environmental affairs portfolio committee chairman Johnny de Lange said after the National Treasury briefed the committee on Wednesday on the introduction of a carbon tax.

"If we as a nation are serious in responding to what the scientists are telling us... If we're serious about this, we're going to have to make serious structural changes," said De Lange.

The National Treasury has been consulting extensively since March this year on the introduction of an appropriate carbon tax.

This is to be phased in over a specific period and is aimed at reducing the country's levels of greenhouse gas -- especially carbon dioxide -- emissions.

De Lange said the White Paper on Climate Change Response, gazetted on Tuesday, had caused a fundamental shift in government thinking.

"The white paper... has fundamentally changed a lot of our thinking. It is introducing very strong measures.

"The whole issue of carbon budgeting, then a carbon tax on top of that, then sectors having targets they have to meet in terms of carbon emissions. You are starting to fundamentally restructure this economy," he said.

Earlier, National Treasury deputy director-general for tax and financial sector policy Ismail Momoniat told members the country's economy had long been based on low energy prices.

A critical problem now was how to price carbon in the market.

"Certainly, a carbon tax offers the best way forward," he said.

While there was no easy solution to the climate change challenge, the polluter-pays principle meant that "in the end, you've got to go to who emits".

He declined to speculate on a carbon tax rate.

"Even if we knew what rate we're going to set the tax, we can't say it now, we've got to do it as a tax announcement, because it's market sensitive," Momoniat said.

His colleague, economic tax analysis chief director Cecil Morden, told members the rationale for a carbon tax was that it provided a means for the government to "level the playing fields" between carbon-intensive and low carbon emitting sectors.

"The external costs of greenhouse gas emissions are not reflected in the market prices of certain goods and service, for example, energy [production]," he said.

The National Treasury had "consulted extensively" on the introduction of a carbon tax with several key sectors, including mining, Eskom and Sasol, as well as the cement, paper, liquid fuel, chemical and manufacturing sectors, among others.

What had emerged from the discussions was "an initial preference for an input tax approach, based on the carbon content of fuel".

The tax could then "later migrate to actual emissions". There had also been discussion on sectoral thresholds and offset credits.

De Lange warned that the switch to a greener economy was going to be painful for South Africans.

"The problem... is it's going to be very painful. We must open up this debate because we mustn't think it's not going to be painful," he said.

"But if we don't do it, it's going to be even more painful. And the quicker we start, taking structural changes to [the economy], the quicker we'll adapt and... become a successful nation.


Eye on affordable housing technologies in Kenya

By Kepha Otieno, The Standard - Kenya, October 19, 2011

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states clearly that everyone has the right to a decent standard of living, health and wellbeing of himself and his family, including food, clothing and housing.

B the pressures of a growing population, increased rural to urban migration and climate change continue to impinge upon efforts to realise goals to foster faster economic development.

Urbanisation has brought about dire effects of poverty, environmental degradation and lack of urban housing and the proliferation of informal settlers.

Under the new Kenya Constitution, the State is mandated to undertake a continuing programme of urban land reform and housing, to make land available and provide affordable housing and basic services to the urban poor.

Minister for Housing Soita Shitanda says the Government has to make sure that appropriate sustainable zoning and green building practices are integrated into local planning, and safety codes spelled in housing policies enforced.

"Our major concern is to come up with effective housing policies that meet the growing demand for decent housing occasioned by increased rural to urban migration," he argues.

Statistics indicate that Kenya’s housing supply stands at 30,000 units a year against a backdrop of a demand of 150,000 units annually, reinforcing the need to invest in real estate.

Building code

The Ministry of Housing now plans to widely document and disseminate cost-effective and green technologies in all areas of the built-up environment, including design and construction techniques.

Other targets include construction equipment, landscaping, foundation, floor finishes, sanitation, plumbing, electrical installation, trusses, ceilings, doors, glazing, lighting, heating, cooking, drainage, external works and water storage.

Director of Housing Charles Shikuku told Home & Away at the UN World Habitat Day in Kisumu that the ministry plans to introduce new building codes that will ensure Appropriate Building Materials and Technologies (ABMT) are used.

ABMT is about building processes, materials and tools that are cost-effective, safe, innovative, green and environmentally friendly.

These are targetted to address issues of sub-standard buildings that have become ubiquitous.

Shikuku says ABMT have the capacity to reduce up to 50 per cent of the cost of materials, thus reducing the overall building costs.

He encouraged investors to liaise with the Ministry for details on regulation and incentives.

During the World Habitat celebrations, Shitanda said the state had in collaboration with the Housing and Building Research Institute (Habri) at the University of Nairobi; and development partners, come up with the programme after intensive research.

The process culminated in the partial revision of the Building Code so as to allow the use of ABMT in designated areas within the local authorities that have adapted the Code.

Local and foreign manufacturers have also been involved in research and development of innovative machines and materials.

The ministry has tapped on local and global research findings through networking and Information Communication Technology to run the ABMT programme.

The ministry has established one regional ABMT Centre at Mavoko, nine Provincial ABMT Centres and 50 constituency ABMT centre’s expected to serve the country’s 38 million population.

Senior Housing Manager Agutu Jakorayo says several training workshops have been conducted throughout the country to transfer skills and empower community groups to construct affordable houses and other social utilities.

"We have revised the current building code to facilitate the use of new technologies and we also aim to design and implement a research and development agenda," Jakorayo explains.

This will enhance affordability and maximise utilisation of location-specific building materials and technologies. In this regard, consultants shall be engaged to undertake collaborative research.

While countries continue to witness increased rural urban migration, climate change remains the biggest challenge facing the nation, and thus the need for climate mitigation policies.

This underscores the need to step up environmental conservation programmes to ensure eco-friendly and sustainable environment.

This was the terse message that more than 15 ambassadors and diplomatic missions sent across during the World Habitat Day in Kisumu, themed ‘Better life, better cities’, as it emerged that the growing population posed a big threat to urbanisation.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that population will rise by 50 per cent by 2050, and thus the need to embark on climate change mitigation activities.

About 60 million people live within one metre of sea level and by end of the 21st Century, it’s projected that this will rise up to 130 million people. This means countries must prepare to smart from the challenges.

UN senior official Dr Joan Clos, say that by 2050, there could be as many as 200 million environmental refugees worldwide brought about by the increased population.

"Majority of these refugees will be forced from their homes by rising sea levels and increased effects of drought and floods," Clos claimed while he addressed populations at Manyatta, Kisumu.

The way forward is to keep the ecological footprint of cities to the minimum.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nicaragua concerned about the debate on 'Green Economy'

During the Delhi Ministerial Dialogue on Green Economy and Inclusive Growth held 3 October 2011, Nicaragua put forward some of its major proposals and concerns of about Green Economy:

Nicaragua believes that the process toward Rio+ 20 may not only have the general goal, established by the United Nations, of reaching a "renewed political commitment" toward Sustainable Development. We propose to go beyond. We advocate for a strong commitment with life in Mother Earth, with the human wellbeing toward social and environment justice. This is, indeed, what Nicaragua subscribed as the first signatarian country of the Universal Declaration for Human and Mother Earth wellbeing.

Nicaragua has expressed concern that the debate on Green Economy can distract the attention on sustainable development. Also, has expressed concern that United Nations' vision on Green Economy favors the perspective of developed countries, for example, there are no longer references to Ecological Economy but to Green Economy. The pillars of the interrelation between economy and environment, also known as Ecological or Green Economy, have been discussed since Rio 1992. However, in March 2011 the developed countries submitted their own interpretation of Green Economy and called it "a guide for poverty reduction".

It is a major problem that developed countries translate Green Economy into technological, renewable energy, and transportation commitments based on their own models. Although these subjects are certainly part of the Ecological Economy, are only initial steps in the long way toward sustainability but not the solution to the existing conflict between development and human life in Mother Earth.

Therefore, as stated in several previous forums, Nicaragua proposes the inclusion of the following criterion and commitments in building up the concept of Ecological Economy:

•A solidarity and compassion for Mother Earth's principle. In other words, that the human wellbeing should be along with ecological justice to Mother Earth.

•Fair trade and solidary prices in commerce with developing countries,

•The understanding that technological development should not imply appropriation and mercantilization of planetary biomass but, instead, its caring and safeguarding in order to guarantee water, trees, soil and oxygen to present and future generations.

•Ancestral and indigenous knowledge should be taken into consideration in developing Ecological Economy

•Developing countries with almost zero participation in greenhouse gas emissions should receive financial compensations, in retribution for the negative consequences of global warming provoked by developed countries

•The application of shared but differentiated responsibility principle, and,

•Investment in developing countries to facilitate their adjustment to climate change.


Cambodia points out 6 expected outcomes from Rio + 20

During the Delhi Ministerial Dialogue on Green Economy and Inclusive Growth held 3 October 2011, Dr. Chhun Vannak on behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia highlighted 6 outcomes sought from Rio+20:

• Should secure and renew high political commitment to resource efficiency, and efficient natural capital for poverty eradication and secure the political will of the Rio+20;

• Should allow for the flexibility in the Rio Agenda to incorporate new challenges emerging beyond Rio+20;

• Well defined green economy principles for sustainable with tools and mechanisms, especially through SCP, resource efficiency, holistic integration of implementation of the Green Economy by enhancing the balanced specializations in the social, environmental and economic pillars;

• The United Nations Sustainable Development Council is to be established to guide the green economy practices and raise a sense of urgency on the Planet Earth;

• Enhance the ‘Gross Green Economy Index’ to be measured and assessed by three index: Social Index; environmental index; economic growth index, with the strong support of Integration, Equity;

• Mainstreaming green economy principles into national strategic development plans by having this be engaged in a multistakeholder planning process and more financing is to be provided to the less developed countries and developing countries for poverty eradication and green economy realization. Incentives should also go to the low-carbon growth activities and economic growth based on low carbon; REDD+Plus through forest preservation as a carbon sink enhancement. The internalization of common credit sales is to be scaled-up. Finally, green technologies should be strongly promoted through investments in infrastructure and renewable energy supply.


Monday, October 17, 2011

From cow dung to biogas to carbon credits for Nepal

By Kirtan Chandra Sahoo

Early this year, I visited several households in the small village of Bela located in the Kavre district of Nepal, about 50 kilometers from the capital Kathmandu. Mr. Niranjan Sapkota’s house was located on a steep mountain surrounded by forests. I had to walk along narrow mountain paths, grabbing on to bushes and sometimes hands of accompanying local staff. I was going to verify if the biogas plant Mr. Sapkota had constructed in the February of 2005 was still in operation. I turned the brass valve in the kitchen and with a hissing sound, gas flowed and the family pointed to the meal that they had just cooked using biogas from cattle dung that they had in plenty.

There are 225,000 such families in Nepal who now have easy-to-operate biogas plants in their backyards. Bela is considered a model biogas village with almost every house equipped with a biogas plant.

Last month, the Nepal’s Biogas Program reached an important milestone: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), for the first time approved and issued carbon credits to two Nepalese biogas projects. To date, this is the largest worldwide issuance of carbon credits, or Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), in a Least Developed Country (LDC). Two more similar projects from Nepal are now at an advanced stage of being registered with the UNFCCC. Together, these projects are expected to generate about 170,000 carbon credits per year, which is equivalent to avoiding emissions from approximately 60,000 cars every year.

For most women living in this mountainous region of Nepal, looking for firewood every morning was a daily ritual. This program reduces the time spent collecting firewood and, since they are no longer exposed to the indoor smoke from burning of firewood in traditional stoves, it also dramatically improves the health of these women and their children. Other important benefits of the program are lessening the pressure on deforestation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The program mainly targets isolated and socially marginalized groups in rural Nepal, who can’t access or afford to use modern cooking fuels such as LPG and have been buying kerosene or charcoal, or collecting firewood. Realizing the multiple benefits associated with promotion of biogas plants, the Government of Nepal has decided to use carbon credits as one of the important financing instruments to scale up the implementation of the program. The World Bank’s Community Development Carbon Fund committed US$ 7 million to the program to purchase the carbon credits that it generates, and a US$ 5 million grant was provided by GPOBA (the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid, a partnership program administered by the World Bank) to subsidize the construction of the biogas plants.

For the last several years I have been working with this biogas program. The road to getting carbon credits for the program has not been easy. It has taken over four years to get the first batch of CERs successfully verified and certified through the UN system. The challenges included finding appropriate and credible ways to monitor and quantify carbon credits from thousands of biogas plants that are spread over long distances and located in remote areas.

The deadlock was cleared this past August when the UNFCCC issued the first CERs for the projects. By September 2011, over 92,000 CERs have been issued to the first two registered projects. These carbon credits are helping to offset the cost of owning and operating the plants and making the projects financially sustainable over time. In our evaluation, we found that more than 95% of the biogas plants were operating smoothly after five years of installation, demonstrating the robustness of the technology as well as the quality of program design and implementation. The monitoring system developed in collaboration with the World Bank also works well. Hopefully, this can provide a model for similar projects in other countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where firewood is still widely used for cooking.

Seeing the women of Bela in their homes, spending time with their children instead of scouring the countryside for firewood, made this long road to certifying and verifying emissions completely worth the effort.


EU Environment Ministers on 'Green Economy'

The Council of Environment Ministers of the EU adopted conclusions establishing the EU's general position for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). On green economy, the Council:

6. STRESSES that the transition towards a green economy holds strong potential to promote long-term sustainable growth, create jobs and hence eradicate poverty; EMPHASISES the importance of increasing resource efficiency, promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns, tackling climate change, protecting biodiversity, combating desertification, reducing pollution, as well as using and managing natural resources and ecosystems in a sustainable and socially responsible manner, both as requirements and key vehicles to ensure the just transition towards a green economy, and UNDERSCORES that in order to contribute to poverty eradication, green economy policies and measures need to take into account the demands of the poor;

7. CONSIDERS that Rio+20 should in particular promote global cooperative action in key
sectors such as water, food and agriculture, fisheries, forestry, energy, marine environment and chemicals, as well as in areas related to the sustainable management and restoration of natural resources and ecosystem services;

8. UNDERLINES that in order to move to a green economy, decouple economic growth from
the use of natural resources and stimulate markets in the areas mentioned above, enabling conditions need to be established, both in the form of regulatory and market-based instruments, including fiscal measures and the gradual elimination of subsidies that have considerable negative effects on the environment and are incompatible with sustainable development, as well as through voluntary schemes; and EMPHASIZES that the path towards green economy should be country specific;

9. UNDERLINES the key role of the private sector, including all types of enterprises, in delivering green growth through trade, investment, research and development, innovation and resource efficiency, and CALLS ON the private sector to seek opportunities from green economy -including through corporate social responsibility (CSR)- as well as from life-cycle and supply chain analysis, and new, sustainable business models;

10. REAFFIRMS that Rio+20 should contribute to reorienting the current models of economic growth and that in order to measure progress towards green economy, Rio+20 should also contribute to the adoption of a new set of indicators complementing GDP and that integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions in a balanced manner

Read the full conclusions from the EU's 3118th ENVIRONMENT Council meeting titled: Rio+20: towards achieving sustainable development by greening the economy and improving governance

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A green economy: Is it possible?

By the Rio + 20 Secretariat

Next year is Rio+20. In 1992, leaders of the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to agree on a different way to develop, and signed the Earth Charter, as well as other international environmental agreements including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The so-called World Conference on Environment and Development was followed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, to further the convergence of environment and development.

Next year, the 20th anniversary will bring us back to Rio de Janeiro. The theme will be “green economy”.

Indonesia has seen some interesting dynamics in green economics in the past couple of years. At the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a commitment to reduce Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions to 26 percent below its business-as-usual trajectory, and 41 percent if financial involvement from foreign countries was made available, by 2020.

The target is known as the “7/26” target: An emissions reduction of 26 percent below business-as-usual, while maintaining economic growth at 7 percent per year. These figures, in addition to targeting to reduce poverty levels to below 11 percent, reducing unemployment to below 14 percent, make up Indonesia’s “pro-growth, pro-poor, pro-job and pro-green” development targets. The “7/26” target is basically a green economy commitment.

Rhetoric aside, implementation will be challenging. Questions remain as to whether a green economy is possible. Can Indonesia reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to grow?

Integrating economic development and environmental protection is a classic challenge. But more recently, it has been shown that economic development not only affects but is also affected by the quality of the ecosystem. A green economy therefore offers the following methods: first, accounting for the costs associated with pollution and environmental degradation in black sectors. The traditional way of accounting economic growth omits environmental costs, although someone, somewhere, must pay them. Only by taking these costs into account can we understand the real growth of the economy.

Second, accounting for the benefits associated with protecting the environment and ecosystem services. As with costs, environmental benefits have also not been properly accounted for in traditional models used to project economic growth. At present, when duly unitized, ecosystem services can be monetized and thus provide real economic and financial benefits.

Third, shifting sources of growth from “black” to “green” sectors. Green growth does not aim to reduce growth. It aims to change the way growth is created and to shift sectors that are the sources of growth. By shifting the sources of growth from “black” (polluting) to the green (clean) sectors, pollution is minimized while ecosystem services are maximized.

Back to the “7/26” target. According to the most recent National Action Plan for the Reduction of Emissions of Greenhouse Gases, Indonesia needs to cut 767 million tons of carbon-equivalent greenhouse gases unilaterally. Forestry and peat contributes the largest amount. About 672 million tons or 88 percent of the reduction is expected to come from the forestry and peat sectors. Taking a look at the development of the forestry sector may provide some insights on how a green economy can be applied in Indonesia.

Debatably, forestry contributes to the Indonesian economy significantly and has been a significant contributor to economic growth.

In the mid-1990s, the forestry sector contributed slightly less than 4 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product, which in 1995 and 1996 was Rp 454 and Rp 532 trillion (about US$50 and $60 billion, subsequently). In 1995, of the 19 percent GDP growth (20 percent when oil is excluded), forestry contributed about 7 percent (about one-third of the total growth), according to the Indonesian Statistical Yearbook.

But degradation of forests is costly. The forest fires in the late 1990s cost the economy between $5 and $7 billion. Indonesia Corruption Watch estimates that Indonesia suffers losses of around Rp 14 trillion every year due to deforestation. Deforestation between 2005 and 2009 totaled 5.4 millon hectares, valued at about Rp 71.28 trillion. Illegal logging alone may cost Indonesia somewhere between $5 and $15 billion a year.

Avoiding deforestation comes at a cost, but presents a lot more benefits. Avoiding deforestation starts out at $1,800 and can go up to $2,240 per hectare by 2050. But preventing carbon emissions through the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation of Forests (REDD+) scheme has a significant value. Halving emissions from deforestation would cut about 1 billion tons of carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. With a $5 per ton shadow price for carbon, this means an additional income of $5 billion per year from stopping deforestation.

Some say that this might not be enough to compensate any lost income that would have been gained from exploiting forests. But carbon is not the only ecosystem service forests provide. Forests also serve as water catchment and purification areas, hubs of biodiversity, nutrients, recreation areas and others. Added together, they serve as quite a competitive economic argument against destructive and exploitative practices.

A recent study by the University of Padjadjaran in Bandung for the Environment Ministry found some very interesting results in regards to a green economy. The study ran a scenario that includes improvements in energy efficiency by 25 percent, reducing coal-based fuel use by 50 percent, reducing the rate of deforestation by 10 percent, and implementing shadow carbon tax of $50 per ton.

The result is that Indonesia would cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 177 million tons, increase its GDP by 2.7 percent (Rp 133 trillion) per year, create 3 million new jobs and reduce the number of poor people by more than 4 million per year.

If this model was put into practice, the President can be assured that his “7/26” target will be met. A green economy is not only possible, it is the only possibility.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Environmentalists call for toilets on Everest

By The Times of India

An environmental group is asking the Nepal government to consider installing portable toilets on Mount Everest for climbers caught short at the roof of the world.

Eco Himal says the thousands of trekkers who set off from the South Base Camp in Nepal each year would do a better job of keeping the place clean if they and their porters had somewhere civilised to go when nature called.

"Human waste is a problem, of course," said the group's director, Phinjo Sherpa. "I am merely suggesting that if we have public toilets they can be used."

Many groups bring expedition toilet cans, but Phinjo Sherpa said porters were often left with little choice but the nearest snowdrift.

Environmental activists say Everest is littered with the detritus of past expeditions, including human waste and mountaineers' corpses, which can take decades to decompose because of the extreme cold.

Phinjo Sherpa said installing the toilets would be discussed as part of a wider waste management plan being prepared by the government that would encompass popular peaks throughout the Everest region.

"If there could be two or three toilets that would be good but this is just at the planning phase. We will have to decide what is a good idea and what isn't," he said.

Climbers spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to reach the 8,848-metre (29,028-foot) summit of Everest, but campaigners say few pay much attention to the rubbish they leave behind.

There is no definitive figure on how much trash has been left on the mountain, but the debris of 50 years of climbing has given Everest the name of the world's highest dumpster.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

India Among Most Vulnerable, Says Global Hunger Report


ActionAid's global hunger scorecard places India at the seventh position on the climate and hunger vulnerability index.

India is ranked ahead of Pakistan, Nigeria and 21 other countries for its vulnerability in being able to feed and grow food, says a new ActionAid study titled, “On the Brink: Who’s Best Prepared for a Climate and Hunger Crisis?” The global scorecard places India at the seventh position on the climate and hunger vulnerability index.

This is not the only bad news for India as its ability to respond to this crisis gets worse ranking, below Nepal and Rawanda, at 18th position as per the report launched globally on October 10.

The world today confronts three interlocking crises - climate change, resource scarcity and food price volatility - which all pose major threats to feeding the future, says the report.

“With one-quarter of the world’s people living in hunger, residing within its borders, any improvements to India’s hunger levels could dramatically reduce global poverty and hunger. India is home to one-third of the world’s under-nourished children,” stresses Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid India.

“The pursuit of high-input agricultural intensification has directly threatened the depletion of many of the resources that have sustained it. Soil degradation, deforestation and water shortages are putting increasing pressure on agricultural production,” said Amar Joyti Nayak, ActionAid India’s Lead on Food Rights.

Echoing the recommendations of the report, Chachra added, “India needs to address the unfinished agenda of land reforms; and support to diverse sustainable agricultural systems and improving women’s access and control over land and other productive resources is key to arresting hunger and impact of climate change on agriculture.”

The issue of exclusion and social justice has seriously impacted access to state schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and this remains a major challenge for reducing vulnerability to hunger for poor in India.

ActionAid’s research shows that 1.6 billion people - nearly a quarter of the world’s population - live in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate-related food crises.

They have very high underlying levels of chronic hunger and child malnutrition. This, coupled with rapid land degradation, will make food production increasingly difficult as global warming intensifies. Only a few of these countries are putting adequate measures in place to assure future food security.

The Hunger Scorecard backed with in-depth surveys of the communities ActionAid works with, shows that these scenarios are no longer a distant nightmare. Across Asia, Africa and Latin America, communities are recording higher food prices, incidences of land-grabbing for biofuels production or other purposes, and increased vulnerability to drought and floods. Every rural community surveyed reported that erratic and extreme weather is reducing their ability to feed themselves.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Worst Kind of Poverty: Energy Poverty

By Bryan Walsh, Time Science, October 11, 2011

I want you to try to imagine what it's like to live without electricity. It's boring, for one thing — no television, no MP3 player, no video games. And it's lonely and disconnected as well — no computer, no Internet, no mobile phone. You can read books, of course — but at night you won't have light, other than the flicker of firewood. And about that firewood — you or someone in your family had to gather it during the day, taking you away from more productive work or schooling, and in some parts of the world, exposing you to danger. That same firewood is used to cook dinner, throwing off smoke that can turn the air inside your home far more toxic than that breathed in an industrial city. You may lack access to vaccines and modern drugs because the nearest hospital doesn't have regular power to keep the medicine refrigerated. You're desperately poor — and the lack of electricity helps to ensure that you'll stay that way.

That's life for the 1.3 billion people around the planet who lack access to the grid. It's overwhelmingly a problem of the developing world and the countryside — more than 95% of those without electricity are either in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia, and 84% live in rural areas. Though it hasn't gotten the attention that global problems like HIV/AIDS and malaria have received in recent years, lack of power remains a major obstacle to any progress in global development. (See photos of new ways to boost energy efficiency.)

"Lacking access to electricity affects health, well-being and income," says Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA). "It's a problem the world has to pay attention to."

Fortunately that attention is finally forthcoming. The U.N. has already declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and on Oct. 10 the IEA released a special report that details the problem of energy access and outlines how a universal power grid might be financed. The need for clean cooking stoves — 2.7 billion people lack them, an offshoot of the energy-access problem — is rising up the development agenda as well. The experts' analyses about how solvable these problems are is surprisingly sunny: according to the IEA's analysis, it would be possible to achieve universal energy access for the world by 2030 with around $48 billion a year in global investment. "We very much have the capacity to make a difference in this field," says Birol, who has worked for years to call attention to electricity access. No one needs to stay in the dark.

At a time when even developed countries are feeling poor — or at least poorer than they once were — $48 billion a year sounds like a fair chunk of change, but it actually only amounts to about 3% of yearly global energy investment, which should give you a sense of just how vast the worldwide energy industry is. But right now the world is falling well short of that necessary target — perhaps $9 billion a year is currently invested in shrinking the energy gap, with much of it coming from foreign aid and other public sources that are unlikely to grow in a straitened global economy. Nearly all of that investment goes toward improving grid access in urban areas, which leaves those in rural villages out of luck. Even if investment rises to $14 billion a year, the IEA expects that 1 billion people will still be without power in 2030. "What's being done now clearly isn't enough," says Birol. (See photos of power in cities.)

And the problem will get worse rapidly thanks to rising oil prices, which could put a crimp in development. It's worth noting that when rich nations were at roughly the same economic stage as developing countries are today, oil cost an average of around $22 per barrel. Though the price has fluctuated recently, the $100-a-barrel threshold is increasingly being crossed. For developing countries that are net oil importers, those high prices can quickly eat up a national budget; oil-import bills in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, went up by $2.2 billion in 2010, more than one-third higher than the increase in official development aid. Environmentalists sometimes welcome higher energy prices as a spur to conservation and efficiency, but that's true mostly in rich countries; in developing, energy-starved ones, high prices can be economically crippling.

Beyond ensuring that there's more overall investment in closing the energy gap, there's the question of how the money should be spent. The tendency has been toward big projects — major fossil-fuel plants and electrical transmission lines. That sort of infrastructure can serve cities well, but it's not going to reach the rural villagers that are the most energy-starved — not to mention the fact that it's not the best idea to lock in carbon-heavy power sources in a warming world. That's where renewables might have a practical advantage, as well as an environmental one. Solar power can be installed quickly and cheaply far off the grid, providing enough power for light and basic services — and it's not as if sub-Saharan Africa is lacking for sunlight. With smart and green investment, the IEA believes that achieving universal energy access would increase global carbon emissions by only 0.7% by 2030 — a drop in the climate bucket. "Solar is going to play a huge role in improving energy access," says Birol. "It's one of the best ways to meet challenges off the grid."

Energy poverty is, of course, only a piece of larger economic poverty, but it's one of the best ways out of it too. If you need one more reminder of that fact — and of how radical the difference is between the world's haves and have-nots — take a look at a satellite photograph of earth at night, with large swathes of the planet radiating light and other stretches cloaked in darkness, an electric map of wealth and poverty. The very least we can do is wake up to the fact that everyone deserves a light.


Humble guava packs healthiest punch

By The Times of India, October 12, 2011

The humble guava is the healthiest fruit for the human body, while the pineapple is at the bottom of this index. The first-of-its-kind research to evaluate the amount of natural antioxidant levels of 14 fresh fruits commonly consumed in India has come up with surprising revelations. Guava came in at the top, followed by the Indian plum. Mango, pomegranate, custard apple and apple are among the other fruits that offer the highest amount of antioxidants.

The study - conducted by Hyderabad's National Institute of Nutrition - found that pineapple, banana, papaya, water melon and grapes had the least amount of antioxidants. Antioxidants play a crucial role in preventing cellular damage - the common reason for aging, cancer and several degenerative diseases.

In a study published in the journal "Food Research International", lead author Dr D Sreeramulu from NIN's endocrinology and metabolism division found that the antioxidant activity ranged from as high as 496 mg/100 grams in guava to as low as 22 mg/100g in pineapple.

Sreeramulu told TOI, "The findings came as an eye-opener. We usually believe expensive fruits are the richest source of nutrition. But our extensive research shows that fruits that are rich in antioxidants help scavenge free radicals that destroy tissues." Modern lifestyles, he adds, lead to an excess of free radicals.

Fruit-rich diet cuts cell damage risk

A fruit-rich diet is linked to lower risk of chronic degenerative diseases, besides the added incentive of slowing aging. Adding to worldwide studies that show fruits are rich sources of phenolic compounds and antioxidant activity (AOA), Dr Sreeramulu of the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad says even the commonly available guava can enrich the Indian diet.

Sreeramulu's study to determine the AOA and phenolic content of fresh fruits commonly consumed in India has provided an index of the healthiest fruits. The guava and Indian plum have pipped the pineapple in terms of antioxidant value.

"Dietary polyphenol intakes from fruits and vegetables are known to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and cancer. The present data will be useful to consumers to plan antioxidant rich diets and to the health professionals and nutritionists in estimating the daily intakes of phenolic antioxidants and their impact," he added.

"Current lifestyles cause over-production of free radicals. Free radicals are atoms that can start a chain reaction and cause damage when they react with important cellular components such as DNA or cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs," says Sreeramulu.

"Natural antioxidants protect from oxidative stress and associated diseases, and therefore, play an important role in healthcare. Fruits are important dietary sources of antioxidant polyphenols to humans. In recent times, natural antioxidants have attracted considerable interest among nutritionists, food manufacturers and consumers because of their presumed safety and potential therapeutic value."

Three samples of each variety of fresh fruit were purchased and edible portions were cut into small pieces and extracted with acidified aqueous methanol.